When Manhasset High School valedictorian Ryan Chung found his uncle smoking when his family thought he had dropped the habit, Chung opted to take a stand and kicked his uncle square in the shin.
From then, Chung said, he knew change could be made at the most local, personal levels and urged his fellow Class of 2018 graduates on Friday to focus their future on implementing changes to improve their lives as well as society.
As the generation that grew up in a culture of hashtag activism, including such trending topics as #MarchForOurLives, #MeToo and #PrayforParis, Chung said he and his classmates have had firsthand experience with speaking out for a cause and urged them to continue the drive.
“Regardless of your politics, the power of democracy is that we have the right and responsibility to make this country a better place to live,” Chung said. “You, my friends and peers, have the right and responsibility to make this country a better place to live. It’s important we don’t just stop with a glorified number sign and a short phrase to tell people ‘I’m aware of what’s going on, and I support this cause.'”
During their senior year, Manhasset High School’s Key Club raised about $850 for Island Harvest, the Interact Club raised $5,000 to cover the medical costs of a Zambian boy’s life-saving heart surgery and the Manhasset crew team raised more than $20,000 for the Manhasset Women’s Coalition Against Breast Cancer.
Silver M Society President Richard Bennett announced the names of five student inductees for the Class of 2018 – Sophia Tashjian, Jiyoon Yuna Kim, Alfred Polizzotto, Danielle Rozinov and Ryan Thorpe – as well as lifelong Manhasset resident and St. Mary’s High School alumnus Bobby Anastasia as this year’s honorary inductee.
Anastasia, Bennett said, is known as the voice of Manhasset athletics, emceeing the Hall of Fame dinners for lacrosse, basketball and football as well as serving as announcer for many Manhasset athletic events.
“When you aren’t announcing the games, you’re a perpetual force on the sidelines, running up and down the field with our gigantic school flag,” Bennett said. “You’re filling water bottles, providing moral support and good cheer for parents, players and staff alike. You have been referred to as the heart and soul of Manhasset basketball.”
Class of 2018 President Madeline Clinton focused her speech on how much the class has grown together, starting as small middle schoolers when they joined together in the Manhasset Secondary School building, “hailing from far-away places such as Munsey Park, Shelter Rock and even St. Mary’s.”
As the class entered high school, the class had become a small family, shouting “2018, football supreme” from their last place homecoming float on Plandome Road.
Through the years, the students found their stride, exploring their passions as sophomores and juniors while achieving “excellence through effort,” the Manhasset school’s motto, in their academic lives.
“While senior year started out much like the previous three, with a march down Plandome Road alongside our award-winning Toy Story float, this year’s theme to infinity and beyond took on a much greater meaning,” Clinton said. “In our journey, our classmates have grown in confidence, developed leadership skills, become innovators and bonded as teammates. We can be proud of the fact that we’ve turned into the models we once looked up to when our journey began.”
Building on Clinton’s speech, salutatorian Alex Mazer urged his classmates to continue exploring their passions and to “let it grab you.”
“Ultimately, opportunities to be ourselves, to become our deepest and best selves, will appear everywhere, but it will be up to us to seize as many as we can to turn each of them into lasting memories,” Mazer said. “As we move into a chapter of our lives where we have the freedom to choose our course, I ask that you define yours by striving for those brief seconds that will last you a lifetime and give you the sustained happiness you deserve.”