Wheatley School sends off its 2019 graduates

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Wheatley graduates threw their caps in celebration. (Photo courtesy of Melisa Byrns)

On a sunny Saturday, The Wheatley School faculty celebrated the graduation of the 133 students in the class of 2019 and said farewell.

At the June 22 graduation in the Tilles Center in Brookville, parents and friends filled the stadium to mark the Class of 2019’s success. It was the school’s 62nd commencement ceremony.

Principal Dr. Sean C. Feeney spoke of the sacrifices of the World War II generation and the sacrifices those made on D-Day. He said, “ I encourage our students to seek out opportunities to be thrown together in a diverse group of individuals for a cause larger than themselves.”

He encouraged his graduates from the Old Westbury school to develop their own beliefs and ideas but also learn how to respect and work with others who may have a different set of beliefs. Quoting Former President Ronald Reagan, Feeney said, “How can we love our country and not our countrymen?”

“This definitely is one of those truly special moments that I hope you remember for a very long time,” said Mark Kamberg, president of the school board.

He asked the audience to observe a moment of silence for those who cared about the students all the way through school. Afteward, Kamberg said, “whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be feeling right now.”

“There are many people around you today who have hopes for your future,” Kamberg said. He closed his speech by telling his students to have a wonderful summer and limitless future.

Superintendent Dr. Elaine Kanas spoke of her love for country music and for the Tim McGraw song “Humble and kind.” She urged her graduates to “always be humble and kind.” That visit with grandpa won’t be a waste of time, Kanas said.

For a musical interlude, students Amanda Kim and Cameilla Ye covered 2Cello’s rendition of U2’s “With or Without You” on the electric cello.

In his greeting from the Class of 2019, Class President Vedant Singh joked about “The Wheatley Bubble,” but spoke highly of his class’s accomplishments and hard work. He said that there is a negative association between being privileged and being spoiled. Singh commended his classmates for using their privilege not for personal gain, but for work, research and fund-raising.

“Our privilege of education is an opportunity, not a source of burden or guilt. As Whateley graduates, your job is to make the most of this opportunity,” Singh said.

Members of the graduating class are invited to submit essays for the commencement ceremony. The best essays are selected and are read aloud to the audience. The winners this year were students Kenton Wu, Cecilia Jozef and Michelle Smichok.

In his essay “Still Standing,” Wu joked about his growth from a shy student into a confident graduate. Wu said, “You taught me not to talk to strangers, but these are some of the nicest, friendliest strangers I’ve ever met.”

Reading her essay “Finding our Place,” Jozef asked the audience, “Where did the time go?” Jozef compared going to Wheatley to buying and opening a new pack of gum. “You’re finally old enough to enjoy chewing the different pieces without having them lodge in your throat causing you to choke,” Jozef said. She joked about college being a very expensive piece of gum.

Musical performances between the essays included the student band The Moondogs playing a rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” and Grace McPhillips singing Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri’s “Butterfly Fly Away” while playing acoustic guitar.

For “Throughout the Years at Wheatley,” Michelle Smichok started off her essay with tips on how to make a speech. First, make eye contact with the audience. Second, smile at the audience. Third, apologize for making the speech awkward. Smichok said, “ I remember through these halls a tiny eighth-grader who didn’t know about all the friends I’d make over the years.”

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