LIVINGSTON, NJ — The 457 members of the Livingston High School (LHS) Class of 2017 celebrated their last day together on Friday as they received their diplomas on the turf of their new Alma mater.
An impending storm held off long enough for hundreds of family members and friends to applaud their graduates as their graduation caps flew over the field. Speeches from this year’s valedictorian, salutatorian and a senior class officer encouraged the graduating class to appreciate their individuality, embrace change and face adversity head on in the years to come.
“Over these years, something truly magical has happened—we transformed, bonded and slowly became one,” said class officer Matthew Geyman as he welcomed his peers to the commencement ceremony. “As I look out to the sea of green in front of me, I see a cohesive unit—a unified student body where each one of us makes up an essential part of the whole.”
This year’s valedictorian was Howie Zehao Shen, who will be attending New York University in the fall. During his four years at LHS, Shen was a member of five national honor societies, placed second and third in New Jersey on the national Spanish exam for Level 2 and Level 4, respectively, and was also captain of the LHS varsity swimming team.
Shen spoke about adversity and why learning how to face it is an essential part of life. He encouraged his peers to have confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles.
“Everyone likes to think that they have everything figured out, but quite often they realize that the opposite is true because life is full of challenges,” he said. “Our lives are not defined by what happens to us, but instead by how we react.”
Salutatorian Kevin Xiang will be studying computer science and economics at Brown University next year. During his four years, Xiang served as senior vice president of The Future Business Leaders of America and president of the Math Honor Society. He was also an active member of the debate team.
Having moved to Livingston from Georgia as a high school freshman, Xiang thanked his peers for teaching him to embrace change rather than fear it.
“I feared change when I first moved here from Georgia, but from getting to know you all, I have become more open, more aware of my surroundings and more optimistic,” said Xiang. “Rather than leaving an identity behind, I forged new elements of my identity that I cannot see myself without now. You are all rousing in your own way, and because of you, high school has been an overall great experience.”
Due to the weather forecast, LHS Principal Mark Stern, Superintendent of Schools Christina Steffner and Livingston Board of Education President Ronnie Konner were unable to share their speeches. However, in his written message to the Class of 2017, Stern said that “resiliency is a remarkable life attribute that the Class of 2017 discovered in itself this year.”
“You were outstanding this year,” he wrote. “You allowed your routines and high school experiences to be interrupted and altered with great patience and appreciation. You took care of our school community by demonstrating true kindness, support and acceptance of one another and our staff.
“You showed up in your green and white along the way to show our community that we are stronger together. I could not be prouder of you.”
Stern added that the Class of 2017 will be remembered for its collective spirit. He also acknowledged the class for coining the phrase “LIVINGSTRONG,” which he said is an “appropriate recognition of the tremendous strength and unity demonstrated this year from our entire school community.”
He concluded his letter with congratulations to the 457 graduates on reaching this major milestone.
Parents and siblings were eager to find their graduates at the conclusion of the 2017 commencement ceremony. Following the traditional tossing of the graduation caps, led by Paul Yang, families flooded the field to congratulate the new LHS alumni and shower them in balloons, flowers and teddy bears.