As Hewlett High School’s senior class say their final goodbyes to their fellow peers and faculty, a melancholy excitement fills the air. Yet, the senior class is not the only people who are graduating from the high school. After a passionate and dedicated 34 years in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District, James Dragovich is retiring.
Hewlett’s music department is one of the strongest and well-favored departments in the entire school. It fosters a family-like atmosphere that strives to aide in student growth and personal development, rather than pure academics and rudimentary testing. This environment would never have been attained if not for the dedicated and exceptional music factuality and Mr. D’s unique free spirit and humor filled passion.
Mr. D has been one of the tremendous attributes to this district. He has been the director of the band and jazz program, co-adviser of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and was the co-adviser of Cabaret Night, an event that raises money to fight pediatric cancer through live performances, for decades. These titles do not properly represent the thousands of students’ lives he has touched and helped to shape.
A more accurate description of his job as band director is not getting a moment to eat lunch just to ensure all who come for a lesson receive his full attention, setting up the band room and practicing his own conducting to bring his best to every rehearsal, creating recordings we can play along with, bringing us his personal equipment to musically experiment with, checking in with each of his students throughout the year, inviting them to have lunch with him and simply being open to share anything and everything.
A more accurate description of his job as jazz director is spending more than three hours every Thursday evening with students, challenging them to play college and professional level music, teaching new techniques, highlighting different styles of music and inspiring all through his infectious passion for music; subsequently, fusing the group into one massive family.
Mr. D is a staple of the band program because of who he is and what he aspires from others. He exudes love and positivity by motivating us to feel the music, gain an appreciation for each note and strive for the infamous euphoria that can only be achieved when every musician is 100 percent focused and locked into the performance. Although these are highly serious and important achievements, one of his quick jokes or humor-ridden stories always relieves the pressure.
A student once claimed that Mr. D sees something in us that we cannot see in ourselves. The sheer reality of this fact is overwhelming. No matter your musicianship, Mr. D sought to know each of his students as the people they are, not as students who merely signed up for a class. His compassion and support for his students’ success in all occupations is ever apparent and drives students forward knowing that somebody is always in their corner. Through heart-felt conversations ranging from present-day to the future, Mr. D has helped create some of the finest musicians, lawyers, doctors, parents, role models, etc. the world has ever known.
Working closely with Mr. D over the course of these four years, I am honored that I had the opportunity to learn from this grade A musician and person. We spent our lunch period together and it is through our chats that I was able to see just how special Mr. D is. Beyond the immense amount I learned about music, he taught me valuable life lessons; such as interpersonal skills, the definition of love and how obsolete problems could be in the grand scheme of life.
As Mr. D strolls into retirement with hopes of earning his doctorate in jazz and performing with his band, the Hewlett band, past alumni and the district wish him nothing but the best in all of his future endeavors. Thank you for everything Mr. D, high school would not have been the same without you!