WEST ORANGE, NJ - The Columbia High School Class of 2014 held their commencement ceremony on Wednesday at the Codey Arena. The festive occasion was marked with emotion, music and pride, as the graduates were recognized for their accomplishments and sent off to fulfill their dreams.

“I hope this is such a special night for you that you will remember it for the rest of your lives,” said CHS Principal Kirk Smith. “I hope you draw strength from it, and happiness.  I hope you share this moment with your families in such an incredible and wonderful way that makes tonight truly incredible.  But build on it.  Build on it for a week.  Build on it for a month.  Build on it through the summer.  It’s special.  You have accomplished something and you’ve accomplished it at the best public high school in the world, Columbia High School.”

Class President Christopher Painter shared memories and looked to the future.

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“We leave this ceremony and these people we love with a chance to become someone new, to pursue our own interests and to find other people that we’ll grow to love, to choose our own jobs and start our own families.  This possibility, this ability to begin anew lives as long as we do,” Painter said to his classmates.  “Imagine what every one of us can accomplish if we work hard and carve a space for ourselves in that future.”

Schools Superintendent Brian Osborne thanked Principal Smith for his service as interim principal, saying, “You answered the call and stepped up to serve when needed. We are grateful, and Columbia High School is better off for your leadership.”  He noted that he is “graduating along with this group this year,” and expressed confidence that incoming principal Elizabeth Aaron “will bring Columbia High School to new heights.”

Osborne urged the graduates to continue to “learn as much as you possibly can in every possible way.  Your education is not a place that you attend or a class that you take.  It is ultimately, how you make sense of your world and your place in it.  How you choose to educate yourself from this day forward matters profoundly and each of you leaves here today with dreams of what you would like to accomplish and with skills, talents and passions that can help you achieve those dreams.  We call this a commencement, because it is a beginning.”

Board of Education member Andrea Wren-Hardin addressed the class, saying, “You are an amazing group of young men and women and we are so proud of you.”  She noted how the rhythms of life will be changing after graduation, and how each of them would have to find their place and fit into the new flow.  “Each and every one of you has already shown us your uniqueness through your skills, your talents and your accomplishments that you have displayed.” She urged each to “never surrender your vitality, your life force by doing what you do like the person to your left or the person on your right.  Be your unique self.”

A member of the senior class (who was not introduced by name) reflected on her years at CHS.

“They say it’s what is on the inside that counts, and nowhere does that ring truer than Colombia High School,” she said.  “On the outside, no one can argue that CHS is a beautiful building, yet on the inside it is so much more.  It’s a rare and excellent community that looks at people for who they are on the inside and does not judge them by the outside.”  She described the environment at CHS as “welcoming, encouraging, challenging and stimulating,” and one that “accepts you as you are freshman year and then challenges you to exceed all of your own expectations and become the best version of yourself by the time you reach this day, these final moments of senior year.”

Principal Smith took to the podium once to offer one more piece of advice.

“You have to find happiness in your life,” he said. “You have to work at it, you have to make a difference and smile and laugh and enjoy being with your family and enjoy being with your future friends and spouses and children that you don’t even know yet.”  This led into the school choir singing the hit song “Happy,” prior to the awarding of the graduates’ diplomas, a fitting end to a meaningful four years.