Riverhead High School graduated the Class of 2020 Friday evening in a virtual ceremony streamed online.
The ceremony had many of the trappings of Riverhead’s typical commencement exercises, from the presentation of colors by the NJROTC and the singing of the National Anthem at the start of the event to the traditional tassel ceremony at its conclusion.
Along the way, there were remarks by Riverhead High School principal Sean O’Hara, Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez, alumni keynote speaker Antonio Diaz, class president Jessica Murgolo, salutatorian Zachary White and valedictorian Christina Yakaboski.
All parts of the graduation ceremony were pre-recorded by the individual participants — except the presentation of the colors, which was recorded at an event in the high school gym that took place “BC,” or “before corona,” in the words of salutatorian Zachary White.
The format, while so different from the typical ceremony on the football field, in front of bleachers packed with cheering family members and friends, had a special charm — a unique intimacy that set it apart from the electric environment of past graduations, with their airhorn blasts and bouncing beach balls and a public address system amplifying the words spoken on a distant stage. Most everything about last night’s ceremony was up close and personal.
Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez spoke to the students about the impacts of COVID-19 on their lives and the world around them. She urged them to go out into the world knowing that coping with the pandemic in the last few months of their senior year made them stronger and more resilient.
“The Class of 2020 will always old a very special place of honor in the district’s history,” Henriquez told the graduates.
“What will come next for you may seem still a bit unclear but there’s no question that the fundamental lenses through which you see your life and the purpose and practice of education are now forever changed,” she said.
“This is your moment, although it may not seem as you thought it would be, you are being called upon to see the world and your role in it differently. Yes, verily, this is your moment — your moment to set new standards and go where no one, including your pre-pandemic self, has ever gone before. This is your moment to rise to new and improved and greater heights,” Henriquez said.
“I ask that you apply your passion to the betterment of society. Use your passion and your well-respected voice for the greater good. Be solutions-oriented, be kind, be lifelong learners and be global thinkers.
“The road ahead is yours. Define it. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”
Alumni Antonio Diaz (Class of 2007) spoke to the graduates about living a purposeful life. Knowing what your purpose is helps you overcome the inevitable failures and struggles in life, he said. Don’t be limited by your excuses, Diaz told them. “Remember, you are better than your excuses,” he said.
Diaz urged the graduates to be willing to get out of their comfort zone. “Be comfortable being uncomfortable…Get out of your comfortable position so you can grow,” he said.
“If you don’t spend time building your dream, you’ll spend the rest of your life building someone else’s.”
Salutatorian Zachary White spoke to his classmates about the importance of perseverance, a lesson driven home for them by the pandemic.
“Although right now the future is uncertain, we must take the lesson we have learned about perseverance during these hard times and apply it going forward,” Zachary said. “We have learned the importance of perseverance early in our lives. The Class of 2020 will always be remembered as the class whose senior year was cut short. We never gave up and found ways to overcome the roadblocks,” he said.
The Riverhead High School chamber choir performed “How Can I Keep from Singing,” with the young vocalists performing in their own homes and the individual recordings mixed together to create a harmonious group performance by the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses in the choir.
In her valedictory address, Christina Yakaboski urged her classmates to have the “the courage to be vulnerable” in life.
“The first ingredient of being brave is being scared,” she said. “I urge all of you to acknowledge this fear — the fear of saying I love you, the fear of asking for a raise and the fear f standing up for what you believe in and face it,” Christina said.
“Put yourself out of your comfort zone, step away from perfection and show the world who you really are. Most important, accept others when they open up to you. Vulnerability is strength not weakness,” Christina said.
Principal Sean O’Hara shared a reflection with the 2020 Blue Waves on the symbolic meaning of a wave.
“A wave can flow around obstacles in its path and yet it possesses the strength and ability to change and affect all that it touches. Its power to adapt is alluring and embodies the ebb and flow of life,” O’Hara said.
“In difficult times, you have always led by example, with conviction, compassion and empathy. You have been resilient and courageous. You have supported one other, cheered for each other and, like a blue wave, you have been strong and became stronger with each experience,” he told them.
He urged them to embrace life’s challenges, and “along your journey, employ all that embodies a blue wave.”
At the point in the program where each member of the graduating class would be called to the stage to receive their diploma, a narrator, over a “Pomp and Circumstance” soundtrack, read aloud the names of every member of the class — accompanied by slides depicting the senior photos and personal messages of the graduates.
The principal concluded the ceremony with the traditional tassel ceremony — again captured on video at the students’ homes — and pronounced: “You are now graduates of Riverhead High School.”
The graduates will receive their diplomas at multiple small group ceremonies scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at McKillop Memorial Field. The ceremonies are limited to 150 people in keeping with an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
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