Hofstra University’s David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex was a sea of blue caps and gowns as the 332 members of MacArthur High School’s Class of 2017 celebrated commencement.
Led by Principal Joseph Sheehan, members of the administration, the school staff, Board of Education trustees and graduates filed in as “Pomp and Circumstance” blared through the arena. Senior Class President Emily Thomas was the master of ceremonies, leading the crowd of Wantagh, Seaford and Levittown residents in the Pledge of Allegiance and delivering a speech.
Thomas said that fellow classmates should strive to live without so much stress and not give in to negativity.
Valedictorian Casey Butcher and Salutatorian James May also spoke to their peers. The top students credited MacArthur’s teachers, saying that they helped students achieve their goals.
May urged his peers to do things they never thought of doing. “Dare to deviate from your comfort zone,” he said. “Make bold choices and make them today. Be the active hero of your own life.”
Butcher revealed that the future scares her more than one would imagine. “Let’s embrace the unknown with open arms,” she said.
John Theissen —a Wantagh resident, local philanthropist and MacArthur alumnus — was the keynote speaker at this year’s graduation. In September 1988, when he was 17 and starting his senior year, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was operated on that December, and spent most of the holiday season recovering in the oncology unit at Schneider Children’s Hospital. He met children who were sick, and that inspired him to launch his foundation four years later.
In 1992, he held his first holiday toy drive to benefit children in local hospitals. Twenty-five years later, Theissen has collected and given away hundreds of thousands of toys to ailing children, formally established his own nonprofit. He has since expanded the charity’s mission and programs.
Theissen spoke about how his health problems in high school drove his passion to found the John Theissen Children’s Foundation. He told the students to never give up and believe in their dreams.
“What an incredible experience for me today, shaking every one of their hands as they began their new journey,” he said last week. “I will never forget this day.”
Sheehan told the graduates that they stand ready and prepared for the future. “Belief and determination will help you to prevail,” he said.
Dr. Tonie McDonald, Levittown’s superintenent, noted that she most admires the MacArthur students’ commitment to others and urged the students to “make every opportunity count.”
After the graduates received their diplomas, many tossed ornately decorated caps into the air. They met their families and friends on the concourse, snapping photos to remember the day.