It was a warm Thursday evening when the Newfield High School Class of 2019 gathered in the auditorium in front of friends, family and faculty—who were well armed with programs to fan themselves—to pay tribute to each other and collect their well earned diplomas.
Anthony Pawlewicz, Class of 2019 vice president, kicked off an evening of inspiring speeches by introducing Morgan Downing, the salutatorian. Downing participated in varsity track, National Honor Society, Travel Club, Yearbook Club, Environmental/Garden Club, Interact Club and served as a Class of 2019 officer throughout high school. She will be attending Binghamton University to study pre-medical science.
“Her strong work ethic and consistent values are evident inside the classroom and out,” Pawlewicz said.
Downing encouraged her classmates to stand up for what they believe in, advocate for themselves, leave their mark wherever they go, and not to sweat the small stuff.
“Finally, as my grandpa once told me, God has given us all two ends, on to think with and one to sit on,” she concluded. “Success in life depends on which one we use the most. Heads you win, tails you lose…and none of us are losers.”
Lucaya Clarey, Class of 2019 president, introduced Valedictorian Nicholas Mras as “one person who has really shined through over the years.”
“I would have to say that one area where he really shines is acting,” Clarey said of Mras. “Nick has done drama club all through middle and high school, he has performed with Running to Places Theatre Company for as long as I can remember, and has worked at the Hangar theatre.”
Mras said he is proud of all his fellow graduates. “We’re all on our way to go find ourselves and become the people we are meant to be,” he said. “I think it’s a big deal to graduate. It takes a lot of determination to just stay there and keep up with it.”
Pat Mahunik, Newfield High School principal, was absent from the ceremony because he was attending his son’s graduation. In a statement that was read aloud in his absence, Mahunik asked the graduates’ parents and family members to think about the countless hours they spent transporting their children and all the other ways they have supported the students throughout the years, then asked the class to give a round of applause for their family and friends.
He thanked the faculty, staff, and board of education members for all that they do and the foundation they laid for all the students. To the graduates, Mahunik said they have overcome many obstacles and potential road blocks to make it to that evening. “Be proud of all you have accomplished but do not be complacent,” he warned. “Complacency breeds mediocracy, and you are not a group of mediocre people.”
Guest speaker Alison Grunder, Newfield health teacher, joked with the audience that she is not a student, though she has been mistaken for one many times. “There’s nothing more awkward than going to get your picture taken at school picture day and they ask you what grade you’re in,” she said.
Grunder told the students that they should try to look for the good, even on the hardest of days. “On one of my hardest days, when my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was approaching the end of her time here on earth, in hospice care, my family stumbled across a children’s book. It’s a book I still read on the very best days and the very worst. Its words encompass everything I want to say to you here tonight.”
The book was “I Wish You More,” by Jan Carr, and Grunder read it aloud. “I wish you more umbrella than rain,” Carr says in the book. “I wish you more bubbles than bath. I wish you more treasures than pockets. I wish you more stories than stars.”
Cheryl Thomas, superintendent of Newfield Central School District, concluded the ceremony. In her speech, Thomas asked the students to imagine what would have happened if famous historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi had not had the fortitude to change the course of history.
“What if our police, military, and firefighters didn’t?” She asked. “Our parents? Our teachers? What if no one pushed it, risked it, and pushed it again and again? Minimize passivity. Be a part of the obligated, and stay there.”
Thomas said she has come to know the students of the class of 2019 very well, having met most of them when they were in second grade. Recounting the story of Snow White, she urged the students to not fall into the same trap as the evil queen but to place value on the beauty within.
“I have always been impressed by your ability to look past the facade on the outside to what is the heart of a person,” Thomas said. “Your kind, compassionate actions toward each other show the world how beautiful you are on the inside. And that’s what really counts.”