Editor's note: Email photos of graduates to firstname.lastname@example.org to be included in photo gallery.
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The traditional skirl of bagpipes could be heard playing "Highland Cathedral" as the 239 graduating seniors lined up for the procession into Davis Hall Auditorium for the 59th Commencement Ceremony for Gov. Livingston High School's Class of 2019.
The school administration made an early decision to move the ceremony inside for the first time since 2004 due to impending storms. So, instead of the seniors taking their last walk down Highlander Way to Frey Field -- the processional took them through the school hallways into the packed auditorium. Due to restricted seating, the overflow of guests watched via live stream in the cafeteria.
Pride and tradition runs thick on "The Hill" -- and the Class of 2019 executed the best they could in carrying out the Highlander graduation rituals. They were led to the stage by Student Council President Mikayla Sanchez and Senior Class President Zachary Martis along with Jacob Scholnick, who carried the "Highlander" sword. The three students stood tall at the podium, as if they were overseeing this last GL journey from the rock on "The Hill", while their classmates proceeded to the stage to the sound of "Pomp and Circumstance."
The flag salute was led by Mikayla Sanchez and signed by James Lenahan. The national anthem was sung by the Gov. Livingston Choir, who also performed "For Good" along with the ASL Signers.
Olivia Tang addressed her class, and said, "High school was easy. I said it, high school was easy. It was like riding a bike, except the bike was on fire and the ground was on fire and everything was on fire because it was hell."
She continued to explain why this "senior quote" had it wrong. "I believe this quote had it a little wrong -- GL was a run. No, GL was a marathon. No, still not quite. GL was part skydiving, part sleepwalking, part fiesta endurance hike into unmapped territory -- an adventure of a lifetime."
She used the analogy of the four year journey to camping in the wilderness. "We sure got lost our freshman year," she said. -- "We are surrounded by educators who care deeply about us who go the extra mile to touch our lives, who respond to our frantic late night emails the night before the big test. Our teachers don't just give us the fire, they are the ones that show us how to work the lighter so we can kindle flames to warm ourselves. They don't point us where to go, they show us the North Star so that we may find our way home even if we are lost in the labyrinth of life. -- Their compassion will stick with us."
She concluded, "The GL Class of 2019 are hustlers and grinders. We are bound together by forces stronger than the differences that dare to drive us apart. We are capable of incredible fete. But still, our true worth is greater than the sum of bullet points down a resume. We forge the foundation that proceeds the American dream right here. So, yeah attending Gov. Livingston is like learning to ride a bike through hell. Once you experience the lessons, friendships and memories, you can never forget them." (View vignette of Commencement Speech below.)
Nixon proudly recognized the accomplishments of this graduating class, "they boast two National Merit Scholar finalists, were part of the AP cohort that passed at a higher rate than we have ever seen at GL and helped to drive test scores at an all time high particularly in the ACT and SAT." He went on to mention the championship athletes from swimming, wrestling, track and field and the State Champion Girls Soccer team and more. He also recognized the many ways this class gave back to the community and the Hilltop Players and how they "dazzled with their performance of Chicago, as well as Little Women."
"They are smart, they are athletic and they are involved -- however, perhaps most importantly, they have inspired and led," said Nixon.
Nixon said he has been inspired. "When Westfield Principal Derrick Nelson lost his life -- they came together in Westfield royal blue, as we paid tribute and raised over $1,100 to donate in his name," said Nixon. "When tragedy occurred in Parkland, Florida last year, they banned together in what they believed in and appropriately made sure their voices were heard." And closer to home, "when they had to say goodbye to a beloved Superintendent, they orchestrated and participated in the most epic farewell sendoff this high school has ever seen -- lining the halls and filling the auditorium with music -- to show Mrs. Rattner how much she meant to them."
"Graduates you are ready to leave your home port of GL. You have shown us all that you are ready to take your ship and sail on your life’s journey. You are ready to pursue and achieve all the successes that your dreams can imagine. We are extremely proud of you and wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Please remember you are always Highlanders and your harbor is always here for you. We look forward to hearing about all you have accomplished," said Nixon.
Interim Superintendent Scott McKinney wanted to leave the seniors with sound advice. He focused his remarks on perspective and point of view. "I realized there are a number of groups of people looking at this graduation event with very different lenses -- parents, students -- and educators taking pride in a job well done and remembering why they went into education in the first place. We all see this ceremony a little differently," said McKinney.
"Seniors, understanding that these different perspectives exist is important and taking time to consider these differences will allow you to be still problem solvers and lead you to continued success. Do not allow a single perspective to trap you into believing there is only one solution. Be flexible in your approach and consider that all of you are graduating as Highlanders -- you each carry your individual experiences and stories that allowed you to earn this honor of high school graduation," he said to the seniors.
"The seniors sitting before us have been exceptional in every way. They have accomplished incredible things individually and collectively. They won prestigious academic awards and have become members of numerous honor societies. They have displayed their talents as athletes, musicians and artists — the courts and fields on the hill became a place where opposing teams arrived expecting to lose as our sports squads turn in victory after victory at the Conference, County and State level. They took every opportunity they could to beat that team that sits at the bottom of our hill."
"GL students have proven that they care for each other — went the extra mile in good times and in bad. Highlanders rose to the occasion and were difference makers in Berkeley Heights, Mountainside and beyond.
McKinney reminded the graduates, "It was the challenges and struggles that led you to your greatest growth. Use these experiences and tools you have developed along the way. But I remind you to take the time to look at things from a different perspective. Don’t be afraid to listen to a different point of view. You might confirm and strengthen your existing beliefs or you may change your mind. Either way, you will build good habits and a stronger foundation for your future success. To this end, I encourage you, as you consider the perspective of others, to also practice the art of listening." He added, "It is critical that we all strive to improve our ability to listen as well as respectfully disagree with each other or we will continue to miss opportunities to change, evolve and grow. Now, more than ever, our world needs leaders with character and new ideas from all walks of life. I am confident that you are poised and prepared to be these leaders. Reach a little higher in all that you do. Take the time to listen and remain open in new perspectives."
"It is my wish that you continue to try new things, take calculated risks and pick yourself up each time you fall. The key to success is to never give up and never stop learning. As you walk away from the hill for the last time together, it is my hope you remember your days with pride."
With those statements, McKinney affirmed the recommendation of the faculty of GL High School and the endorsement of Principal Robert Nixon. He certified the students have met the requirements for graduation.
Once the students names were called and they received their diplomas, the graduates and families had the opportunity to take photographs in the gymnasiums before they headed off to Project Graduation for an all-night, substance-free graduation celebration.