NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Anahi Nicolas Gaspar's voice choked up with emotion and her eyes welled up with tears.
Just when the valedictorian of New Brunswick High School's Class of 2019 seemed as if she was going to break down, he classmates came to the rescue.
They began to cheer her on Tuesday night and encourage her to keep going. Many of them called to her from their seats on the gym floor.
"It's OK, Anahi," said one of the voices.
More applause came from the stands, where thousands of friends and family had assembled to watch the 394 seniors graduate from New Brunswick High School.
With an outpouring of support, Gaspar took a deep breath and finished her speech.
On a night when Mayor Jim Cahill offered a rousing speech about the importance of always being proud to be a Zebra and keynote speaker and Board of Education member Emra Seawood spoke about overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Gaspar's speech stood out because she delivered it from the bottom of her heart.
"This is our time to make a change in this world," she told her classmates. "Today marks the first day for our future. This is our time to make a change in this world. Just like Gandhi said, be the change you want to see in the world."
Later, after hugging her family and posing for photos with her friend, Saida Ramirez Mendoza, she said she was overcome with emotion when talking about her parents.
"But my classmates," Gaspar said, "pushed me and supported me and I had to finish my speech. It felt so good to hear them and they helped me to keep going."
Gaspar graduated with a 4.227 grade point average. She was a member of the National Honor Society, captain fo the track and field team and a member of the Yearbook and STEM clubs. She accumulated more than 60 hours of community service with the Special Olympics and she held down a part-time job for the past two years.
Gaspar, who is headed to Rutgers, dreams of someday being a veterinarian.
She said none of her success would have been possible without the love and support of her family.
The words of gratitude were right there in her speech.
"They showed me what hard work and success look like," she said. "They didn't only provide me with materialistic things, but they gave me something to strive for. I had the motivation because they were always there building me up and praising me. I will continue to value the importance of education because they guided me in the right direction."