Roslyn High School salutatorian Gemma Schneider earned the second highest grade point average in her class of 263 graduates and admission to Harvard University. But when speaking at her school’s 113th commencement ceremony last Friday adorned in a blue cap and gown, she decided to linger on the embarrassing moments.
A conversation with a train conductor, confused about why a teenager had a children’s ticket, led to a chat with an understanding fellow passenger for the remainder of the ride, Schneider said. A compliment from a girl on the elementary school playground about Schneider’s underwear, which she had no idea was visible, turned into a friendship that remains to this day.
“We will all leave this room forever bound by the knowledge that we did it together – growing up, that is,” Schneider told the audience at Long Island University’s Tilles Center. “Born into the brightness of a new millennium, we’ve shared so much together.”
Schneider’s speech was part of an afternoon ceremony that also included remarks by the school district’s superintendent and Board of Education president as well as the high school principal, the Organization of Class Councils president and valedictorian.
Organization of Class Councils President Joshua Bloom presented science teacher Irena Tsarevsky with an honorary diploma in honor of her retirement.
Bloom recalled studying a map of the high school the night before he started ninth grade.
“If I got lost on the first day and walked into a senior class to ask for help, I would have moved out of Roslyn,” he said.
The high school’s senior chorus performed Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” as well as the national anthem and Roslyn High School alma mater. The wind ensemble accompanied the processional with “Pomp and Circumstance” and the recessional with Jean Joseph Mouret’s “Premiere Suite.”
Superintendent Allison Brown reminded students that failures accompany successes, and Principal Scott Andrews listed off “words of wisdom.”
“Be gentle with the Earth,” Andrews suggested. “Once a year go someplace you’ve never been before.”
Valedictorian Johanna Kann said she spent a considerable amount of her high school career traveling from coast to coast because her family lives in Seattle. That meant a lot of time at airports, she said, places she has grown to love.
“So much of our high school experience was preoccupied with planning to leave to go to college and experience whatever our destinies had in store for us,” Kann said. “But like airports, high school itself was a special place.”
Board of Education President Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy spoke about a conversation she had at a previous graduation ceremony with former Superintendent Dan Brenner.
“I asked him, ‘Do you think they appreciate it? Do you think they know how lucky they are?’” Waxman Ben-Levy said. “And Dr. Brenner, who was always completely honest, looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘No. But they will.’ And that’s proven true over the years.”
Photos by Teri West