SPARTA, NJ — A bit of drizzle did not dampen the excitement of the students, family and friends at Cassels Field on Friday night for the Sparta High School 2018 graduation ceremony.

A light rain was falling as the seniors, led by faculty, entered the field to Pomp and Circumstance played by Sparta High School wind ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Deborah Gianuzzi.

Student conductor Victoria Prol led the Honors Choir in the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. Senior Class President Erin Scott welcomed everyone, sharing a litany of statistics of the successes of the senior class. She spoked of the record 13 student athletes signing to continue their athletic career on college campuses and approximately $4 million in scholarship money, congratulating her fellow graduates.

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Salutatorian Audrey Biss began her speech lamenting she had never taken a public speaking class. She began with a sky diving analogy as it related to graduation, “with all of the preparation that prepares you for jumping into real life.” As the speech progressed she shifted to her realization that it was less like “parachuting down but rocketing upward. Where will we end up I don’t know, it is too bright to know.”

Valedictorian Alexandra Poret posed the question, “why do we procrastinate?” She spoke of ways we try to combat it by “setting short goals and way too many iPhone alarms,” “attempt to shovel consequences onto others.” She talked about the psychological rationale of an avoidance response. Poret concluded “just because something’s always been done that way doesn’t’ mean it has to continue that way.”

The senior class and executive class officers crowded onto the stage to give the class gift. Jamie Rennie said their experience of serving on student council taught them “about commitment and hard work and responsibility.”  

Principal Janet Ferraro accepted the class gift of water bottle filling stations, “to allow us to minimize the use of plastic water bottles.”

Ferraro presented the class Citizenship and Scholarship awards. Steven Sullivan was awarded the Citizenship award for “his leadership.” Paige Smith was awarded the Scholar award for being “intellectually curious and dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.”

Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi spoke to the seniors. “It’s a beginning and an end.” He spoke of important people that have prepared them for career and family, “this is a great time of gratitude.” He asked grandparents in the audience to raise their hands acknowledging the special bond they have with the seniors.

Rossi gave a cautionary tale telling the students “your generation may decide if our democracy survives,” speaking of “extreme divisiveness” and the question of whether the “glove we live on will crumble from a catastrophic war.”

Turning positive he told the students he thought they will “bring people together,” but said just “having the courage of their convictions” was not enough. “Hitler had the courage of his convictions. You have to examine your convictions… Very little worthwhile happens without pain.”

He continued, telling the graduates, “know your Sparta family is about inclusion; rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, love conquers hate…It is not the skill it is the will…The road to success is always under construction. You will make a living by what you get but make a life by giving what you can.”

Quoting “the Wizard of Oz, I cannot give you a brain but I can give you a diploma.” He quipped they would not be able to receive their diploma until the school year was completed. 

When the ceremony was completed the students held up the empty folio they had been handed as they crossed the stage.

Sparta Board of Education President Kelly McEvoy addressed the gathering continuing Rossi’s comments about the school year not having yet been completed.

She likened the past 12 years to a roller coaster with “some highs and lows.” She expressed the desire that they “develop the ability to be still and wait and watch because in stillness sometimes the solution can be found.”

She spoke about Thomas Edison and his work ethic, having seen a plaque about him on a recent trip to the local mine and museum. “He understood the power of stillness,” McEvoy said.  “In that it could be said he was learning all the time.  See crossroads as opportunities to embrace stillness.”

The students were called by name to the stage to receive their diploma folio and a handshake.

After the honors choir sang the Alma Mater under the direction of student Erin Vreeland, Ferraro gave farewell remarks.  She said, “Grit isn’t just something that happens.  I believe evidence of this was displayed in the first ever Senior Walk.” 

Ferraro asked the students serving in the military to stand; Hannah Newbold — Marines, Russell Eberding -West Point, Marines, Jack Williamson — Army at Cedarville University and Luke Schmitzer Army.

“The challenge is just as important as the question,” Ferraro said, quoting Carol S. Dweck  “’Why waste time proving how great you are when you could be getting better?  Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.’”

Ferraro told the students the most valuable character trait is kindness. “It takes courage and skill to continuously be kind,” she said. “Remember when people were kind to you. Kindness makes you happier which leads to greater success. Carry out random acts of kindness. Take a few monuments every day just to be kind.”

Student conductor Benjamin Dottinger led the band in the recessional piece, “Alleluia! Laudamus Te.”

Photos by Jennifer Dericks and student Mikayla Bivona