Class of 2020 - Breaking with Tradition and Starting New Ones
As Pandemic Creates A New Normal
Sayville High School, like many schools on Long Island, changed the format of its traditional commencement exercises to comply with New York State social-distancing restrictions due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Adapting to this break with tradition, Sayville first delayed its Class of 2020 Commencement that originally had been scheduled for Friday, June 26th with the hope that, by July, Pandemic restrictions would allow for larger assemblies. Still, to make up for some of the class’ lost traditions, Sayville High School Administrators and faculty celebrated their graduates in myriad ways. They delivered lawn signs to the homes of every member of the Class of 2020, honored the graduates with their portraits affixed to the fences surrounding the Sayville High School campus, created virtual awards ceremonies that were posted to the website, had the names of all the graduates displayed on the electronic sign in front of the high school, and Principal Ron Hoffer along Assistant Principals Mike Baio and Sabine Loristan accommodated the concerns of various families when considering how to hold commencement exercises.
To resolve some of these concerns, Principal Hoffer and staff hosted a small, diploma-awarding ceremony outside on the original day (Friday, June 26th) for some students for whom time and obligations would prevent them from participating in the late, July exercises.
Nearly a month later, five, independent and small graduation ceremonies were held: one drive-up and four field events—all abiding by social-restriction limitations and face-mask requirements—spanned Friday and Saturday, July 24th and July 25th, respectively. For these ceremonies—students attended in alphabetical order—the graduates and two guests were seated together in triad groupings, six feet apart on the football field. For all family and friends who could not attend, all four field events were live-streamed for the first time in Sayville history via the Sayville School District’s YouTube channel.
At 2 p.m. on Friday, July 24th, another small, diploma-awarding ceremony was held outside under the front awning entrance due to threats of rain for several students and their families who were not comfortable joining the field events.
After a short rain delay, the first of four ceremonies began on at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 24th. High School Principal Ron Hoffer welcomed those in attendance; each field ceremony began with the Star Spangled Banner sung by the phenomenal Patricia Ann Kubelle Memorial Award-Winning Vocalist Shawn Gibbons.
In his two-fold message, Sayville Superintendent Dr. John Stimmel began by acknowledging the challenges that the Class of 2020 have faced: “our world is going through a dark time,” and associated this with the somewhat universally shared fear of the dark. “Even grownups can be spooked by darkness. There is something primeval about it. Darkness kindles fear and gives root to the nightmares of youth.” Dr. Stimmel reminded the graduates how their parents helped them overcome their fears with, “Hello Kitty, Thomas the Tank Engine or some such night light that got you through those dark times. Those simple lamps didn’t just scatter the darkness of night, they, in a way, reminded you of how much your parents loved you.” The Superintendent encouraged the Class, “to bring your talents to the world. Each one of you has something unique and profound to offer our community…No matter how dark the world may seem at times, always, always let your light shine!”
“My second message to you,” Dr. Stimmel concluded, “is simply this: Our pandemic experience is teaching us something that we have always known: your health and the love of your family are truly your most valuable possessions. Yes these are very difficult and uncertain times that we are going through, but take good care of yourself, keep your loved ones close and never doubt that your best days lay ahead.”
Salutatorian for the Class of 2020 Lauren Flaumenhaft attended every ceremony in person. In her speech, entitled An Opportunity, she shared the lesson she learned from her elementary school classmate “Cameron Riccomini… a very funny kid and an astute observer of the human condition. We also all know that throughout our time at Cherry Avenue, Cameron battled a rare form of brain cancer. He handled his terrible condition courageously and with a sharp, and sometimes wicked, sense of humor, made up of an endless supply of hysterical jokes. While Cameron lost his battle in fifth grade, I think that we can all take a lesson from him to deal with the times we are living through right now. The lesson is that we should all laugh and joke whenever we can and we should not allow our current circumstances to get us down, but we should also pay close attention and handle our challenges with humanity.” Lauren closed her address by urging her fellow graduates “to try to keep your focus on the good in your life.”
All four ceremonies were treated to the live performances of a musical selection by the exceptional Shawn Gibbons. Each time, he prefaced his recital of Santa Fe from the musical Newsies with this dedication to his classmates: “I chose to sing it because I hope one day we can all find our Utopia. Whether it be right here in Sayville or halfway across the globe, I hope we can all find our happy place.” Shawn’s flawless, passionate, and powerful rendition was both moving and brilliant, leaving no doubt why he was chosen as the Class of 2020 Patricia Ann Kubelle Memorial Award-Winning Vocalist.
Brendan Dillon, Class of 2020 Valedictorian, who attended first two of the four events (for the Saturday ceremonies, he provided an audio recording of his speech), had Basic Advice for a Happy Life in which he stated “Undoubtedly, we all have goals. Many of which will require determination, discipline, and self-sacrifice to be achieved. I hope that no one here will give up their well-being and happiness in pursuit of these goals.
