“One of the parents said, ‘Thank you for saying what you said in the paper about the Class of 2013. Did you really mean it when you said you would adopt all 160?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ ‘Good, here is the tuition bill for college tuition next year,’” Secaucus High School Principal Robert Berckes joked during his remarks at the graduation ceremony on June 24, referring to a comment he made in The Secaucus Reporter.
Berckes was paying tribute to the character of each student in this year’s class. He called the last four years a great journey, not only working with the kids, but also with those who helped get the 160 students to graduation, and said that these four years laid down the foundation for the students.
But he said many of the students had used adjectives such integrity, honesty, fairness, justice, courage, and bravery to describe what they got out of these four years. Berckes said these made a great foundation for them to go out into the world.
Berckes thanked the parents for entrusting their students to the school, and he thanked the teachers who day in and day out worked to provide the students with what they needed. But he said this was a process of the whole school system, working up from elementary schools.
“If you want pick a career not based on a paycheck, but where your passion and your heart are, you won’t work a day in your life – I haven’t worked a day in my life, I love what I do,” he said.
A special group
Robert Presuto, interim superintendent of schools, said he was very pleased to be addressing the graduating class of 2013.
“You’re the first class I’m addressing as interim superintendent and I’m honored to be doing so,” he said.
This group had a number of firsts for him, including the evolving use of email and social media.
“You’re the group that sent some of your teachers to Japan,” he said. “You’re Secaucus students who knew who I was when I saw them in the hall. I was at the prom and I watched with pride and admiration at the style of the class, a picture of just getting along and having a good time should look like. I sat in awe at the academic and sports awards ceremonies, as so many received honors – which are well deserved. You have become teachers in your own right and we all feel you’re a special group.”
Reading his speech off a handheld device, Presuto waxed poetic, offering advice to the students with a literary flourish that kept the gazes of the graduates fixed upon him.
“It still hasn’t hit me that we’re even seniors, let alone graduating.” – Munir “Nouri” Rahbe
Many of the graduates are moving on to college or trade schools, some even into the military, while a handful are leaping immediately into the workforce.
Salutatorian Aarushi Kumar, who is heading to McGill University in Montreal, Canada in the fall, laughed through her tears as she gave her address.
“My next class assignment is not to cry while I’m speaking,” she said in an off-the-cuff prelude to the actual speech.
She said the biography of her accomplishments, her grade point average and the school she will be attending are only part of the story of her high school career at Secaucus High School, nor do the stats tell the story of the other 159 students sitting behind her, she said.
“And yet so many times over the last four years, it seemed like the only part that mattered,” she said. It is a flaw of modern society, she said, that statistics make up a persona.
“We are all given a title, a convenient generic label that is supposed to confine us and coheres us – a constant constraint,” she said, “one not known for its accuracy. Society fails to make the effort to find the whole story, and thus it becomes our job to break the chains of stereotypes and titles and barriers and become someone more than what the exterior presents – just as there is more to this class than the diplomas we receive represent.”
But then she challenged the assemblage of teachers, administrators, parents, and well-wishers to define the class, and what best describes its past four years.
“I promise you, you can’t,” she said. “We are the class in which the smart kids are also the athletes; the athletes are also the theater kids; the theater kids are also the leaders; and the leaders are everywhere.”
Board of Education President John Mc Stowe said, “Ben Franklin said an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest. The class of 2013 is the result of that investment.”
He warned students that life will present obstacles, but said “obstacles are those things you see when you take your eyes off your goals.”
Class president: time to use the knowledge gained
“The thought of leaving high school and attending college has always been a daunting one for me and probably many others,” said Class President Munir “Nouri” Rahbe. “But it’s time. It’s time to use all the knowledge we’ve gained over the past four years from books or experiences to further ourselves in the best possible direction.”
He described Secaucus High School as a nest they must leave to begin to live their lives. But he said the memories of his experiences he will take with him.
“They are valuable and I am eternally grateful,” he said.
He remembered writing an essay six years ago about leaving elementary school, and said the sadness he felt then is just as strong now with his leaving high school.
“It still hasn’t hit me that we’re even seniors, let alone graduating, and it’s hard to imagine all my classmates that I see day in and day out will be parting ways to find their own lives this fall. It is a bittersweet moment for all of us.”
But wherever life takes these graduates, he said, he knows they will be great.
Valedictorian tries to define intelligence
Valedictorian Shaun Sengupta with his speech clearly helped give the class of 2013 its style, drawing thunderous applause as he made his way up to the podium.
Headed for the prestigious Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., to study mechanical engineering, Sengupta proved he could handle language as well as he could mathematics.
“Smart, brilliant, intelligent – there are common definitions for each of them, but there is no common application,” he said opening his speech. “Honestly, what does it mean to be intelligent?”
This could mean a coherent understanding of subjects like math, science, or English.
“But I would be lying,” he said. “That definition is too simplistic.”
This, he said, would underestimate the people who possess talents, even those whose talents have yet to be discovered.
“I know I’m intelligent because I know I know nothing,” Sengupta said quoting Socrates. “That makes 99 percent of us on this stage not intelligent because we think we know everything.”
Intelligence, he said, comes from the deeper understanding resulting from mastering a skill and from the passion put into that effort. He encouraged the class of 2013 to think back to the passion they put into mastering their skills, and becoming “makers of our own intelligence and creators of our own destiny.”
“We have people on this stage that make Broadway the very street they grew up on, musicians who give Shakespeare a modern jazz update, artists that made our jaws drop, and singers that made us cry, engineers that have invented hurricanes, chess champions in tournaments checkmated with ease, athletes that whiz by on the track, athletes who crashed parties,” he said. “We can see within ourselves that we are collectively multi-faceted, but each with our individual role, our own versions of intelligence, our own niche, or our individual road, whether it be less travelled or not.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.