As the sun shone brightly and a refreshing breeze moved through Al Centamore Football Field, members of the high school’s Class of 2014, led by the American Celtic Pipe Band, marched in for the school’s 51st commencement. Student Council President Daniela Zabbatino led the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Jaclyn Miano singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a lovely performance of Deer Park’s alma mater by members of the school’s girls chorus.
The graduating seniors were congratulated by laudatory speakers including Class President Gina Hock, Superintendent of Schools Eva J. Demyen, who urged the students to listen more to their parents than to their friends and played them Bobby McFerrin’s “Don't Worry, Be Happy,” and Principal James Cummings, who expressed immense pride in the students who had been under his supervision for the last four years. Continuing a longstanding Deer Park tradition, Class of 2004 valedictorian Nicholas Porcaro returned as a guest speaker, offering Rocky Balboa as a model of determination and providing this year’s graduates a synopsis of Porcaro’s rise, fall and eventually successful career reinvention in the business world.
Salutatorian Andreas Stamatakis told his peers that what they learned in their studies would not be enough to prepare them for adult life beyond high school. “Today we take a step toward a unique period of our lives, a time when our lack of preparation is our greatest strength,” he said. “When challenges come, and they undoubtedly will, we have the greatest chance to do something unique and innovative in the face of adversity. We will set precedent instead of following it. We will lead meaningful change. In this way, we might leave our mark on the world. And if it’s going to happen at all, it will happen now. Today we embark on the most exciting opportunity we will ever have. Today we leave the nest, and there’s no going back. We only have one shot. We must look inside ourselves for the courage to take charge of our lives, to spread the love in our hearts. Let’s make it count.”
In his speech as class valedictorian, Harvard-bound Kyle Devine discussed the value of uncertainty and adversity in forging the future. “Here we stand on the outskirts of adulthood, but no matter how we approach the future, there’s so much of it that remains a mystery,” he said. “While we may know who we are today, we still are yet to discover who we’ll become, but it’s nothing to worry about – we have a lifetime to figure that out. What the past four years have shown me is that many of us have the tendency to doubt ourselves, and I think it comes from our fear of failure. In our lives so far, there have been good times, there have been not-so-good times, and because we’re human, there have been mistakes. What’s wonderful about these experiences, however, is that regardless of what the consequence may be, there’s a lesson that comes forth with it, which has allowed us to develop into the individuals we are all looking at today. You can set as clear a path as you want right now, but never panic if there’s an obstacle blocking your way or you decide that you want to take a left instead of a right. Instead, immerse yourself in the possibilities that the world has to offer you and that you have to offer the world.”
“Things will get difficult, because nothing worth having ever comes easy,” he went on to tell his fellow seniors. “But that’s nothing new, and you’ve overcome adversity before. We’ve faced hardships, we’ve made mistakes, and yet here we are, celebrating our accomplishments with our friends and family who’ve been there along the way. Times will get tougher, but so will you. There may be moments you second-guess yourself and want to quit; however, if you can rise to the occasion and maintain faith in yourself, you will get back up, surmount whatever comes your way and succeed. You can’t truly appreciate your triumphs and happiness without acknowledging the low points and failures that came along the way. As the Chinese proverb says, ‘the gem cannot be polished without friction.’”
“Before I leave the podium, I would just like to thank every one of my classmates,” added Devine, choking back tears and inciting a standing ovation. “I can truthfully say I enjoyed the past four years with you all. You made it a joy to come to school every day, and I can only hope that I taught you just a small fraction of what you all taught me, especially about what it meant to be a friend. I truly wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors, though I’m sure you won’t need it. Congratulations to the Class of 2014!”
After the candidates for graduation were introduced and diplomas conferred and awarded by district administrators and members of the Board of Education, the excited new graduates flung their caps skyward, and proceeded out to the strains of Elmer Bernstein’s “The Great Escape,” performed by the Deer Park High School Symphonic Band.