ROXBURY, NJ - Roxbury High School honored academic excellence last month with its annual Academic Excellence Recognition Evening.

Students in grades 10 through 12 were presented certificates and swag for achieving a 3.75-grade point average (GPA) or higher in the 2018/2019 school year. Just over 330 students achieved this honor.

In addition to academic achievement, the program also showcased the vocal and musical talents of Taylor Bailey (Gr 12), Justin Kurbansade (Gr 11), Serah Njoroge (Gr 12), and David Petrov (Gr 11) singing the Star-Spangled Banner.

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Later in the program, Bailey sang Green Finch and Linnet Bird from Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim and Junior Zachary Solano on Tuba played Suite for Tuba by Dan Haddad.

This year, 125 First Year Awards were handed out, 109 to sophomores, 12 to juniors and four to current seniors. Second Year Awards followed for those individuals who have a 3.75 GPA or higher for two consecutive years with 108 juniors and 17 seniors earning this distinction. Third Year Awards were given to 86 seniors for reaching this goal three consecutive years.

In addition to honoring these current high school students, the Roxbury Board of Education honored three individuals for the 5th Annual Distinguished Alumni Award.

Roxbury Board of Education Member Richard Alexander described how the award came to be.

“As we were doing alumni outreach, we started noticing the impressive credentials of some of our former students," he said. "We have a Roxbury Athletic Hall of Fame, and we questioned, why don’t we have an Academic Hall of Fame. This quickly morphed into the idea of the Roxbury Distinguished Alumni Award.

“To date, we’ve inducted eight Distinguished Alumni including a scientist, an artist, an educator, a community leader and a State Supreme Court Justice who exemplify the spirit of the Roxbury community and our education system.

“Students, you are here today because of your achievements. But how will you channel your passion and intellect not only for personal satisfaction but to benefit others in society? The Roxbury Distinguished Alumni Award has been created as a guidepost for what is possible.”

This year we recognized three individuals who stand out in their chosen professions. They were Louis Bizzarri (Class of 1965), Dr. Mark Buzzelli (Class of 1992 and Kristin Kane (Class of 1990).

Louis Bizzarri

Bizzarri was nominated by his good friend and fellow classmate of the class of 1965, Jim Anderson. He was recognized for his impressive 30+ year career as a Deputy Chief Assistant United States Attorney. His experience in prosecuting and litigating cases on behalf of the United States included those involving counterfeit goods, civil and criminal fraud, product liability, customs, immigration, environmental violations and many other areas.

Alexander shared, “As the Deputy Chief of the Civil Division for the District of New Jersey he managed complex criminal and civil investigations and litigation involving the FBI, DEA, ATF, ICE, SEC, EPA, DOD, ICC, IRS, Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Service and Secret Service, among others. He was appointed by the DOJ to the Evaluation and Review Staff where he was responsible for conducting evaluations of operations of 25 United States Attorney’s Offices and over 2000 Assistant United States Attorneys throughout the country.”

Bizzarri also garnered numerous awards, including Department of Justice Commendations, Special Achievement, and General Counsel Excellence. He taught complex civil/criminal litigation, trial, and pre-trial advocacy, and investigation strategy and techniques at the Department of Justice Advocacy Institute, The National Advocacy Center at the University of South Carolina and Rutgers University School of Law. He is recognized as an expert in the areas of forensic evidence, trial advocacy, expert testimony, and complex litigation. 

“Mr. Bizzarri is also a decorated retired U.S. Air Force officer, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel after four years of active duty and 24 years of reserve duty, with three air force commendation medals and a meritorious service medal,” said Alexander.

Bizzarri shared more of his history as he addressed the students, saying, “After leaving active duty in the Air Force in 1977, I was fortunate to land a job with the United States Attorney of the Eastern District of California. On the day after I was sworn in by the Attorney General of the United States, I was handed my first case which went to trial the next day. When it was my turn to stand, I said Louis J. Bizzarri, Assistant United States Attorney on behalf of the United States of America. On that day and in that moment, I was absolutely bursting with pride, me an ordinary student like you from Roxbury High School was standing in a federal district court representing the entire United States of America in a case worth $4 billion dollars, which we won by the way.”

With Bizzarri’s numerous personal accomplishments as an attorney for this country, he emphasized service and encouraged everyone to “Take a Stand”.

“Civil rights, racial inequality in all its forms…Take a Stand. Ask yourself where do I stand on these issues. Women’s rights, equal pay, the “Me Too” movement…Take a Stand. Immigration, asylum issues, secure border issues, separation from families at the border. These are serious issues that affect you, your family, and your country…Take a Stand. Children, 6 million living in poverty today in the United States…Take a Stand.”

