Wheatley School students cross lines in ways that are uncommon in many high schools, East Williston school Superintendent Elaine Kanas said. “Our student scientists are musicians, our musicians are physicists, our athletes are scholars.”
The 151 students in the class of 2016 who graduated Sunday are no exception, a band of rule-breakers that is “separate and apart” from any other graduating class, Joy Bestourous, a graduating senior, said during Wheatley’s 59th commencement ceremony.
“We were, in every way, radicals,” Bestourous said to the crowd of hundreds at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts. “We were game changers. We were revolutionaries. When opportunity didn’t knock, we beat down the door.”
The Wheatley School’s close-knit culture and commitment to unique ways of thinking and learning makes its graduates ready to take on the world’s challenges, students and school officials said during the ceremony.
The graduating seniors who spoke touted their class as Wheatley’s best ever, citing their three consecutive victories in the annual Wheatley Class Showdown, which gathered more than 26,000 cans of food and other items that were donated to the Mary Brennan INN.
With fewer than 800 students, Wheatley is a tightly knit community of students and teachers that has several smaller communities within it, said Jaclyn Stroud, a graduating senior. Those communities helped Stroud grow from an eighth-grader worried about perfection into someone with “confidence to discover who I am without the fear of what I’m doing wrong,” she said.
“Here at Wheatley, community means forming personal connections — not with everybody, but with certain people who challenge you to grow,” Stroud said. “It means an emphasis on working together to make something greater than the sum of your parts, rather than tearing each other down to get ahead.”
Wheatley’s teachers supported “all kinds of intelligence,” Stroud said, and often built close relationships with students. For instance, graduate Robert Chang said one of his teachers understood his unusual obsession with Costco so well that when he asked for a college recommendation letter, she wrote one recommending him for a job there.
Coupled with students’ focus, teachers’ emphasis on “intellectual curiosity” that lets students explore and discover things for themselves pushes them to success, Kanas said.
“I believe that worthwhile learning is defined by the experiences that shape who we are, the lessons that allow us to understand something about ourselves that we didn’t know before, or a memorable moment that transformed the way we think,” he said.
Stroud and others spoke of pressure to do too much and work too hard that Wheatley students sometimes feel.
The East Williston school board president, Mark Kamberg, told the graduates to “work on your slowdown,” to take time for themselves and give their time to people who “celebrate” and care about them.
“Stop doing things you don’t enjoy just to impress others,” said Andrew Zuckerman, president of the Class of 2016. “Do things for yourself. And remember, you are always in full control. You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul. So stop taking photos of your food and start tasting it.”