CLARK, NJ - The Arthur L Johnson High School celebrated the achievements of 198 graduates during its fifty-eighth commencement exercises held last evening at Nolan Field. The processional stretched across the field to the doors of the school as the students entered slowly in pairs. The ALJ Concert Band performed Pomp and Circumstance.  Musical performances by the ALJ Chorus were featured throughout the program.

Salutatorian Justin Lakkis spoke from the heart about life, friends, and the teachers who had contributed to his experiences.  He said, “Life is the sum of all we ever experience.  Life is truly enjoyable from my perspective because of friends and the memories that materialize from those relationships.”

Class President Lauren Firetto recognized the achievements of the school’s many sports teams and clubs. In contemplating the class’ similarities, she also addressed the diversity and the unique nature of many of the students. She recognized those who did not strive for popularity but who followed only their own path and happiness. “So many of you have left an impact on me and have opened my eyes to a greater sense of reality,” she said.

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After sharing some personal stories of classmates and lessons he’d learned at ALJ, Valedictorian Vincent Banek recounted the success of the boys’ lacrosse team in winning what seemed an unwinnable title. “Work hard,” Banek implored, “Work harder than those around you and you will have success.”

A slideshow of photos from the evening:

Board of Education President Lorraine Aklonis spoke of the impact of technology on the graduates’ future. She cautioned the students to treat technology with respect in a world in which a single action or decision can have lasting impact.  “You must make all of your decisions and choices with the expectation that you may have to answer for them far into the future,” she told the students.

Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Knops spoke briefly. He reminded the students that life’s difficulties are often only temporary and that good spirits will produce positive results.  He urged the students to surround themselves with their families and good mentors.

ALJ Principal Rick Delmonaco told the assembly that he had spoken to the class at length earlier in the day. Having been with this class since they had been in sixth grade, Delmonaco said that he felt a special closeness to the students.  He reminded the students of a quote from Walt Disney, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”  

The names of the graduates were read by Valedictorian Vincent Banek and Salutatorian Justin Lakkis.  Diplomas were presented by members of the Board of Education.  The personalities of many of the students were reflected in the cheers, whistles and shouts from fellow graduates and the audience.

Some graduates were solemn, some were ebullient and still others seemed surprised to find themselves there.  At least one mortarboard went flying in excitement as the graduate leapt across the stage. As if to underscore the words of Aklonis, Youseff Hijazi approached the stage with his cell phone and took a selfie before accepting his diploma.

When the names had been read, the graduates stood as a class.  They flipped the tassels on their mortarboards and were introduced as the Class of 2014.  At that moment, fireworks went off overhead, welcoming the students to the next phase of their lives.