East Islip High School’s 85th commencement ceremony was held on June 23, a beautiful Saturday morning that served as the perfect backdrop for the culmination of the Class of 2012’s high school educations.
Preceded by members of the Board of Education and the high school and district administrative staffs, the red-robed graduates-to-be marched into Boomer Esiason Stadium in Islip Terrace to the traditional sounds of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” played by the East Islip High School Orchestra under the direction of Kelly Gelfer and Susan Rydzeski.
Principal William Brennen welcomed everyone in attendance, thanking Mother Nature for cooperating in providing the morning’s sunny skies and a welcome cessation of rain. Reid Adler led the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a stalwart rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Sean Kaiser. Four seniors – Thomas Bauer, Raymond O’Connor, Angela Pizzuto and Rebecca Walter – then sang the school anthem, “East Islip Alma Mater,” in lovely four-part harmony.
Brennen began his address on a somber note, referencing the untimely passing of three members of the graduating class: Kimberly Coffey, Amanda Hartley and Joseph Mastrangelo. “To honor them,” he asked, “let us have a moment of silence for dear friends lost too soon.” He reverently added, “I have no magic words of wisdom, but time heals all wounds.” Before introducing the class salutatorian’s address, Brennen concluded, “Today is a celebration, a milestone marking the beginning of your adult lives. To the Class of 2012, always remember your roots and never lose your EI pride!”
Salutatorian Angela Pizzuto brought a witty dose of humor to the proceedings, starting with a wry admission that she had spent more time picking out her shoes than writing her speech. “I’m only 17 and don’t pretend to know more than anyone else here,” she explained. A manifesto of sorts – “They say to write what you know, and I know how to complain” – morphed into a comedic list of her least favorite things about the school. Growing serious, Pizzuto told her classmates, “There’s something about an East Islip education that other schools cannot match. Even in the face of hardship and tragedy, this class has handled itself with all the grace and dignity anyone could ever ask for. I wish you luck, happiness and success. Always remember you are unique – like everyone else!”
Celebrating their 50th anniversary as East Islip alumni, several dozen members of the Class of 1962 were then introduced and presented with honorary diplomas by Board of Education President Glenn Reed. The widow of the late Sgt. Craig B. Gariepy ’62, who died in the Vietnam War, accepted on his behalf.
“Our time has come, EI Class of 2012,” said the school’s valedictorian, Nicholas Pandolfo, in a substantive and motivational address to his fellow seniors. Delving into a poem by 19th century Native American leader Tecumseh, he urged them to reject fear and regret. “Be excited about the future rather than depressed about the past,” he said. “Today is the last time all of us will sit together. We spent the last four years at that building across the street, making memories that are unforgettable.” After acknowledging the support of his family as well as the high school’s administration and faculty, he provided words of inspiration: “Move forward with your future in sight – whether it’s college, the workforce or the armed forces. Become your own hero.” Congratulating his peers, he closed by saying, “As Tecumseh once said, it is now time to live our lives.”
“Today we have the privilege of honoring our seniors,” said Superintendent of Schools John J. Finello, who took to the podium next with words of strong praise and astute advice. “You are bright, conscientious, enthusiastic and respectful and are to be commended for your accomplishments,” he told them. “You have served our high school well and made us proud.” He also singled out the students’ parents for admiration, noting, “You set the stage and built the foundation for your children’s success.” After assuring the graduates that there are both “more hard work ahead” and “more dreams to dream,” he offered a path for future success: “I think it is important to find what you love and be passionate about it. As Steve Jobs said, the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” After urging the students to value their civic duties and to strive to be kind and considerate, he wished them luck, saying, “I pray you will find happiness in the path you choose. Wherever it takes you, your school home will always be here for you. Congratulations to the Class of 2012!”
Board President Reed then addressed the audience. Humorously relating how often his duties as both a parent and board member have connected him to the school lives and careers of these students, he described not only pride in their achievements, but affirmed their uniqueness. “During this past year I have had the chance to see and enjoy the great accomplishments of so many of our students – the success in the classroom, the concerts, the games, the championships, the notices of acceptance to college and more,” he remarked. “Others have commented that such a journey is not so very remarkable – I disagree. Each of you is unlike any before you or any that will come after you. It may be the collective of us all that make up mankind, but it is, I believe, the individuality of each of us that makes for an interesting and diverse fabric.” Quoting John Donne’s famous 1624 “No man is an island” verses, Reed emphasized connectivity and spoke of this era’s great technological advancements and new forms of social interaction. “The world is changing and you are right in the midst of this change,” he told the seniors. “Even with the challenges you will face in your life, make connections to those people and those things that you love. Connect and stay connected – and in all your connections, cherish, enhance and handle them with reverence and respect. Be a part of the main. Be involved in mankind.”
Following Reed’s address, the students were declared graduates by Principal Brennen, and in time-honored tradition, turned their cap tassels from left to right.
Following the presentation of diplomas, the day’s final speech came from senior class president Tina Zicolella, who said, “Thirty years from now, what will matter is what you learned and how you used it. Most importantly, don’t let your past keep you from your future.”
Principal Brennen then proffered what he called “an old Irish blessing,” telling the seniors, “Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand,” before sending them home as alumni of East Islip High School. Red mortarboard caps flew in the air, and the beaming graduates filed out of the stadium to the triumphant strains of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, ready to celebrate with proud friends and family members.