For graduates and parents alike, the annual graduation season, which is now in full swing, brings both anxiety and excitement. For grads heading into the work world, the weak job market may bring some apprehension about the immediate future. But for graduates fortunate enough to be heading to college in the fall, the immediate future is brighter and full of high expectations.
This Thursday, June 21, each of Jersey City’s six high schools will hold commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2012, sending hundreds of graduates out into the world. Last week, two of those graduates, McNair Academic High School seniors Michelle-Ann Tan and Xiaotian Shi, were still in the midst of final exams. The results of those exams will determine which of them will graduate as the Class of 2012 valedictorian and which will be the salutatorian.
“Their grades are very close. One of them will graduate at the top of the class and other one will be right behind,” said Principal Edward Slattery. “We won’t know until after they’ve taken their finals.”
The students took a break from their tests to reflect on their time at McNair and to discuss their plans for the future.
‘Tradition of excellence’
Shi and Tan are among 171 students graduating this year from McNair Academic, one of the largest classes the school has ever had, according to Slattery. Despite its size, he said the Class of 2012 has “met the standards that have been set by previous graduates. They continue the tradition of excellence.”
All of McNair’s graduates have been accepted to college, Slattery said, although some students were still waiting to hear what financial aid packages might be offered to them and some had yet to decide which specific school they will attend in the fall.
Unlike other McNair classes in recent years this year’s class not only excelled in the classroom, but also on the athletic field as well. Six McNair students from the track team qualified for a national high school meet and traveled to North Carolina last week to compete. The school’s baseball team also competed in a state tournament. Various McNair students and teams competed in city tournaments as well.
Despite its size, Slattery said he has seen the class of 2012 become more cohesive as a group in the four years he has known them.
“Because our students come from all over the city, when they come in as freshmen they don’t have the safety net of having a bunch of students they’ve known since elementary school,” Slattery commented. “So, they all kind of mesh, blend, and grow together. They make new relationships. It’s an experience they’ll go through again in college.”
Clearly up to the challenge, Tan and Shi last week said they feel prepared for the next chapter of their lives, in part because of their experiences at McNair.
“The teachers here always had something inspiring about their class,” said Tan, 17. “The relationships that I built with them definitely contributed to who I am today.”
While Tan said she had always “loved the sciences and mathematics,” lately she has “had a growing interest in writing and some literature.”
When not excelling in the classroom, Tan spends her free time volunteering with McNair’s concert choir, for which she serves as a section leader and a conductor for soprano and alto vocalists. She also leads the student-run glee club, which performs pop tunes a cappella.
In the fall she will join the freshman class at Princeton University. She is currently considering a major in molecular biology as preparation for medical school later on. At present, she is not sure whether she wants to be a physician or a medical researcher and academician.
Shi, 16, is similarly complimentary of McNair’s teaching staff, and speaks of them as highly as his friends.
“I’ll definitely remember my friends and the teachers here,” Shi said when asked what he’ll remember most about his high school years. “My friends here are really, really awesome. They’re really diverse, but they’re all really intelligent. The teachers here are really dedicated. They make sure the student learns what they’re teaching. So, I’m sure I’ll remember most of my teachers when I go off to college.”
Noting that AP calculus with Victorina Wasmuth was one of his favorite courses, Shi said he appreciates that the teachers at McNair make themselves available to students who may be struggling with a class or subject matter.
“Ms. Wasmuth is a really, really great teacher,” Shi said. “She’s extremely dedicated and she has this method of teaching where she asks a lot of questions. So she makes sure students get it.”
Like Tan, Shi is also Ivy League-bound in the fall. He will attend Cornell University and is considering a major in chemical engineering.
McNair is among Jersey City’s six high schools that will hold graduation ceremonies this week. James J. Ferris High School, Dickinson High School, Liberty High School, and Henry Snyder High School, and Lincoln High School will all hold their commencement ceremonies on Thursday, June 21.
A seventh high school, Infinity Institute, opened in 2010 and currently only goes through the tenth grade. Like McNair Academic, students from across the city can attend Infinity, but they must apply for acceptance and score well on an entrance test to be admitted. Infinity has yet to graduate its first class.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.