“In Confucius’ famous quote,” Brendan concluded, “he reminds us that if you choose a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life. While what he says is certainly true I believe it’s not as simple as that. To choose an occupation that you are truly passionate about requires courage. The courage to persist when things don’t go as expected, the courage to disappoint those who care about you, and the courage to find happiness and therefore success on our own terms. I wish you all the best, thank you.”
Next on the program Board of Education President Keith Kolar addressed the graduates. “It is safe to say as far as a senior year goes, there has not been a Sayville High School class that has collectively faced more adversity than the class of 2020…. Although significant changes like this can create uncertainty, however it may also offer an opportunity to reset and make improvements within yourself. Take these changes as an opportunity to make the world a better place.”
Only during the awarding of diplomas were the graduates allowed to remove their face masks for their photos.
Once the diplomas were distributed, the Response for the Class of 2020, It is All About Hope by Class President Mary Vermilyea had been prerecorded as an audio file to be played in her absence. Due to high-risk susceptibility in the family, Mary had been uncertain about her attendance at all the ceremonies. Despite the obstacles that prevented her from attending the ceremonies, Mary’s recording brimmed with her sense of humor and wit , as well as heartfelt appreciation for her classmates and her hopes for the silver lining: “We have learned the importance of inspiring others, and empowering one another to be the best versions of ourselves. And our class in particular needs it now more than ever to have someone to lean on as we step out into this new, unfamiliar and slightly uncomfortable stage of life where we’ll meet unfamiliar people, and have unfamiliar experiences. During this crisis, I bet you’ve all seen it; there were a few similar popular hashtags that were utilized across social media platforms. You saw them everywhere. We were #togetheralone or #togetherapart. Now, I think it’s appropriate for me to say that we are all becoming #togethertogether. I love you all, and will miss you dearly. While this has been a time of unconventional happenings, we’ve still got Joe’s cookies.”
At the final Commencement exercise during which she was also given her diploma, Mary was able to appear and deliver her speech in person. Embellishing on her audio speech, she added at the end, “Hi, Dad. Happy Birthday!” It was a bittersweet moment for her and her entire family as her father had just passed away the day before.
Also during the fourth ceremony, Richard and Colleen Riccomini, parents of Cameron, were in attendance to represent their son who would have graduated with this class at this ceremony had he not succumbed to brain cancer when he was in elementary school. Standing in for BOE President Keith Kolar to deliver the prepared speech, BOE Trustee Dr. James Bertsch prefaced Mr. Kolar's remarks by acknowledging the Riccomini family. “I wanted to say… I was very struck by the way the students are remembering Cameron. I went to Sunrise; I raised my kids at Lincoln, so I wasn’t as aware of what this class went through, particularly the kids at Cherry. I think it illustrates something special. I look at you today. You’re sitting together as families and I think… to lose a child…I can’t image…but I think I’m inspired by Cameron’s parents. Each year they’ve done a fund raiser to fight their son’s disease. I believe it shows that when you open yourself to the love and support of other people, that’s how you heal. So I wanted to ask if we can all publicly acknowledge their courage in the face of losing their child, but also to use that as a symbol to acknowledge how special this class really is. If we can have a round of applause for Mr. and Mrs. Riccomini…”
The crowd stood and gave the Riccomini’s a standing ovation.
Each ceremony concluded with Principal Hoffer’s summation (See right sidebar) of the academic year and his final words to the Class of 2020:
"As a representative of our faculty, staff, and administration, it has been my pleasure to have worked with you for the past four years. Ladies and gentleman... Thank you for joining us…. Please have a safe and an enjoyable night. I congratulate the Class of 2020, and wish you success, health, and happiness in all your future endeavors.”
At the end of every event, cheers arose along with the Class of 2020's mortarboards, tossed by the newly minted Sayville High School Graduates.
Colleen and Richard Riccomini
Sayville High School Principal Ron Hoffer
Sayville Superintendent Dr. John Stimmel
Salutatorian for the Class of 202o Lauren Flaumenhaft
Shawn Gibbons, Class of 202 Patricia Ann Kubelle Memorial Award-Winning Vocalist.
Class of 2020 Valedictorian Brendan Dillon
Board of Education President Keith Kolar
Class of 2020 President Mary Vermilyea
FOR ALL THE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS OF THE CLASS OF 2020 COMMENCE, CLICK ON THIS LINK: All PHOTOS & VIDEOS FROM FOUR COMMENCEMENT CEREMONIES
See also the webpage Commencement Speeches and Music with each of the speeches and music.