As an attorney involved in the investigation of 9/11, Bizzarri touched on other issues related to that day and the ones that followed.

“Torture. The philosophical conundrum regarding whether torture is acceptable if it may lead to information about the next terrorist attack is no longer a philosophical question. It is a real decision that we need to consider one way or the other. These exact decisions were made subsequent to 9/11 and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed. If you expect someone in power to make that decision, one way or another you will need to let them know where you stand.”

Adding, “Consider the question, of liberty and privacy versus that of security. Ben Franklin said if you give up liberty for security you get neither liberty nor security. You have a cell phone, you have a computer, and a history on social media so at what level of privacy are you willing to accept? Can a cell phone company be forced to use a backdoor method to break into your phone to find a suspected terrorist or to find a kidnapped child? Take a Stand. The death penalty, is it a deterrence, is there equality? As students you know only too well of the next issue, gun control and gun violence, bans on weapons, arming teachers, second amendment rights, these are issues that affect us all. Take a stand.”

Following that advice was our second Distinguished Alumni Recipient, Dr. Mark Buzzelli from the Class of 1992 who was nominated by his proud parents Annette and Dave Buzzelli who still live Roxbury and were in attendance.

Dr. Mark Buzzelli

“Dr. Mark Buzzelli was an outstanding student and athlete who is a great representative of Roxbury High School and our community. Through his dedication and the support of his teachers, coaches, and administrators, he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1996 with a BS in Biology and was the RHS assistant swim team coach for the 1996-1997 season. He later attended graduate school at Boston University, receiving his Masters degree in Medical Sciences in 1999 and then attended Boston University School of Medicine from 1999-2003,” explained Alexander.

Adding, “He completed his surgical residency, trauma, and critical care fellowship, and two years of medical research at the Penn State University College of Medicine in 2011. He is a board-certified physician in General Surgery and Surgical Critical Care.”

Dr. Buzzelli entered Active Duty as a Major in the U.S. Army in 2011 after his completion of medical training. He was assigned to Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg in North Carolina from 2011-2017. In 2015, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

While at Fort Bragg, he was selected for an elite Surgical Resuscitation Team that deploys support of U.S. Special Operations Command where he served from 2012-2017. He is now assigned to the Army Trauma Training Detachment in Miami, FL. This unique medical unit serves as instructors tasked with training Forward Resuscitative Surgical Teams prior to deployment overseas.

Additionally, the detachment maintains a military-civilian trauma partnership between the U.S. Army and the University of Miami School of Medicine/Jackson Health System in which members are fully integrated into the clinical practice of a very busy Level 1 trauma center.

In his eight years of active duty, he has been deployed overseas eight times. When not deployed, he lives in Florida with his wife, Rachael who he met while in medical school along with there three children, Cecilia, James, and Scarlett.

Dr. Buzzelli too has received several decorations, honors, and awards which include a Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Joint Service Commendation Medal with Combat “C” Device and Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars, Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Meritorious Unit Commendation, and Basic Army Instructor Badge.

“Thank you for selecting me. I really do feel that this is a tremendous honor. This institution, this place, that I hold in such high regard and have such fond memories from to reach out to me and recognize me in this way is very nice,” said Buzzelli on accepting his award.

“In terms of just the words of advice, the thoughts for the folks that are here this evening receiving their academic awards, first congratulations, you’ve obviously been doing the work to distinguish yourselves and although we are not guaranteed any success in this life you are already starting to stack the odds in your favor. Continue on that path. You have tremendous opportunity to be a student here, the academics, the athletics, the arts, as we’ve seen from the performances here. This place is a great place to be a high school student. You’re very fortunate so enjoy your time here. It doesn’t have to define the rest of your life but it should be a moment or a time in your life that you look back and really enjoy.”

“I tried to put myself back in your seat, where was I back in 1992. What was I thinking? What was I doing? As I was going off to college, as was mentioned, I had the opportunity to go the University of Virginia, some humbling things happen to you in life and I think its important to say that if you’re truly challenging yourself you’re not always going to be successful and that’s okay, that helps define you as well. But I always had a foundation: with my family, and had two pillars, academics and athletics, that’s really what defined me as a young teenager certainly as a high school student and although I wasn’t recruited I was successful in anything else I had tried so why not this…walk onto the University of Virginia’s swim team, I’m going to be successful in that. In about two weeks, I was no longer on the University of Virginia’s swim team, so one of these pillars in my life had gone away so the story is really more to prepare yourself that there will be change in your life. There will be things that happen to you that are not what you desire. That doesn’t mean you can’t bounce back from that.”

