SPARTA, NJ – Family and friends arrived at the Richard S Cassels Memorial Field at Sparta High School on Friday night under sunny blue skies with puffy white clouds, echoing the colors of the school.  They filled the bleachers to watch as their students were called one by one to the stage to receive their diploma.

The music started early providing a relaxed atmosphere.  Student Conductors, Matthew Rotondi, John Paul Schultz, Brittany Rivera, Sebastian Cook and John Donahue each took a turn at the baton, participating in a unique way in their own graduation ceremony.  After Pomp and Circumstance accompanied the rest of their classmates as they processed onto the field, Valedictorian Johnna Margalotti directed the choir in singing the Star Spangled Banner.  

Maria Christodoulou, Senior Class President welcomed all to the ceremony.  She spoke of “keep(ing) and open mind in all our endeavors.”  She quoted Mark Twain, saying “the two most important days in your life are ‘the day you are born and the day you discover the reason why.’”  Christodoulou also quoted JK Rawlings saying, “A cautious life is a failed attempt at living.”

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Salutatorian Veronica LaBelle was next to the podium.  She spoke of the future as “the slippery thread of time that is always one step ahead of us, “and “completely unknown and therefore terrifying.”  She addressed her classmates saying, “When we are scared of the future it is important that we look back at this day to the foundation of our beginning.”  She ended “Rock on Class of 2015.  It’s been an honor.”

Quickly leaving the stage, LaBelle next conducted the choir as they sang Satori/Quarantotto/Peterson.

Johnna Margalotti came to the stage to give the Valedictorian Address.  She began, “The best is yet to come.  Otherwise the years ahead of us will be a little dull.”  She also encouraged her classmates to recognize “everybody is a genius” in their own way.  Illustrating the point with a fish story.  “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is a stupid fish.”  She continued, “Maybe in high school you were a fish out of water.  That’s okay because you are going to find your ocean and you are going to thrive.  Margalotti concluded, “Embrace the fish you are, thrive in the ocean of possibility that awaits with you.”

Principal Dr Daniel Johnson came to the stage to accept the class gift from the student council leadership.  Johnson continued presenting the Outstanding Citizenship to Tyler Trzcinski and Outstanding Scholarship Award to David Amiel.

Superintendent Dennis Tobin certified the class to the board of education.  In his remarks he spoke of the academic and athletic accomplishments, including the Debate Team and Robotics Team Championships, seven National Merit Scholarship Letters of Accommodation, a West Point appointment, one student attending the Naval Academy and one becoming a Marine, the Marching Spartans winning two tournaments, League, County and State Champions Football team, State Sectional Champion Softball team, Sectional Champion Bowling, Golf, Field Hockey teams and over $23 million in scholarship money.  Having said all of this Tobin changed directions. 

He said, “Far more important than championships,” is the challenges faced by their classmate Erik Lanyi.  Lanyi is battling Hodgkins’ Lymphoma.  Tobin relayed how the students got involved in supporting him in his battle. The student organization Athlete’s Edge sponsored the sale of green t-shirts and wrist bands with Erik’s motto “Be the Buffalo.”  There was the Green Out at the Pope John football game, all to raise funds to support Lanyi in his treatments.  Tobin said with “courage and determination and loving support of his family,” and “after months of intensive treatment Erik is cancer free.  Erik Lanyi, well done young man.”

Tobin continued, “It doesn’t matter what path you take or what level of success you achieve, learn the lesson of Erik… Live in the moment.  While it’s important to plan for the future, it’s important to live for today.  Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to say thank you.  Make sure when you leave here today you thank and appreciate all (your friends and family) have done for you.  I lost someone very close to me four months ago.  You can never take (them) for granted.”

Tobin invited Sparta Board of Education President Karen Scott to address the crowd.  She began her remarks saying, “Commencement means beginning.”  She quoted Dr Ruth Westheimer who said, “My favorite animal is the turtle because if it wants to move it has to stick its neck out.”  She also quoted Margalotti in the comments she made at the Top 10 Dinner.  When asked by Chorus teacher Laura Lopez what advice she would give to an incoming freshman about to enter the chorus room she responded, “Do not allow your fears or anxieties to hold you back from walking through the door…Be bold, audacious.  Have confidence in your abilities but be humble for you will always have more to learn.”  Scott concluded her remarks, “Leave the world a more interesting place for having been here.”

Finally, the moment everyone was patiently waiting for; the 273 graduates were each called to receive their diplomas.

Student conductor Kalin Hagedorn led the chorus in the Sparta High School Alma Matter.

Johnson was the final speaker of the evening.  He spoke of three lessons taught by AA Milne in his Winnie the Pooh books.  First was optimism.  “Eeyore was a bit of a bummer but he always had friends” to help and support him.  Second was to “value the differences in people around us” speaking of Rabbit’s attempt to unbounce Tigger that ended up backfiring.  “Our differences define us.”  Third is that “all of us need to rely on the help of others.  If you are not giving and receiving help from others you are not living to your fullest potential.”

After the students threw their mortarboards into the air, the evening was complete.  

More than 400 photos are posted in an phott album on TAP into Sparta's facebook page