Principal Ron Hoffer's Concluding Remarks to Class of 2020
"All members of the Class of 2020 have had the benefit of having a tremendously dedicated and caring group of professionals who have assisted them in achieving this milestone of high school graduation and they are the teachers of Sayville Public Schools. At this time, I would like to recognize a group of teachers who have been selected by the students in the Class of 2020 as “Teachers Who Have Made a Difference” in their lives. Please reference our commencement program to find the graduate who recognized our teachers who have made a difference. For those family and friends watching our graduation program on our livestream, a digital rendition of our commencement program including the list of teachers who have been nominated as teachers who have made a difference can be found on our district webpage.
“The Class of 2020 has been an outstanding class to work with in all endeavors. Our students, your sons, daughters and friends, have earned many significant honors, both individually and collectively, and they have been outstanding representatives of our school and community. As I reflect on their accomplishments, I do so with a great deal of pride and satisfaction. The Class of 2020 has made significant contributions in Sayville High School being named a National Blue Ribbon School. We have also recently been recognized by New York State as a Recognition High School (formally known as “A Reward School”) for the 8th consecutive year.
At this time, I am extremely proud to announce that 92% of the students in the Class of 2020 will go on to further education, and that approximately 99% of our graduates have earned Regents diplomas this year.
his is a time for celebration and an opportunity to recognize the noblest of commitments. I would like to recognize the following members of the Class of 2020. Collin Bauers, Connor Brennan, Michael Kontryn, and Brian Velazquez. These young adults will be serving in our US military and providing us with the veil of freedom we have all come to know and love. Thank you for your anticipated service.
Many, if not all of the aforementioned accomplishments, would not have been realized without the support and dedication of our high school’s faculty and staff. I would like to seize this opportunity to wish 5 members of our high school staff and faculty well as they enter retirement. They are: Lennard Cromwell, Ellen Gugliotta, Patricia Landicina, Betsy Quinlan and Edward Schmieder. Thank you for your combined 135 years of service. I would also ask that you join me in remembering a member of the Class of 2020 and three members of our High School’s family who are not with us today but are certainly smiling down from above and celebrating with us. They are: Cameron Riccomini, Ms. Lori Elia, Mr. Dennis Fagan and Ms. Donna Papa.
At this point in our program, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge and thank some very special people who volunteer their time to make our school district so successful: Our Board of Education members: (President – Mr. Kolar, Vice President – Mr. Cangelosi, Board Members: Dr. Bertsch, Mr. Cooley, Mr. deVenau, Ms. Dolan, and Mr. Verdone.) Thank you very much for your support and leadership in addressing the needs of our school and community throughout the year. I would also be remiss if I did not thank the people who make our visions and dreams come true... our Central Office administrators (Superintendent, Dr. Stimmel, Dr. Criscione, Mr. Belmonte, Dr. Branscombe, Mr. Maloney, Ms. Gigante, Ms. Makris, Ms. Von Eschen, and Mr. Saperstein) and, of course, the faculty, the staff, our technicians from IMC and the grounds crew of our district for their support, guidance, and leadership throughout the year. Without their teamwork, their commitment and their cooperation, we would not be able to provide the quality of programs that we are able to provide for our school and community each year. Once again, thank you for your support, for your assistance, and for your dedication in developing an excellent educational community.
The Class of 2020 has been a credit to our school and community in all endeavors. The class has continued with our tradition of academic excellence, of athletic success, of outstanding music, drama, and art programs, and of civic-minded growth and involvement. I would like to thank the Student Government officers President – Liam Cummings, Vice-President – Thomas Schilling, Treasurer – Megan Bast, Secretary – Terina Imperato, Public Relations Officer – Meg Hanley Student Government Advisor - Ms. Katherine VanDorn as well as our Senior Class officers President – Mary Vermilyea, Vice Presidents – Sarah Keane and Natalie Young, Treasurer – Isabella Artz, Secretary – Tara Donahue, Social Media Coordinator- Connor Brennan and our Senior Class Advisors - Ms. Alison Galea and Mr. Christian Doller for your leadership, your cooperation and commitment to our school and to the students in the Class of 2020. Additionally, I would also like to thank the Guidance Counselors, Mr. Dillon, Ms. Flynn, Ms. Restrepo and Ms. Stevens.... and our Assistant Principals - Mr. Baio, and Ms. Loriston, for guiding and addressing the individual and collective needs of the students in the Class of 2020.
Most importantly, I would like to congratulate and compliment the members of this outstanding class for your commitment to excellence in every arena. I can state, without hesitation that the Class of 2020 has been a remarkable class to work with in all endeavors. I applaud you for all of your efforts throughout your respective high school careers, and I would encourage you, as the future leaders of this wonderful country, to continue to be energetic, hardworking and committed to your goals and to your dreams."