The Great Neck South High School commencement ceremony featured speeches filled with words of encouragement and possibilities for growth as a group of seniors set off into a world recovering from a global pandemic and facing social justice issues.
The ceremony, held Thursday morning at Hofstra University, included a handful of class speakers who spoke on the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic presented, some silver linings classmates took away as the pandemic’s restrictions continue to be lifted, and reflected on how everyone can make even the slightest bit of positive change in the world.
The obvious topic of discussion was the coronavirus pandemic.
“Over the course of 14 months, the world has been put on halt, lives have been changed, but through it all we still persevered,” senior class President Spencer Lee said. “But now, here I am. Here we are. Moving slowly and steadily in the right direction.”
Valedictorian Ethan Jiang implored his classmates to take some time and reflect on how everyone can spur positive change to better their community, nation and world, after myriad social justice issues presented themselves since last March.
“No matter how much may be out of our control, we all have a role to play,” Jiang said. “All of us have work to do to move past willful ignorance and improve the world. Not to go back to normal, but to bring about a better normal.”
Fellow class speaker Nathan Cohen touted the achievements of the class, including the construction of robots, making high-quality multimedia content and debating international conflicts. Cohen spoke highly of his classmates over the past four years, and what they can all achieve in life.
“We all have the capacity to create real change and in a world filled with civil unrest, environmental degradation and economic inequality, there’s no doubt that change is necessary,” Cohen said.
Emily Xu, another class speaker, recognized that some of the challenges that were presented as a result of the pandemic were not always visible or made the headlines. Though the pandemic allowed for a bit more flexibility in terms of physically showing up to school on a daily basis, it was not particularly enjoyable missing out on that face-to-face interaction with classmates, she said.
“Remember more than a year ago when we laughed and cheered as the announcements finally came on about taking a two-week break from school because of this new virus,” Xu said. “But on the other side of all this excitement were the unpredicted losses, confusion, stress and mental breakdowns we kept to ourselves.”
South High Principal Christopher Gitz left the class members with words of encouragement for the journeys that lie ahead, touting the way they have all handled the array of challenges they faced since March 2020. Gitz’s speech, he said, was centered around the idea of flow.
“With each year of high school, you were all able to handle the adversity thrown your way and go with the flow,” Gitz said. “Through it all, you persevered and did not waver, and you went with the flow as you created your new normal.”
“I believe we all learned the value of flow over the last few years,” he continued. “Flow is defined as the natural, effortless unfolding of our life as a way that moves us towards wholeness and harmony. Flow allows us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.”
District Superintendent Teresa Prendergast, the daughter of European immigrants who was born and raised in the Bronx, spoke on the importance of a quality education. She said her parents worked several jobs to create a better life for their three daughters, which ultimately led to Prendergast being the first member of her family to graduate from college.
“I am forever grateful to the love and the support I received from my parents, teachers and loved ones in support of achieving all of my goals, even today,” she said. “So to my graduates, here is my advice for you. Continue to follow your dreams, and remember, an education is the one thing that can never be taken from you.”