CLARK, NJ – The graduation of the Arthur L. Johnson High School Class of 2017 was a celebration of success and achievement. Emotions ran high as the school’s 61st commencement took place Thursday evening on the ALJ football field.

Musical selections highlighted the program. Senior members of the ALJ chorus led with singing an a cappella version of the national anthem. Other musical selections included “Imagine," “Con Te Partio" and “The Lord Bless You."

During his welcome speech,Assistant Principal Daniel Hemberger said, “Today is the culmination of hard work and dedication.  It is a day that is marked by the years before and after. So today be thankful, be grateful, be joyful, and begin anew.”

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Salutatorian Krista Lynn Ginesi gave an emotional speech sharing the parallels of Disney’s “The Lion King” to the  journey of the graduating class.  She said that just as Simba struggled to find his place in the circle of life, the class of 2017 struggled to find their place as they entered ALJ and make decisions about the future ahead. 

“Do not forget the journey.  Always remember the people, parents, friends, and teachers who helped get us to this point.  Remember that your roots are here.  You are always Crusaders and because of that, you possess the same resilience of that little lion that may have inspired you as a child as it did for me.”

Class President Matthew T. Gallo reflected upon the lessons he and his fellow graduates learned, some silly and some important, during their four years at ALJ. “The most significant lessons that high school has taught us cannot be found in a book. We’ve learned to be responsible, honest, mature, and independent individuals.”

Gallo got emotional as he quoted a character from television’s “The Office” saying, “I wish there was a way to know that you were in the good old days before you actually left them.”

He ended his speech by addressing ALJ Principal Rick Delmonaco saying, “On behalf of the Class of 2017, and for all you have done for us for the last four years, we would like you to accept the official 2017 class shirt as a small token of our deep appreciation.”

Valedictorian Eric D.A. Velasquez-Mazanke weaved comedic relief throughout his speech but got serious as he advised his class to rely on their relationships with others and not to stress on things out of their control. 

He went on to say that this generation gets a lot of external messages that success is based on an individualistic mentality that its us against the world.  “That’s just wrong.  Nothing we have done in our lives so far has happened on our own,” said Velasquez-Mazanke.  “Our close relationships… are what get us through hard times and make good times even better.”

Board of Education President Jill Curran kept her speech short, offering congratulations to the parents, family members, administrators, teachers, and staff who helped this graduating class get to where they are today. 

“To the Class of 2017, as you chart your course remember the lessons learned during your years spent in our schools and in our community and carry those with you.  Continue to work hard, dream big, and to make a difference," said Curran.

Superintendent Ed Grande reflected on the many achievements of the graduating class, citing the many honorable programs the students have been accepted into at top schools throughout the country. He also congratulated those going into the armed forces.   Grande went on to say that the class had earned more than $7.5 million in scholarship money. 

Delmonaco addressed the Class of 2017, calling them one of his favorites.  “I have shared a lot of memories that I will never forget with this class…I thank you the Class of 2017 for that.”

Delmonaco shared a quote he saw earlier today that said, “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”  He said that this applies particularly to this graduating class.  “You have followed this already in your academic lives thus far.  You have looked beyond your comfort zones and taken chances.”

“You have figured out a way to not just stare at the water, but how to conquer it and cross it.  I am proud of all of you for doing this at ALJ and I hope you remember these words," urged Delmonaco in closing.

Delmonaco received a standing ovation from the Class of 2017 as he finished his remarks.   

The ceremony was live streamed on the district’s website and is available for viewing. 

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