Mineola hosts 128th commencement, mourns student

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During the presentation of diplomas, Principal Dr. Whittney Smith shook hands and took photos with each student. (Photo by Tom McCarthy)

In a sea of red and white gowns, Mineola High School celebrated the accomplishments of the class of 2019 on Saturday at the 128th commencement ceremony, commemorating a classmate who died during the school year. 

After a rendition of “the Star-Spangled Banner” by student Josephine Jones, class President Miguel Velasquez welcomed the attendees at LIU Post’s Tilles Center.

“Remember all the support you’ve had throughout the years at Mineola and spread that positivity throughout the world,” Velasquez said.

He concluded his speech with a musical rendition of “Rise Up” by Cassandra Monique Batie and Jennifer Decilveo. 

Following Velasquez’s presentation, salutatorian Alexa Buongiovanni thanked the people who supported her and commemorated classmate Christian Melendez, who died from injuries sustained in a car crash in December.   

“This year we lost a member of our family, Christian Melendez. Christian was a son, a brother, a friend, a classmate and a teammate. He touched the hearts of all those fortunate enough to be a part of his life,” Buongiovanni said. 

Her address was followed by a musical presentation of “A Million Dreams” by Benjk Pasek and Justin Paul by student vocalists Isabella Posada, Stephanie Toms and Samantha Trested. 

During the valedictory address, Neilah Rustemi said, “In the past few years there has been a push for women’s rights, minority rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and human rights. There has been a focus on stricter gun laws and efforts to save the environment have increased.” In a “rapidly changing” world, Rusemi said one must be willing to accept and help those who are different. 

“We have the power to bring change to this society and to be the change that we need to see in this world. It is up to each of us and no one else,” Rustemi said.

Superintendent Michael Nagler made a speech that he said consisted of song lyrics. “This year I officially live with two teenagers which is a unique experience which I’m sure all of you can relate. But perhaps the most difficult part is the insufferable music I must listen to,” Nagler joked. He commended the song lyrics used to compose his speech, however. 

Dr. Nagler closed his speech saying, “So where are the strong and who are the trusted? And where is the harmony? Sweet harmony. Because each time I feel it slipping away just makes me want to cry. So what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding? So go forth into the world and sing.”

Before the Board of Education presented diplomas, Dr. Whittney Smith, the high school principal, commended the spirit and camaraderie of the graduating class and celebrated Melendez’s life. “I learned so much this year and had so much to say about the class of 2019. Especially in a year where we were faced with an unexpected and an unthinkable loss of our classmate Christian Melendez,” Dr. Smith said.

Dr. Smith noted that the class had left an empty seat for Melendez on the stage. 

“If you use the values you learned at Mineola to guide your choices, you will have a rich life,” Dr. Margaret Ballantyne-Mannion, vice president of the Board of Education, said before handing out diplomas.

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