FAIR LAWN, NJ – To the sounds of a live jazz band, the shrill of air horns, and the cheers and claps of about 500 people who were seated in the bleachers – some holding cameras and balloons, others flower bouquets and toddlers – a scarlet sea of 348 graduates slowly marched onto the athletic field at Fair Lawn High School blowing kisses and waving happily at their audience to cap off their high school careers.
On June 25, Fair Lawn's 2019 graduates made their way to the center of Sasso Field as they celebrated the district’s 75th Commencement Ceremony. Wearing red gowns and white stoles – the Fair Lawn “Cutters” signature colors – the gleeful herd paused for a moment amid a setting sun and cartoonish clouds to behold a crowd of their parents, friends, loved ones and teachers.
These people were the subject of the students' praise. They acknowledged their loved ones' roles in shaping them into the “well-rounded” young adults they had become as they embarked on a new life chapter and set out to “make their mark on the world,” as mused by Class President Brendan Vann, right before tassels were moved from right to left and hats were tossed.
To commemorate the district’s special milestone, a contest for seniors was held for best speech with the theme of reflecting on the district’s 75 years. Linit Freydenson, who was selected to deliver it, traced the origin of the Cutter back to the World War II era in 1943. Fair Lawn High School, she said, was the only high school in the country to open its doors during wartime.
“Our shining school upon a hill was a beacon for all, demonstrating how even in the worst of times, [progress] is always possible,” Freydenson said.
Inscribed in Fair Lawn High School’s first yearbook in 1945, the 900 students comprising the student body were labeled “eager and curious” from all walks of life. Seeds of a legacy of excellence, she said, were carried on in the last 75 years allowing the district to prosper with new traditions, such as the National Honor Society's Volleyball Tournament, to the National English Honors Society Poetry Slam to the myriad of athletic and performing arts awards.
According to Fair Lawn Mayor Kurt Peluso, the term “Cutter,” originated from a headline in a newspaper that read, “Cutters Lead Fair Lawn to Victory.” As the story goes, the headline came about after the school football team picked up steam when a group of guys who the students called “cutters” for going AWOL, entered the game after a slumping first half, and lead the team to a win. The name stuck, ironically, to describe the students’ determination for achievement ever since.
Cutters, however, are not only a name to bestow to the three-year varsity letter-winning athletes, but to the honors student enrolled in six AP classes or a student volunteering countless hours of their time to a particular cause, and even to the teachers who stay longer hours to help students in need of extra help.
“As Cutters, we feel the need to give back to our town and foster positive change wherever we go,” Freydenson said.
As she asked her fellow residents to observe the Cutters who were also embodied in the parents and grandparents in the bleachers, in an unfortunate, but brief state of events, her speech was abruptly cut short when people from the bleachers flagged for an EMT to assist an overheated woman. On Thursday night, temperatures hovered in the low 80s with many used their programs to fan their faces. The ceremony was halted for 10-15 minutes as first-responders assembled quickly to attend to the woman. The scene was met with a round of applause when the woman was escorted safely from the bleachers.
In true Cutter fashion, the ceremony raged on with a flurry of hopeful speeches. Paul Gorski, principal of Fair Lawn High School, touted the district for having achieved 12 National Merit Commended Scholars and accolades that included the Boys’ Volleyball State Sectional Championship. He also gave a shout-out to Stephanie Amirov, who upheld a perfect attendance record throughout her four years.
“I couldn’t have imagined a better class to begin my tenure at Fair Lawn High School,” said Principal Paul Gorksi, who this year replaced longtime Fair Lawn Principal James Marcella upon his retirement last year. “This class is intelligent, articulate, and dedicated to achieving excellence in everything they put their minds and their efforts to.”
Members of this “kind and socially-conscious” class, he said, will go on to attend ivy league colleges and “outstanding” technical schools in the fall.
But before they did, Jiwon Kang, class valedictorian, encouraged his fellow students to apply their character to “fix the world’s biggest problems” and get them through difficult times that "surely lie ahead."
“My greatest fear for our class is that we will forget how much we’re loved by people around us,” Kang said. “That we’ll forget we’re never alone, and that there is someone who is going through the same things you’re going through at any given moment. The Class of 2019, have faith, hope and love, embrace change with an open heart, but don’t forget where you came from.”