“Ever since taking the first step into the third-grade Lido class, I have felt a warm welcome,” Long Beach High School class of 2019 Salutatorian Dmytro Vremenko said of his first days as a student after he immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine. “Despite the poor language and the massive cultural barrier, I was received here with open arms. As a school and, more importantly, as a community, we overcame significant challenges that left marks on our lives. The road was filled with bumps and nails, but we made the best of it, together.”
Vremenko, who will attend Northeastern University in the fall, was one of many graduates who made remarkable strides. At the school’s 96th commencement ceremony at Veterans Field on June 26, the crowd erupted in applause and cheers when senior Robert Browne, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a 2014 surfing accident, walked across the stage without a wheelchair to receive his diploma — a moment he had been planning for three years.
The emotional standing ovation lasted for more than five minutes, reacting to what many called an inspirational display of perseverance given the physical challenges Browne faced in the years after the accident.
“The one word I have to describe it is just awesome,” Browne told Newsday. “I was definitely nervous coming up to it at the last second, coming up the ramp, and then I got up there and it was just a switch of emotions hearing the crowd and everything. It was good, and then I was able to do it.”
“I learned as I went,” he said of his injury. “I was a fresh teenager — I didn’t even know what life was yet, let alone overcoming a spinal cord injury. It’s just something you have to take day by day. And here I am now, walking across the stage now at graduation.”
As they marched onto the field, the 347 capped and gowned graduates were greeted by proud family members and friends. The band played “Pomp and Circumstance,” and the choir sang the national anthem. At the end of the ceremony, Student Government President Talia Fernandez led her classmates in moving their tassels from right to left and tossing their mortarboards skyward in a moment that transformed them from students to graduates.
The class featured 58 seniors who had completed the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program and 114 National Honor Society students. Additionally, 145 students earned Advanced Regents diplomas, and 29 received Advanced Regents with Honors. Eighty-two percent of the graduates will attend colleges this fall, and 10 students signed letters of intent to play collegiate sports.
Valedictorian Joshua Kapilian, who will attend Columbia University, talked about how “success is not strictly limited to academics.” “Success can be found in the music room, the athletic field or forms of art,” he said. “Do not look back and feel like you have settled.
“As we embark on our new paths, it’s important to consider the paths we choose to take,” Kapilian added. “Don’t choose to do something because it looks impressive — do it because you genuinely enjoy it. Joy is necessary to be a successful person and to make a lasting mark.”
LBHS Principal Jeffrey Myers highlighted the achievements of the graduating class. In addition to Northeastern and Columbia, its members were accepted by Villanova, Brown and other prestigious universities.
“The students sitting on this field today are exceptional, but not the exception,” Myers said. “You attract what you project, so be enthusiastic, kind, energetic and attack every obstacle with urgency. Refuse to be average. Continue to be extraordinary. It has truly been a pleasure and an honor to be part of your high school experience, and I wish you the best in your future endeavors. Go Beach!”
Senior Class President Fiona Eramo emphasized the importance of learning from experiences and allowing failures to be moments of growth. “The smallest gesture provides us with the opportunity to impact not only the lives of others, but our own,” she said.
Most of the graduates were in middle school when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, and many were displaced after the storm. Board of Education Vice President Maureen Vrona reflected on how the students persevered in the years afterward. “You have dealt with so many challenges in your time here, from the Common Core rollout, with all those brand new Regents, from Sandy and everything in between,” she said. “You have met those challenges successfully.”
Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Gallagher touched on the first landing on the moon 50 years ago. “If each of you accomplishes something that no one else ever has — if you are courageous enough to take those risks and self-confident enough to stick to your dreams,” she said, “the class of 2019 will have an amazing impact on our world.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky spoke about character, and a poem by Mother Theresa called “Do it Anyway.” “I’ve seen people come from our humble community and go on to do amazing things,” Kaminsky said. “I know you can follow in their footsteps. Remember where you came from, do not take crap from anyone, and go Beach!”