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Amityville Graduation is Five Times as Special

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A graduating class full of hope and promise was celebrated at Amityville Memorial High School on June 27 during five commencement ceremonies, the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Speakers, in noting the great uncertainty in the world right now, emphasized their belief that the Class of 2020 will be better for it.

This year’s graduation was anything but traditional. With a 150-person limit, Amityville’s class of more than 200 seniors could not celebrate the milestone together, with ceremonies of approximately 45 students apiece and each graduate limited to two guests. On the football field, chairs were set up to respect social distancing rules and masks had to be worn. Graduates picked up their diploma folders from a table on the stage. Speeches by the valedictorian, salutatorian, class president and class adviser were given in person only at the first session, with pre-recorded versions played later.

But the unusual circumstances, and some on-and-off rain, didn’t temper enthusiasm for a moment that was 13 years in the making. Principal Edward Plaia said the graduates had different journeys to arrive at this destination, but what they did have in common was hard work, perseverance and a will to succeed. The Class of 2020 has students who exceeded in academics, the arts and athletics, and earned $4 million in scholarships. Seniors entering the military were individually recognized.

Mr. Plaia said that seniors made great sacrifices to help curtail the spread of COVID-19, having their last day of school without evening knowing it. Many of them, working part-time jobs at supermarkets and restaurants, learned what it meant to be an essential worker. As remote instruction began, they became more independent in their learning.

Superintendent Dr. Mary T. Kelly said that when the school year began, no one would imagine it ending this way. Students became eyewitnesses to history. But despite those challenges, there were many important items that the pandemic could not take away from them – the love of family, cherished memories with friends, their knowledge and skills, their grit and determination, and their hopes and dreams.

“This is your moment, your generation’s world to shape,” she told the Class of 2020. “You’re ready for the challenges ahead we will be here rooting for you.”

Valedictorian Marco Iorio said that in extraordinary times, the seniors never gave up on themselves to reach this milestone, reminding his classmates that a high school diploma is an extension of their excellence. He also thanked those who have provided support along the way, and help guide them through the chaos, including family members, teachers and administrators.

Salutatorian Amelia Tisk said she and her classmates entered senior year looking forward to many traditional milestone moments, but life had other plans. While the world is changing, she explained, there is a light at the end of the darkness.

“We are the most unique class to graduate,” she said. “If we can go through this, we can go through anything. The important thing is that we’re here, we made it.”

With protests for equality taking place throughout the country, senior class President Jeffrey Reyes-Espinal said that diversity is Amityville’s strength and he is proud to graduate from a high school where students come from many different cultures. He invoked his late fourth grade teacher, Marc Engler, whose emphasis on good character and the importance of treating others respectfully made an indelible mark on all students.

The Class of 2020 is special to Mr. Plaia, because when he returned to the district six years ago as principal of Edmund W. Miles Middle School, they were entering the school as well as seventh graders. He later became high school principal and got see them complete the last year of their educational journeys in Amityville. As they move on, he left them with some advice from his father: “If you want to accomplish something, you need to just do it.”

Monday, September 21, 2020