Adding, “The second part of that, through my time at the University of Virginia I thought I did well, I worked hard but I didn’t have quite the distinguished academic career I had when I was at Roxbury High School. I did not get into medical school the first time I applied, so the second part of my message is you need to persevere but you need to persevere with a plan. So, at that time in my life, it was to get into graduate school and get back on an academic track for distinction and that is what opened the door for me to getting into medical school and to do all the other things I had gotten to do and I can say from at least a career standpoint, I’m very proud.”

The third and final recipient of this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award was Kristin Kane, Roxbury’s first female recipient who traveled up from Virginia to join us for the evening.

Kristin Kane (nee Matz)

Kristin Kane was nominated by a fellow classmate from 1990, Beth Graf. In nominating her, Graf shared, “We often look at opportunity as something amazing that falls into our laps. But opportunity can present itself as a challenge in one’s life. It’s how we respond to that challenge that makes it an opportunity. Kristin took her challenges and turned them into an opportunity to change lives and laws for those with learning disabilities in this country.”

“Kristin, herself, is dyslexic as well as two of her three children. She not only conquered her own disability, but she took it to the next level to help use it to help and impact others.”

Kane is a wife of 23 years to her husband Richard and has three children, Hannah, Noah, and Lorelei. She is now the Senior Advisor for the Office of Early Childhood Development in the Administration of Children and Families for Health and Human Services. She has dedicated the last ten years to advocacy and awareness, focusing on family engagement and the intersection of public school, special education and learning disabilities. Her work includes contributions at both the federal and state policy level around dyslexia and literacy laws and policy.

“She is passionate about the untapped opportunities of collective impact and social capital as lever for change,” said Alexander as he was introducing her.

Kane is also a founder of Decoding Dyslexia Virginia grassroots movement, director of Friends of Decoding Dyslexia Virginia nonprofit, founder of the #SayDyslexia Rally on Capitol Hill and continues to serve as a stakeholder at tables with national and state leaders. Decoding Dyslexia Virginia focuses on linking families to resources, support, and educational interventions for dyslexia. It aims to raise dyslexia awareness, empower families to support their children and inform policy-makers on best practices to identify, remediate, and support students with dyslexia.

In speaking of accomplishments, Kane shared, “These are things we share with our friends, things we post on social media, the things we like to point too. They help define what our life’s worth has become. These accomplishments, for me are never achieved alone, never in isolation, but they are pieces of a larger scope of work that reminds me that I’m on the right track and doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Adding, “In 2013, I started a grassroots movement with some other moms in Virginia called Decoding Dyslexia. We were in 11 states at that time and we are now in all 50 states. We’re in four Canadian provinces, Bermuda, and we have Decoding Dyslexia Military. In subsequent years after the creation of Decoding Dyslexia, I played a part along with other parents in introducing and passing four dyslexia laws.”

Between 2013-2019, four pieces of Virginia state legislation were passed supporting children with dyslexia and teachers who work with them through Decoding Dyslexia Virginia. HB842, SB1516, SB865, and SB1718 are now current laws in the state. Federal grassroots advocacy through Decoding Dyslexia has yielded dyslexia support in the reauthorization of ESSA, the passage of the READ Act and the work of the Bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucus.

In sharing her story, Kristin said, “I want to acknowledge that there are plans we make and then there’s what really happens. When I left Roxbury High School in 1990 and I headed off to college. I think a prediction for my career probably would have been counseling. I had my first counseling experiences here in this building as a peer counselor. I worked with my peers who may have been struggling and it isn’t really lost on me that even though I didn’t become a counselor that my path right now by working with families and lending support and making sure they have the resources they need to get what their children need is not that fair off.”

“All of this progress and forward motion is what I would consider the harvest of my advocacy. It’s like the fruit that yields from the work, the time, and the dedication that comes from serving others. It just makes the world a little better and you know that you’re doing. What you’re supposed to be doing. So, people talk about passion as if it is a plan and as if they can plan for it. But in my experience, it was something that found me. Once it was in front of me, it was a driving force that you couldn’t ignore and every step forward was in that right direction. There is a saying, “if you allow your passion to become your purpose it will become your profession” and I can’t think of a better quote that encompasses my journey that I’d like to pass and offer to you.”

The Roxbury Public Schools Distinguished Alumni Award was established in 2015 to honor alumni who have exemplified the Roxbury School District’s tradition of excellence and brought honor to the community by their personal accomplishment, professional achievement, or humanitarian service.

For more information on the Roxbury Distinguished Alumni Award, visit www.roxbury.org/DistinguishedAlumni.