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Jun 30, 2008 3:01 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Pomp and circumstance in East Hampton

Jun 30, 2008 3:01 PM

The Richard J. Cooney Athletic Complex at East Hampton High School was brimming with smiles, cheer, and applause on Saturday, June 28, as friends and family cheered the Class of 2008 and its 222 graduates.

Memorable speeches were given by senior class president Hanna Riege, high school Principal Dr. Cheryl Edholm, class salutatorian Gwendolen Akard, valedictorian Asalia Goldberg, and School Superintendent Dr. Raymond Gualtieri.

Ms. Riege framed the 2008 graduates’ high school career in historical context, reminding them that Ronald Reagan was the nation’s president when they were born and noting the current controversy over the Iraq War. The class president inspired her fellow graduates and the audience when she energetically announced, “We are prepared to meet the future head-on.”

Recounting her experience of mustering the courage to run for president of her class, she discussed the emotional obstacles that high school students face, such as shyness, fear, and “leaving our comfort zones” as she and her peers pursue their post-high school endeavors.

Dr. Edholm, former director of counseling and assessment for the East Hampton School District and principal of East Hampton High School since spring 2007, announced that she felt like a proud mother with high aspirations for her graduating children. “I am thrilled for them,” she said. “This is a dedicated group who are going to lead the nation one day, I have no doubt.”

In her ceremonial address to the crowd and the 2008 graduates, Dr. Edholm underscored the notion of change. “This class learned well how to manage change,” a task, she explained, that requires five distinct qualities: vision, skill, inventiveness, resourcefulness, and a plan of action. “The transition is smooth with all five factors involved,” she said; without them, one is stuck on a treadmill—working hard, going nowhere, and experiencing frustration, anxiety, and confusion.

“You are the future, you are the change,” she told the graduating class, which was seated behind the platform where she stood. “Share your vision with others, challenge yourselves to excel and dream big,” she urged.

Next came the senior chorus, with a strong performance of Z. Randall Stroope’s “Omnia Sol,” directed by David Douglas and accompanied by pianist and music teacher Jonathan Howe. The group sang with a lyricism, passion, and vocal dexterity that impressed the enthusiastic crowd. The chorus members seemed to sing the recurring words, “When we part ...” with heartfelt, bittersweet nostalgia.

In her talk, class valedictorian Asalia Goldberg discussed the significance of living virtuously and optimistically and of constantly reaching out to others. After quoting Albert Einstein on appreciating life as a miracle, and thanking her parents for instilling in her a love of learning, Ms. Goldberg declared, “Let us never forget that our awards, our honors ... are all part of our lives, but they do not define our lives. A plaque we see today will be brought out years later from a musty cardboard box, its life having been spent in the corners of an attic ... but a moment of helping someone, of being there for another person, is a miracle that will never be forgotten. For it will be lived by that person every day.”

Salutatorian Gwendolen Akard emphasized acceptance of others in her brief address. “In the long run, each of us will be happier if we can accept the faults and differences of others, and of ourselves, as simply part of life,” she said. Ms. Akard alluded to the East Hampton community as a microcosm of the real world. “After all,” she pointed out, “high school and East Hampton are not as sheltered as everyone claims. Haven’t we experienced pure hatred, friendships made and ended? Love gained and love lost, the agony of homework, standardized tests, and getting up far too early? When you think about it that way, high school sounds much harder than the real world.”

Finally, Superintendent Gualtieri imparted words of wisdom to the 2008 graduates. After instructing the students to “learn from other people’s mistakes” since “you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself,” Dr. Gualtieri read an excerpt from the book, “Things That I’ve Learned in my Life So Far,” by Stefan Sagmeister and others: “I’ve learned that credentials on the wall do not make you a decent human being ... I’ve learned that two people can look at the exact same thing and see it totally differently. I’ve learned that our background and our circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become. I’ve learned that the people who you expect to kick you when you are down are the people who help you get up. I’ve learned that heroes are people who do what has to be done, regardless of the consequences ... I’ve learned that money is a lousy way of keeping score.”

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