PATERSON, NJ - In a beautiful ceremony that featured inspirational speeches by valedictorians from three academies, Eastside High School’s annual graduation was held under bright, sunny skies at Paterson’s Baurle Field Wednesday.
Pomp and Circumstance blared over the speakers as hundreds of proud seniors filed in from the far corner of the end zone across the football field to the grandstand filled to capacity with admiring parents, relatives, and friends.
Clad in white robes accentuated by blue, orange, and gold sashes, complete with the Eastside Ghosts’ logo, the students, divided based on the academy from which they’d be graduating, sat down uniformly and listened attentively.
“This has been an amazing last four years for you,” Vivian Gaines, emcee and Principal of the School of Information and Technology (SOIT), told the graduates after welcoming parents and family members.
“You have matured at your own pace. High school has been the bridge from training steps to adult preparation. You are ready to address the next level in your life.”
The veteran administrator counseled her young audience to “not be fearful.”
“Whether you continue your schooling, serve in the military, take vocational training, or work, take all that you have learned and have a sense of urgency,” Gaines concluded.
Deputy Superintendent of Paterson Public Schools Susan Peron congratulated the seniors on a job well done, complimenting them for being part of a resurgence of excellence in the Paterson Public School District.
“You are the distinguished men and women of the Class of 2019,” Peron stated. “You aren’t here by accident. This took a lot of sustainable effort. Seeing you graduate means so much to me. In 2009, Paterson schools had a 46% graduation rate. This year the rate has increased to 85%.”
Peron also repeated a previous announcement that Paterson students have been awarded $9.4 million in scholarships and that over 400 seniors have been accepted into colleges. The deputy superintendent ended her speech with the recommendation to, “Get up early, ask the right questions, and get the work done to succeed.”
Valedictorian addresses were presented by seniors Waleska Velazquez of SOIT; Ana Geronimo and Yaritza Loon of the School of Culinary Arts, Hospitality and Tourism (CAHTS); and Dominque Aybar-Baez and Kayla Santiago of the School of Government and Public Administration (GOPA).
In a moving tribute, Velazquez, prior to starting her address, invited family members of Katherine Almonte to come forward, presenting the former student’s mother with mementos and artifacts commemorating Katherine’s strength and compassion.
Katherine passed away earlier this year.
Velasquez introduced her speech with the inquiry, “Who are you?”, focusing then on laying aside negative stereotypes or negative labels and resisting normalizing false perceptions.
“I can confidently say that I am assured that you are resilient, strong, resourceful, capable, and persistent,” Velasquez said, and challenged, her peers.
“That is who you are.”
After quoting the Roman philosopher, Seneca, Geronimo summarized her address with three points: “Stay positive, do not let negative people into your life; believe in yourself, do not let other people tell you what you can and can’t do; and, finally, never give up, do not let obstacles, big or small, stand in the way of your dreams.”
“We stand here today on the precipice of our future,” Leon began. “It is not a distant reality anymore.”
“Graduation is not an end goal in itself, it is instead a part of the larger journey of life,” Leon continued. “The road that lies ahead won’t be easy, there will be obstacles and missed exits, potholes, and roadblocks.”
“However, we must stay the course as each of these hazards will be life lessons,” she advised. “Eventually, though, the road will become straight, and smooth, and the destination will be seen in the horizon.”
Ayar-Baez credited the hard work of her parents and their, “being hardworking, devoted, and selfless” as the reason she was able to come to America from the Dominican Republic. She said that her own hard work in academics was in gratitude of their sacrifice for her during her formative years.
“With dedication, hard work, and patience, everything is possible” Aya-Baez said offering final inspiration.
“In my opinion, the most important lesson that we have learned over the last four years is that you either learn to fail or fail to learn,” the final valedictorian to speak, Kayla Santiago, stated. “All the work and effort that we put into our education will forever contribute to the success we will find.”
“You will have failures in your life, but it is what you do during those valleys that will determine the heights of your peaks,” she concluded, quoting former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuael.
Following the formal presentation and certification of the Class of 2019, Paterson Board of Education President Oshin Castillo provided the acceptance. Diplomas were then handed out as each and every graduate walked their high school educational aisle for the last time.
As Principal Gaines announced that it was time to turn the tassels, the exuberant graduates stood up and shouted for joy. Following the singing of the iconic Eastside High School Alma Mater, the seniors marched out in recessional to the awaiting hugs, embraces, and handshakes of loved ones, their lives, and bright futures, ahead of them.
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