Seaford High School Valedictorian Sarah Umstadt, who earned a 102.77 grade point average, barely edged Salutatorian Evan Groder, who achieved a 102.75. But there was no sense of competitiveness when the pair recalled the fun they had at Homecoming and on a recent band trip to Hawaii.
Umstadt said she was a bit nervous about speaking at graduation after Groder, whose sense of humor would seep into his address. But her message to her classmates was simple, she said. “I want people to know that while it’s important to work hard, you can’t forget to have fun,” she said. “Don’t forget to make memories.”
Umstadt and Groder shared plenty of them. Both were deeply involved in Seaford’s band program, and they are in what Groder considered to be a small class of 182 students.
“You get to know everyone here — and not just the people you see in your classes every day,” he said. “The community feeling here is unmatched.”
Both Groder and Umstadt attended Seaford Manor Elementary School before moving on to the middle school and high school. When they reached the secondary level, they said, they became deeply immersed in the community through their extracurricular activities.
Umstadt, who plays the flute and piccolo, joined the pep, pit, symphonic and marching bands, as well as a flute choir. Groder, who took up the baritone horn when he was younger because “it was the biggest instrument in the classroom,” was in the jazz and symphonic groups as well as the Seaford Community Band. Both students were inducted into the Tri-M Music Honor Society.
Both have march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan and competed at events at Disney World, and performed at and participated in a seminar in Hawaii this winter. Umstadt laughed while Groder described one part of the trip, in which he took part in a dance competition at a luau while wearing a grass skirt and a coconut bra.
“We’ve created so many good memories in band,” she said. “Homecoming has always been amazing. We’re in a very fun and spirited class.”
Groder, who is headed to Binghamton University in the fall, will be accompanied by six of his classmates and close friends from Seaford. Umstadt will also bring a piece of home with her to college: She and her best friend will attend the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Umstadt was one of only 24 students admitted to the Macaulay Honors College at John Jay. Inspired by an Advanced Placement course she took at Seaford, she decided to study forensic psychology and international crime.
Groder said he isn’t sure what he’d like to study yet, but added that he’s interested in engineering, business and law.
Both graduates also said they are passionate about giving back. Umstadt was a Key Club member and volunteered to make sandwiches for people in need in Brentwood, while Groder tutored, coached youth lacrosse and worked at the kitchen at Bethany House of Nassau County, which provides emergency housing and services for women and their children.
Groder said that while graduating at the top of the class was a great honor, he wanted to make sure that he truly experienced high school. He encouraged Seaford students to do what he did while he was there: step out of personal comfort zones.
“If someone asks you to do the hula, just do the hula,” he said. “Make as many friends as you can, and be a good person.”