Although named after the Roman God Juno, the month of June is seen often as a month for brides and graduates, filled with hopes for the future. And in Jersey City, graduates from high schools small and large paid tribute to their past efforts while looking ahead to what they hope to do with the rest of their lives.
Although parochial schools held their graduations early in the month, students in the public schools – making up for lost time caused by school closings during severe winter – were forced to wait an additional week for a marathon of graduations across the city held on June 26.
Some commencement ceremonies were more subdued than others, but each carried a special moment that excited both fellow graduates and family members in the audience, such as the salutatorian address by Omar M. Elkattawy at William L. Dickinson High School, when he opened his remarks by exclaiming, “Hey!”
Getting only a murmur of a response he said, “What did you have for lunch today, cafeteria food? I said, ‘Hey!’ ”
And the graduates shouted back, “Hey!”
Dickinson had a graduating class of just short of 500 students, and is known as “the high school on the hill,” for its location at the edge of Jersey City Heights and its view of downtown.
“I compare life to being on a hill,” Elkattawy said. “Some are born on top, some half way up, and some – like me – are born at the bottom. If you’re born at the bottom, you have a choice whether to start climbing or stay there. My advice is always keep climbing.”
By contrast, Liberty High School, a charter school located near Pershing Field in the Heights, had a graduating class of fewer than 50, but parents and friends filled the auditorium cheering on each of them as they came in.
Highlighting this graduation was the return of the school’s former principal, Dr. Frederick D. Williams, who looked out at the faces of students he had been with four years earlier when the school was located on Sip Avenue.
“When I looked into your eyes I had a vision, not a dream,” he said. “I could see a movie in my mind for you. You’re being here is the living proof that you can reach the vision I had for you.”
He said he liked the word “commencement,” because it signified the beginning of something, rather than the end. He gave them sage advice about the future.
“There is no shortcut to success,” he said. “Character will define what goals will open up for you, what successes you will have, and relationships you have with each other.”
While Henry Snyder High School also had a relatively small graduating class this year, it lacked nothing in support from the parents, who filled the auditorium with cheers.
“I’ve always been known as the girl with red lipstick and high heels,” said salutatorian Milly DeLaCruz. “I never thought I would do this well. I didn’t think I would have to try hard. As an Asian American, I was worried if I would fit in.”
By contrast, valedictorian Gino Markocs said he expected to be where he was, saying he set his goals to achieve it.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.