NORTH CALDWELL, NJ – Hundreds of family members and friends applauded the 259 West Essex Regional High School (WEHS) graduates as they marched into the school’s stadium on Friday night to receive their diplomas. Surrounded by their loved ones, the Class of 2018 graduates celebrated their last night together before moving onto the next phase of their lives.

With skies remaining bright well into the night on the second-longest day of the year, the sun shone on Superintendent Barbara Longo and Principal Caesar Diliberto as they led the processional march of school leaders and graduates into the stadium. The WEHS band played the traditional “Pomp & Circumstance” as the students marched in wearing their red-and-white graduation gowns and caps.

Class president Julia Schmulewitz led off the speeches by talking about how the graduates have matured “with each challenge given to us.”

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“We learn from those who we surround ourselves with,” said Schmulewitz. “In high school, you can meet people who can change your life forever.”

Longo applauded the students for being proactive in meeting the challenging issues facing the country today head-on.

“Your generation has answered the call, and made us take notice of the historic moments that happened this year,” said Longo as she urged the graduates to continue being active, responsible citizens. “There is no limit to the impact you can have on today’s world.”

In his salutatory address, Kaan Avci encouraged his peers to do things that make them happy in their academic, professional and personal lives, rather than what makes other people happy.

“As we travel through life, I hope we never forget who we truly are,” said Avci. “I hope we never change ourselves just to meet other people’s expectations. I hope you will be able to fill your life with purpose, and pursue what you love.”

West Essex Board of Education president Deborah Sacco-Calderone acknowledged some of the accomplishments of the graduating class, including 87 of them who were inducted into the National Honor Society, and the 27 students whose academic excellence put them in the top 10 percent of the class.

Principal Diliberto reminded the graduates that “every day is an opportunity to do something wonderful.” He added that, along with the many good memories that high school brings, students should also remember some memories that might have been painful.

“These experiences shape your character,” he said. “They are learning experiences.”

In his valedictory address, Max Knopping urged the graduates to “explore, dream, discover—and take risks when it comes to what you want to do in life.”

“Graduation isn’t about one day,” said Knopping. “It’s about the sum of knowledge, experiences and relationships that we developed over four years…Success is not about material possessions or even friends we make. It’s about doing what you want to do in life.”

Following the speeches, Principal Diliberto and Sacco-Calderone called each graduate up to receive his or her diploma. Evan Lathrop, student council president, oversaw the tassel ceremony. Gold tassels were given to students who made the National Honor Society, and the students in the top 10 percent of the class received gold cords.