GLEN ROCK, NJ – The 187 graduates of the Glen Rock High School Class of 2019 walked away from the district’s 61st Commencement Ceremony on June 20 embracing two pieces of invaluable advice from their educators and fellow classmates: the significance of self-authenticity and living in the present moment.

A rainstorm moved the graduating class and the standing room only crowd inside the middle school auditorium Thursday – the first time in 15 years that the district’s commencement ceremony took place indoors.

But the inclement weather didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the graduates on their special milestone or their desire to get inspired by the many speeches delivered by students and faculty. The monologues encouraged the students to recognize their uniqueness, be themselves, live for today, and take only the good memories on their journey ahead.

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Isabel Siggers, who delivered the salutatorian address, said memories of her days at Central Elementary School playing a friendly but competitive game of all-for-one dodge ball is something she’ll always take with her over dreading her next midterm and looking forward to its end.  

“These are the memorable moments,” she said. “Not the hours on midterms, but the hours backstage goofing off with cast and crew mates. My only regret is not recognizing this sooner. [I was] so focused on the next test, the next show, the next year, that I never let myself live in the moment.”

Similarly, Grace DeSalvo, the valedictorian, said shared experiences are the ties that bind them to their high school memories. 

“We’re not going to think about Newton’s Laws of Motion or the symbolism of poison in Hamlet when we reminisce about Glen Rock High School,” she said. “Instead, we are going to remember our classmates, our teachers and the experiences we share together that make high school a memorable time in our lives.”  

Siggers recalled the first time she and her family moved to Glen Rock in 2010. She recalled her first day of fourth-grade dressed in a pink plaid dress and a Hello Kitty sling purse, a self-described “quiet nerd hoping for at least a few friends.” Despite emitting what she thought was a "disastrous first-impression," her first day, she left feeling pleasantly surprised and “swarmed” by her classmates. 

“Everyone wanted to say ‘hi’ to the new kid,” she recalled of the warm welcome.  

As she looks back at her time at the Glen Rock school district, kissing it goodbye isn’t as easy as she had originally envisioned. 

“How do I feel about graduating from Glen Rock High School? Earlier this year I may have said ‘excited,’ but now, even though it feels very dramatic, I’m leaning more towards mournful,” she told her classmates. “Above all, I feel grateful. To the class of 2019, thank you for making my time in high school better than I could have ever imagined.” 

Apart from a great sense of community, looking back, Madeline Brennan, who spoke on behalf of her graduating class, said one of the biggest lessons she learned was discovering who she is and staying true to herself. This, she said, is her main source of happiness. 

“As cliched as I know that sounds, I truly understand that, but there is no other way to ensure happiness in my life,” Brennan mused. “This is what I would recommend to anyone starting out high school.”

While she was soul searching at the time exploring her sense of self, she eventually found it – someone who expresses what’s on her mind and standing by it. This, she said, got her through rough patches, and her friends as well.  

“Being yourself also means accepting the things that you don’t like about yourself and that makes you different. There are periods where I struggled with my grades, dealt with anxiety and bouts of depression, and a multitude of other insecurities,” Brennan said. “Those times made me feel isolated and too different from everyone else to be liked. Those things separated me from everyone and I wanted nothing more than to hide them.” 

After opening herself up to trusted friends, she found she was not alone in her struggles; that they shared the same fears.

“We were able to take solace in that we were all going through the same thing. I resolve to be as much of an open book as possible, as nothing felt better than seeing the relief of someone’s face as they realized they are not alone. I’ve watched people leave toxic relationships when it would have been easier to stay. [Instead of] keeping their head down and following the crowd, many of classmates chose to be their true, authentic selves.”

This, Brennan said, is an honorable characteristic and encouraged her classmates that it’s never too late to unabashedly emerge from one’s shell and “speak up.”  

“To those of you who have not come out of your shell yet, I understand. In a highly social school with lots of pressure to conform, it’s no wonder why some people don’t want to break out. It’s certainly no easy task but I implore you in college and beyond, be the truest you that you can be. If you hide yourself or how you feel or who you really want to be, there will be no one who knows the true you. You’ll be trapped inside yourself with your own fears and doubts with no one to voice them to. For those of you who have already accepted yourself, keep pushing and setting an example for those you are just beginning.”

Michael Escalante, who graduated Glen Rock High School in 2019, encouraged the students to have faith in themselves and in their decision-making.  

“You can always do a little more than you realize,” he said. “You’re all tougher, smarter and stronger than you think. There are moments going forward where you’re going to have doubts, uncertainties, or fears about the future. Don’t overthink it. Life is simple. Find a reason to win. Most people will find reasons to quit," Escalante said. "Find a reason to persevere, and focus on what you do have. Don’t take your unique attributions for granted. Concentrate on developing these gifts and use them to overcome your obstacles.” 

While class advisor Brian Montalbano encouraged students to be the best version of themselves to achieve success, Catherine Merkle, who took home a Citizenship Award with Andrew Bober, which they earned for their leadership roles and community service, told her fellow students that true happiness is not about putting too much pressure on yourself to be someone in this world, but pacing yourself and treating your life as if it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Though her dream job is ever-changing, “ultimately,” she said, “All I want to be is enough.” 

“I think a lot of us put pressure on ourselves to be the best you can be. And that’s OK to some extent,” Merkle explained. “But we shouldn’t lose sight of what’s really important. I learned that it’s OK to take breaks, to say ‘no’ sometimes, and to balance out work with a little bit of fun. Now, I try to find happiness in every day. Because that’s what life is really all about, right? At the end of the day, it’s not about the grades you got or what parties you went to, what awards you received. It’s doing what makes you happy. And in the process, bringing joy around us as well. And making the world a happier place and a better place.” 

On that note, after Glen Rock High School Principal John Arlotta recounted many of the school’s successes that attributed to the school’s achievement of National Blue Ribbon Status, commending the school’s theater department, the boys soccer and robotics teams, the Key Club, Best Buddies, and Student Council, among the many other academic and extracurricular activities the school offers that make Glen Rock High School great, Glen Rock school district interim superintendent Bruce Watson – who finished his final year at the district before his retirement – urged the class of 2019 to bring their own artistry in their future career to attain happiness. 

“Perhaps the greatest concern from student graduates from any high school is the degree of success they will achieve in their life ahead: the unknown. Success or failure as a human being is not a matter of luck or … fate or … who you know, or any of the other tiresome old myths and cliches by which the ignorant tend to excuse themselves. It is a matter of applying your individual uniqueness and talents to your chosen field with passion. Success in life will come to those who create their own artistry. Not by following others.”


He continued, “If something is worthwhile and possible, the willingness to risk failure and overcome resistance in pursing it, the commitment and hard work required to make it happen, and the eagerness to pursue greater challenges creates a spirit with which each of us may create our own personal artistry. My hope is for each of you to find your artistry in whatever you are truly happy doing each and every day of your professional life.”