WARREN, NJ – Under brilliant mid-morning late-June skies, and in front of family, relatives, friends, administrators, teachers and each other, more than 540 students received their diplomas on Thursday, June 22, on the field in Tozier Stadium at the 60th Commencement of Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS).


The Class of 2017, wearing white gowns and caps for the young women and gold gowns and caps for the young men, marched down from the WHRHS main buildings to start the graduation ceremonies around 10 a.m. They marched behind underclassman flag bearers, members of the WHRHS Board of Education, various elected officials from the sending districts, administrators and faculty adorned in black professorial gowns and the colors and cowls of the schools where they received their own bachelor’s degrees, and masters and doctoral degrees. 

The WHRHS Symphonic Band, directed by WHRHS Instrumental Music Director Paul McCullen, played “Pomp & Circumstance March 1 in D Major,” by Sir Edward Elgar to serenade the graduates.

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Once everyone had assembled, the Senior Choral Group, under the director of WHRHS Choral Music Director Angela DiIorioBird and made up entirely of members of the Class of 2017, sang the National Anthem, “Star Spangled Banner,” by Francis Scott Key.

Speaking Program

The Commencement’s Speaking Program started with remarks from four members of the Class of 2017: Natalie Przybylski, the president of the All School Council, who first led the assembled students and guests in the “Salute to the Flag,” and then gave her remarks; Jordan Reynolds, the President of the Class of 2017, who presented his remarks; Michelle Shui, who gave The Salutatory; and Joyce Zhou, who presented The Valedictory.

The picture-perfect day was temporarily threatened at the very beginning of the remarks by Shui. Her microphone cut out; her voice was silenced. Apparently unfazed, she immediately stopped. Almost immediately, electronic tech personnel, who were staffing the sound board in a tent to the left of the graduates seated on the field, sprung into action, as if they were emergency medical personnel. They sprinted to the back of the stage, checked wires there and at the generator off stage to the right.

In the meantime, Class President Reynolds, without being prompted by anyone and showing immediate leadership response skills, stood up in the front row where he was seated along with the other student speakers, turned to face his fellow graduates, raised his arms so all could see and hear him, and without saying a word, began a pronounced, rhythmic clap, that his fellow graduates also immediately took as a cue to “come to the aid of a friend.” 

The students started a slow, steady, supportive rhythm or an applause that at one and the same time: Marked time to make the interruption seem shorter; without words told the Salutatory speaker Shui and Valedictory speaker Zhou to “hang in there, their classmates had their back;” and taught the assembled a great deal about the personality and the class of the Class of 2017: Their poise, their maturity, and their preparedness as WHRHS graduates to confidently face their future.

During their remarks, Przybylski said she wanted to speak about the numerous people who had all been so influential in her life, but not by name. Instead, she called them by different colors, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and indigo, etc. By the end, she thanked them for being the colors of her rainbow, and the people who had introduced her to all the skills, the traits and the values she will use all her life.

Reynolds had said to everyone who was attending the graduation in admiration of the Class of 2017 graduates to feel the gratitude toward them from the Class of 2017, because, “if you are here today, you have done something right… you did something to help these students… you have all contributed. Thank you.”

He urged his fellow graduates to cherish all the moments they have shared together, including on Graduation Day. Referring to the school’s nickname, WHRHS Warriors, he said “We are all Warriors today… united as one… filled with hope.” He thanked his fellow Warriors, wished them all the best in whatever they wish to do in life.

Once the microphone was restored to working order, and without missing a beat, the poised Shui thanked all her teachers, and said WHRHS would have a lasting impact on her. She had made “wonderful friends,” who had made her laugh, cheered her up, and shared wonderful memories.

Shui urged her classmates to search for their passion, what they love to do. She recalled that old adage, “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”

“Dream big,” Shui said. “Follow your heart. Be Awesome! Act like you matter, like you can make a difference… because you truly do matter.”

Zhou asked her fellow graduates to imagine where they might be in 10 years. It is impossible to know for certain, she said, but it is possible, she and her fellow graduates will go to college and beyond, or go to work or to serve in the military. They may well, as well, start their careers, start a family, buy a home, even start new companies that might change the world.

What is known is that as classmates at WHRHS during the past four years, “We have taken the hardest courses with the most challenging teachers…. We survived… We thrived… We have each changed Watchung Hills Regional High School. Congratulations, Class of 2017.”

Also speaking was Principal George Alexis, Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett, and WHRHS Board of Education President Robert Morrison.

Alexis said humans are drawn to stories. “They delight us. They teach us. They touch our souls. They help us make sense of the world, and remind us we are part of a larger world.”

A graduate of WHRHS, himself, Alexis said the Class of 2017 had left its mark on the school, which first opened its doors to students in 1957. He urged the Class of 2017 to continue to: Reason critically; ask questions freely; solve problems; be curious; explore new ideas; forge their own narrative journeys boldly; and write their own stories. “Do your best,” Alexis said.

