Graduates of Bayonne High School marched single file onto the field at Veteran’s Stadium to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” before a crowd of proud families on Tuesday, June 20.
“I am so proud. She is going to be the second doctor in my family,” said Guelina Ovalle, mother of three Bayonne High School students. Her oldest, Jasmine Gissele Ovalle, was captain of the cheerleading team and plans to be a cardiologist. “She’s still young. She has a long way to go.”
Claudia Lufta raved about her daughter, Cassandra, who is planning a nursing career after attending the Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.
“I feel really good because we’re on to the next chapter of college,” said Lufta. “I’m very, very happy.”
Father Bishoy Malak, a priest at Virgin Mary and Saint John Coptic Church, sat in the bleachers to watch the graduation ceremony for the 13th year in a row. Thirty students in his church, many he’s known since they were 4 years old, graduated, two of whom in the top ten of their class.
“I’m so proud of them. I’m so happy to see them graduating,” he said. “They have always been very intelligent, smart, and very religious. They had good families that helped them grow up. And it’s a great opportunity being in the United States after coming from Egypt.”
One proud father had the privilege of sitting in the front row with local elected officials and school administrators – Councilman Gary La Pelusa. “I’m so excited. It really is such a great goal after four years,” he said of his daughter, Jennifer, who will attend Caldwell University in the fall. “It’s bittersweet. She’s sad to see that it’s over, but it’s a new journey.”
La Pelusa had the unique privilege as a councilman to award his daughter her diploma at the ceremony. “It was really something special,” he said.
As more students go on to college over the years, high school has become a sendoff point, an after party and a pre-game all at once. While parents gushed with pride from the rafters, students on the field were itching to get through with it, but still happy to be there. “I’m so excited,” said Mariano Cuello, walking single file onto the field before commencement. “We’re finally out.”
Shawn Robinson, wearing an all-white suit under his cap and gown, said his graduating is “an amazing accomplishment.” Asked of his plans afterward, he said, “Oh yeah, I’m going to Project Graduation.”
“We have to plan for the future and it’s up to us”
– Alice Miesnik
Cue the encouragement
Valedictorian Nada Wahba, in her commencement speech, offered words of encouragement to her fellow graduates. “I know it is never easy to take a new step. However, as we move forward with the opportunities that await you, take your next steps with confidence,” said Wahba, who is planning to study microbiology at Rutgers University. “With your outstanding abilities and accomplishments, I know you will find valuable experiences throughout your educational careers. I wish you all the success I know you are ready for as you pursue your education further.”
But her words were not her own. Wahba pieced together phrases from her college rejection letters, cleverly turning encouraging clichés into a message of empowerment and resilience – that failure is the first step to success.
“Rejection and criticism are inevitable,” she said. “But despite their sting, we cannot let them diminish the amazing things we accomplished, nor can we let them stop us from taking on new challenges.”[
The last speech
“Education is a wonderful journey, but at the end of the journey, you must reach your destination,” said Superintendent Patricia McGeehan at the ceremony that also included words from Mayor James Davis and BHS Principal Richard Baccarella.
In her last commencement as superintendent, she sent students off with some words of wisdom that are so simple, yet very complex. “So, find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”
McGeehan, like all administrators and city officials, recognizes the Bayonne student body’s diversity as a major asset. McGeehan quoted Jesse Jackson from his 2010 keynote speech to Hudson County Community College graduates: “There’s power in dreaming, but dreaming beyond your neighborhood, beyond your race, beyond your language – the dream of the big world,” the civil rights leader said.
“You have the power to dream,” McGeehan said. “Dream what you want to dream. Go where you want to go and be what you want to be. Don’t let anyone stand in your way to follow your passion and dream. That’s what I’ve done every day.”
After a school year painted by an uncertain financial future, seniors graduating this spring may have been unsure whether they would be Marist’s last graduating class. The private high school was faced with the task of either raising $1.5 million or closing. Parents, students, faculty, and alumni came together to raise enough in a short time to keep the doors open, while the Marist Brothers and administration are considering new fundraising models.“We have to plan for the future and it’s up to us,” said Head of Schools, Alice Miesnik. She said the school’s fundraising capacity and overwhelming support have raised the bar in continued efforts to remain open. “It’s not as if we raised $750,000 and the game is over,” Miesnik said. “We have to keep going and we’re leaving the bar up. And we’re hoping people still want to contribute.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.