Graduating with honors
Weehawken HS class of ’14 awarded almost $6M in scholarships, grants
by Art Schwartz
Reporter staff writer
Jun 29, 2014 | 3875 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CLASS PRESIDENT – Daniel Cajina received a scholarship to the University of Tampa. He will pursue a career in medicine.
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“Of the 66 graduates in the class of 2014, 88 percent have been accepted to 61 different colleges and universities,” said Weehawken High School Principal Dr. Peter Olivieri last week. Two of the other five students will be entering military service with the remainder entering the workforce.

“The 88 percent that are going on to further education were offered $5,871,637 in scholarships and grants,” he continued. “That’s an average of $88,964 a student.”

“These are outstanding numbers,” said Board of Education President Richard Barsa. “For a school our size to earn this amount of money, they have to work hard -- not just in the last four years, but from the beginning of their entrance into the Weehawken school system, from pre-K to eighth grade.”

They were speaking at the Weehawken High School 74th graduating class commencement ceremony on Monday, June 23. The mayor and Town Council attended the event, along with many other town and school administrators and officials.

Barsa went on to cite the school’s rankings according to US News and World Report Magazine. “We were 44th in the state [in 2011], then 37, and now this year 29. In the country, we went from 1,292 to 798 and now 714. That’s not exactly shabby for the little Weehawken school system.”

“This class is the most academically proficient class in the past 38 years,” Oliveri added. “You have the best scores, the best everything. You are terrific. Congratulations.”

Top ten honors

“When I think of the class of 2014 several words come to mind: connected, small, crazy, close, hilarious,” said Cristal Abud, class salutatorian. “I also think of the words dedicated, committed, intelligent, talented, inspiring, and motivated. The class of 2014 is one of the most hard-working classes to ever walk the halls of Weehawken High School.”

Abud, a member of the National Honor Society, served as captain of the school color guard and played varsity basketball. She received a grant from Columbia University, where she will major in engineering and applied science in the fall.

“My favorite thing about this class is how we acted as a support group for each other through our ups and downs,” she continued, noting that many of the 66 students had been in the same classes since kindergarten.

Class valedictorian Pearl Lee delivered an address to the students and audience that looked back fondly over their time together: “Over the past several years our class has bonded over sports games and school rivalries, teachers we’ve all loved -- or loved to hate, drama we’ve gossiped about, and fire drills we’ve all appreciated when it wasn’t 30 degrees outside.”

“We’ve transformed from immature freshmen to slightly less immature sophomores, juniors, and finally, seniors -- rulers of the school,” she said. “We’ve dedicated 6,300 hours of our lives to sitting in classrooms learning functions of X, how to find X, and what the author of X novel was attempting to convey.”

Lee, a National Honor Society member, played basketball and volleyball for the school, along with participating in the marching band. She received a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she will be majoring in biomedical engineering.

Daniel Cajina offered the invocation at the graduation ceremony and received numerous awards. Cajina, class president for the past three years, is also vice president of the National Honor Society. He received a scholarship to the University of Tampa, where he will pursue a career in medicine.

Jack Skuller and Alioune Diane both received full scholarships to Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken as part of a special program unique to Weehawken High School. “We made a deal with Stevens,” explained Mayor Richard Turner. “They use our athletic facilities for soccer, lacrosse, track. We get to use some of their gyms and their pool, and we ensure that we get two four-year scholarships every year for deserving students at Stevens.”

Rounding out the top 10 students of the year were Emily Chong, Genna Fukuda, Karina Martinez, Kiara Proano, and Maria Sanchez.

Project Graduation

Twenty-four years ago, Weehawken High School established a tradition to keep students safe on graduation night: Project Graduation.

“It’s an event where graduates are taken by bus and are provided a safe area where they are inside all night with activities and food,” explained Superintendent McClellan. “It keeps them off the streets and alcohol-free.”

Although participation is not required, the school strongly encourages involvement and usually gets 100 percent participation, according to McClellan.

“We used to go to different health clubs and things like that,” he said. “Now Stevens Institute has offered their facilities to us free of charge because of our partnership. They have all types of equipment there. The kids play basketball or volleyball. There’s a DJ. There’s food. It’s really something to see. And the kids love it.”

“So they will leave here tonight and they will be our responsibility,” explained Mayor Turner to the assembled parents and relatives in the graduation audience. “It’s the last time they will ever be together as a group, and they will have a great night. And then at 5 in the morning they’ll come home safe and tired, and they belong to you.”

Art Schwartz may be reached at

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