He ended, quoting the late beloved Juan Carlos Cruz, the Spanish Teacher, soccer and track coach, cultural ambassador, mentor and friend who died unexpectedly and quite young in October. The quote is something many members of the Class of 2017 had heard Cruz, himself, say often, urging students to put everything into what they were doing.

Alexis said, “As Senor Cruz would say, “Empty The Tank!”

Jewett told the Class of 2017 to remember that while graduation day is the end of one journey, it is also the start of another. She quoted Facebook founder and social media guru Mark Zuckerberg, urging the graduates to go forward having a sense of purpose in life. Help create a better world, where everyone has a sense purpose in life.

As is her duty as superintendent, Jewett said, she then formally “Presented the Class of 2017” for graduation. Board of Education President Morrison formally accepted the Class of 2017 for graduation.

Morrison said that graduation is one of his favorite days of the year, when the graduating class walks in as students, and walksout as alumni.

He said one of the most difficult jobs for schools, teachers, administrators and board members in public education in today’s ever-changing world is to know they must prepare students from the time they are in kindergarten to the day of high school graduation for a world that does not yet exist. Whereas for generations past, a worker might have to prepare for one job, or maybe even a handful of types of jobs in their careers, today and certainly 10, 20 or more years in the future, workers may have to prepare for multiple jobs and/or multiple types of jobs.

Morrison said to the students, that among the most important tools that will always serve them well in whatever the future may hold, are: The skill of establishing, developing, nurturing, and relying on their “network” of fellow professionals, colleagues, employees, colleagues, even competitors, family and friends; and the continuing, utter importance of establishing, building and maintaining their reputation. These are two important qualities, among a number of others, necessary to “succeed and thrive in the new world.” He said.

He ended saying, “It is my duty, and profound privilege to accept the Class of 2017. Congratulations to all.”

Each graduate was called to the stage to receive his or her diploma, with Vice Principals Patricia Toubin and Steven Searfoss reading off each name. Vice Principal Terry MacConnell was active behind the scenes, helping to make sure everything at the graduation went smoothly. 

MacConnell and several other administrators and teachers commented that the Class of 2017 remained remarkably mature during the Commencement, listening attentively to the speakers, following their Class President’s lead during the issue with the microphone, and generally being poised and ready to start a new phase in their lives.

Before the end of the commencement, though, the Class of 2017 seemed to have one more statement to make. Whereas most students can’t wait to throw their caps high in the air when speakers from the stage say it is time, the Class of 2017 did not all jump at the chance. 

“Perhaps their action spoke louder than words,” one person remarked. “Even though they are ready to go forward as Warriors, they know they won’t soon forget their time at WHRHS.”

As graduates filed out, met with family and friends, the WHRHS Symphonic Band played “Crown Imperial Coronation March,” by William Walton.

For more see 

Sun Shines in Warren as Watchung Hills Class of 2017 Graduates (includes videos and 100+ photos)



WHRHS PHOTOS Commencement Parade

On a picture-perfect day, Thursday, June 22, more than 540 graduates of the Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) received diplomas at the school’s 60th Commencement. The long line Teachers, left, in black caps and gowns, and students in white and gold caps and gowns, make their way down from the Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) Tozier Football Stadium.


WHRHS PHOTOS Student Speakers

The student speakers at the WHRHS Graduation, Thursday, June 22, are: From left, President of the Class of 2017 Jordon Reynolds, Valedictorian Joyce Zhou, Salutatorian Michelle Shui, and All School Council President Natalie Przybylski of Warren Township. All gave remarks at the graduation, and Przybylskiled the Salute to the Flag.


WHRHS PHOTOS Wang Chen Zhang

Among the WHRHS students who graduated on June 22, are, from left, Brandon Wang, who plans to attend Rutgers University; Corey Chan, who plans to attend Northeastern University, Boston, Mass.; and Andrew Zheng, who plans to attend Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.



WHRHS graduates toss caps in the air, signifying the end of the Commencement exercises, on June 22 in Tozier Stadium.



WHRHS graduates arrive at school on the morning of June 22for their Commencement exercises. From left, are Danielle Koslow, who plans to attend Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.; Nicole Wang, who plans to attend Rutgers University; EmmalineStoddard, who plans to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison; and Amanda Soliman, who plans to attend New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Newark,


WHRHS PHOTOS  Morrison, Father and Son

WHRHS Board of Education President Robert Morrison, right, congratulates his son, Andrew Morrison, as he presents him with his diploma at Graduation, Thursday, June 22.



WHRHS PHOTOS Nehls, Father and Daughter

Watchung Borough Councilman William Nehls, left, greets his daughter, Savannah Glasser-Nehls, as he presents her with her diploma at Graduation, Thursday, June 22.


WHRHS Senior Choral Group

WHRHS Choral Music Teacher Angela DiIorio Bird, right,conducts the Senior Choral Group in singing the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of the WHRHS Graduation, Thursday, June 22.