Kudos to Riverhead Central School District for producing a beautiful commencement program Friday evening, despite the threatening weather forecast and the resulting difficulty in preparing for this special event.
The administration had to make a hard decision: play it safe and keep the ceremony indoors, limiting admission to two tickets per graduate, or going forward with an outdoor ceremony that could be enjoyed by so many more family members, friends and supporters. Either choice could result in unhappy parents and a mega-ton of complaints: indoors and no rain; outdoors and the skies open up. Decision-makers can study the forecasts and radar forever, but when all is said and done, the weather is, after all, still unpredictable.
The end result was a perfect send-off for the Class of 2023. Every class deserves a perfect send-off, but it was especially fitting for this class, whose entire high school career was upended by a historic pandemic.
They entered high school in the fall of 2019, just before the word “coronavirus” entered our vernacular. After one semester of life in the “before” time, everything shut down.
School administrators were faced with unprecedented circumstances and had to make bold no-win decisions that would inevitably make a lot of people very unhappy. Teachers and students had to adapt to unprecedented circumstances of their own: remote learning — a tough task made even tougher in a district where many households lacked computers and high-speed internet access.
We heard from teachers and administrators Friday evening how this class was resilient and unstoppable. They rose above the hardships wrought by the pandemic, the interruption of learning, sports competition and social interaction. They soldiered on.
Superintendent Augustine Tornatore said in the years to come, when he thinks of the Class of 2023 “the first word that will come to my mind will be perseverance.”
The students persevered thanks to the perseverance of school administrators, present and past, and the classroom teachers who had to figure out new ways to educate their students. Their efforts went well beyond “teaching online.” They had to buy Chromebooks, make internet connections, and ensure that kids who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs for nourishment remained adequately fed while isolated at home. The rest of us can’t even imagine what they went through as they carried out their duties and remained true to their vocations.
The students persevered thanks to the support of parents and guardians who were simultaneously struggling with their own employment and financial challenges arising from pandemic shut-downs — as well as, in some cases, COVID health issues and deaths in their families.
Now, the Class of 2023 emerges into a world that’s changed in so many fundamental ways. Certainly, the future is always filled with unknowns, but the unknowns faced by young people starting out at this moment in history are greater than those confronting every previous generation still alive.
Though they’ve lived through dark times at a tender age and face an uncertain future, you’d never know it Friday evening. The energy, enthusiasm and determination of the Class of 2023 were palpable. The resilience and perseverance that allowed them to overcome the challenges of the pandemic remain with them as they leave Riverhead High School and begin to write the next chapter in the book of life.
As we listened to the reflections of your class leaders and learned of your many accomplishments, as we read the messages on your elaborately decorated caps and watched you walk across the stage to receive your diplomas, we couldn’t help but feel optimistic that the future is in good hands.
Congratulations to the Class of 2023. Now go out and make great news.
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