BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - There is "no turning back" for the 283 graduates of Gov. Livingston's Class of 2017, who, by tradition, proceeded down Highlander Way Tuesday night to Frey Field to "Burn the Ships" -- advancing to a future destined for greatness.
The night was pristine for the 57th Gov. Livingston Commencement Ceremony as the Highlander Marching Band bagpipers led the procession of administrators, teachers and students playing the "Highlander Cathedral" followed by "Pomp and Circumstance" performed by the Gov. Livingston Commencement Band.
Tradition runs strong on "The Hill" with Kian Monaghan standing watch, overlooking his class filing down to the track and field, before taking the sword stab into the ceremonial rock.
Student Council President Tim Donohue started his commencement message by giving an explanation to the tradition and the meaning behind the school's mantra of "burn the ships" that dates back to Captain Hernán Cortés' order to "burn the ships" to ashes in 1519. "The only way to succeed is to look forward," said Donohue. "'Burn the Ships' is our own Highlander way of saying there is no going back -- there is no going back Class of 2017," he said. However, "we should never shy away from cherishing our memories, accomplishments and friendships from when the school was truly our school."
He highlighted many of his classmates' extraordinary accomplishments -- as recent as the boys track and field team's first ever NJSIAA Group 2 Championship title and Dan Baroff's clutch two out base clearing championship winning hit. Aside from the many athletic accolades listed, he mentioned Adam Cantor being cast in the Rockettes' traveling Christmas Spectacular and he is presently cast in a Netflix movie; Chas DeAngelis with his hair cutting enterprise; and Nicole Segalini, a Berkeley Heights EMT, was the "catcher" in an emergency child birth situation.
"Our class of 2017 has a work ethic that is about constantly improving and bettering yourselves," said Donohue.
Along with the black belts, Eagle Scouts, Gold Award winners -- what will resonate with this class is the three-peat Thanksgiving Football Game victory over neighboring New Providence. "Excellence is what we repeatedly do. So we did it again and again," said Donohue. "The only three-peat in Gov. Livingston vs New Providence history."
He said that the 283 classmates are one big family who has each other's back. "Moving on from high school doesn't mean we don't share the memories up on 'The Hill'," he said.
Class President Meryl Schaffer shined with optimism for this Class of 2017. "I know for a fact that all of us are destined for greatness as long as we stay positive and passionate and true to ourselves," she said.
It was evident the school's administration agrees with Donohue and Schaffer. "Our students have far exceeded the expectation during their time together at our schools," said Principal Robert Nixon.
"You have found yourself jumping to great heights and testing the limits of what you thought was achievable no matter the obstacles or barriers you found in the way," said Nixon, who described their four year high school journey to a track meet. "You have cleared them and that is why you find yourself before us this evening. You clearly were ready for the challenges high school presented for you -- but are you prepared for what's next?" he asked.
"I know that Gov. Livingston has presented you with great challenges --- we have given you exposure to the experiences you need to prepare for and handle the next phase of your life," said Nixon. -- "I'm here to tell you that you are prepared. You are ready to pass the baton onto the next generation of Highlanders and clear any hurdles that come your way in the coming year(s). I have every confidence that when you are ready to stand on the winning podium of life -- your name will be called."
Before the awarding of diplomas, Superintendent of Schools Judith Rattner shared her remarks to the graduates. "You already know that life is about expecting and expectations. -- Creating the expectation was the very first step toward the successful achievement of a goal."
She said, without expectation, very little can be accomplished. -- "Of all the important things you will do in life, none will be more defining than that of determining your expectations. Choose wisely so you can live a happy and healthy life."
"Always remember to expect the best -- I know you will get it," said Rattner. "On behalf of the entire Gov. Livingston community, I wish you the happiness of a productive life, the respect of others, the love of your families and continued success, may the future be yours."
Music was performed by the Governor Livingston Commencement Band and the Gov. Livingston Choir, along with the ASL Signers during the singing of Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water."