As Oceanside High School Valedictorian Natalie Hissong stood at the lectern before her class of 424 graduates, she recalled feeling terrified when she first entered the school four years ago.
“I had heard the stories — horrible tales of homework, late nights and teachers that devoured their failing students,” Hissong said, addressing her classmates, who sat in their caps and gowns on plastic folding chairs on the high school football field on a sunny, breezy afternoon last Friday. “But thankfully, as the days went by, I realized high school wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.”
Hissong’s speech reflected on the past and the students’ uncertain futures. In high school, she said, she often stayed up too late, procrastinated, drank too much coffee and had a minor phone addiction, but through the hard work and sleep deprivation, she learned a lot and had fun along the way. She also spoke about reading a letter she wrote in eighth grade and noted how some things never change, such as her obsession with Harry Potter.
Hissong graduated with a 106.1 grade point average and was involved in many clubs. She was president of the math honor society and treasurer of the National Honor Society, and was a member of the girls’ golf and cross-country teams. She is undecided on her choice of college, but said she planned to study math.
Madison Kallman was the class of 2019’s salutatorian, finishing with a 105.2 GPA. Like Hissong, she also kept busy at school. She was captain of the girls’ swim team, a member of the World Interest Club and Key Club, and a volunteer at South Nassau Communities Hospital. In the fall she will study pre-med and neuroscience at the University of Toronto.
In her speech, Kallman recounted the fun times she had with her classmates, adding that she enjoyed collaborating with them, especially during the annual Battle of the Classes competition.
In the summer of 2017, Kallman conducted research at an electrical engineering lab at New York University and used computer coding to determine the properties of two-dimensional materials in electronics. Last summer, she did more hands-on work at Baruch College, measuring nitrogen dynamics at an oyster restoration site in Staten Island. The experiences continued to foster her love for science and research, she said.
“I like that you see this problem, and you really have to dive in and see what you can do to find an answer,” Kallman told the Herald. “It’s up to you. It’s what you want to do with it.”
The graduation ceremony began with the high school band’s performance of “Pomp and Circumstance” as the graduates marched onto the field. Senior Class President Angelina Fucile recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and the high school chorus sang the national anthem before performing the Beatles’ “In My Life” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” and Katy Perry’s “Rise.”
The class of 2019 had 129 honors graduates, and 18 received the New York State Seal of Biliteracy. To earn the seal on their diplomas, students created presentations to demonstrate proficiency in speaking, reading and writing in English and Spanish and taking the Advanced Placement Spanish exam, among other efforts. The Seal of Biliteracy committee comprised World Language Director Dr. David Rose, teachers Nieve LaRocca, Janet Cavagnaro and Nirmala Ramsaran, and counselor Carla Stillwell.
“I’m so proud of this exceptional group of graduates who have demonstrated biliteracy in at least two languages,” Rose said. “This is a significant achievement and a testament to the strength of our programs here in the Oceanside schools.”
This year marked the first time the seal was offered, and LaRocca said it was a privilege to work with the students, and wished them success in the future.
This was also the first year that students were permitted to get creative and decorate their mortarboards.
The theme of continued learning beyond high school was prevalent in the many speeches by administrators during the nearly 30 minutes of addresses at the ceremony.
Board of Education President Sandie Schoell described standing before the students and delivering a graduation speech as humbling. She told them that they should always do their best to succeed, but noted that striving for perfection could be perilous.
“Forget about perfection,” Schoell said. “Stop comparing yourself to others. Quit scrolling and imagining how everyone else’s so-called perfect life stacks up against yours. Be the best you. Seek inspiration, curiosity and fulfillment in doing what you love.”
Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington addressed the graduates and spoke about three themes that tied them together: purpose, passion and people. She told the students that she hoped they would continue to “sail toward success.”
“My final hope is that you move forward with the desire to be lifelong learners,” Harrington said. “Remember, if you are not willing to learn, no one can help you, but if you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.”