For 599 new Ward Melville High School graduates, Sunday's commencement ceremony was filled with words of wisdom and optimism.
Ariel Yang, co-salutatorian of the class of 2012, advised her fellow seniors to look back with gratitude and look forward with excitement. Jack Zhou, also co-salutatorian, told his classmates to "explore, dream, discover."
Valedictorian Tiffany Chang cited the famous Audrey Hepburn quote, "Nothing is impossible. The word itself says, 'I'm possible.'"
And when he looked at his fellow seniors, class president Jacob Rothstein said he knew not just one of them would make a difference someday – but rather they all would make a difference someday.
The Class of 2012, the 43rd class of seniors to turn their tassels at Ward Melville, collectively earned more than $25 million in scholarships – a new school record, according to principal Alan Baum.
Baum delivered his own advice for the seniors. "It all started with the ABCs," he said. "... carry the ABCs with you on your journey." Baum's set of ABCs began with "Accept others," "Behave and be kind," "Challenge yourself" – all the way to "Zone in on your own strengths."
School board trustee Susanne Mendelson – herself a Ward Melville graduate from the Class of 1992 – evoked the sunshine in her words of advice: "Use your inner sun to brighten the world around you."
The district's outgoing interim superintendent, Neil Lederer, drew on his own experiences as someone who set out to be a lawyer who was soon drawn to be an educator. "Don't close the door on changing your choices," he said.
Following the ceremony, the new graduates hugged their loved ones, posed for pictures, and exchanged phone numbers with friends.
Francesca Benedetto, who will head to St. John's University in the fall, called it a surreal day. "I've been waiting so long for this day," she said. "It's a huge step in life. I'm so excited to see what I'm going to do, all the opportunities I'll have."
Sacred Heart-bound Dan Jackson wasn't the only one who full of mixed emotions. "It's a new beginning and I'm going to make the best of it," he said.