As W.T. Clarke High School seniors sat in the warm sun at their school’s graduation ceremony at the Leon J. Campo Center on June 23, Valedictorian Jonathan Melkun shared advice about perseverance and strength with them.
On Christmas 2012, Melkun’s father left the family, and Jonathan didn’t see him again until the following
Easter, when they had a picnic at a local park and his parents hid Easter eggs for Jonathan and his brothers to find. “There was no fighting, no yelling,” he recalled. “We just had a great time.”
That’s the last memory he has of his father, who took his own life two days later.
“It was great to, at least, end on a good note,” Melkun said. “The last time I saw him, he had this big smile on his face.” Internalizing the trauma was “socially stunting,” he said, because he was afraid to make friends and trust others. The family also relied on his father’s business for financial stability, which took a hit after his death.
Melkun said that he and his brother Justin, now 20, had to step up and help their mother take care of them and their brother, Ryan, 11. For the past two summers, Melkun has worked at Mama Gina’s in North Bellmore, often taking on additional hours to make enough money to buy groceries.
During the school year, he has balanced numerous extracurricular activities and leadership positions. He said that he owes a debt of gratitude to his community and peers for helping him through the hardship and motivating him when he excelled.
Melkun was accepted by Harvard University, which he described as one of his proudest achievements, but will instead attend Princeton, which offered him a full academic scholarship, and where he plans to study mechanical and aerospace engineering.
“Don’t be worried about feeling lost in life,” he said. “What you need to do is find a motivation, find a reason to keep moving forward. Go forth, chase your dreams, and find your place in the world.”
Like Melkun, Clarke Salutatorian Joel Mathew also found a community in East Meadow that he credits with supporting him through hardship and helping him succeed.
Mathew was born in India, where he lived for less than a year before his family moved to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. He emigrated to the U.S. at age 6, because neither his parents nor he were citizens of the UAE, and his parents saw more opportunity here.
“It was tough at first,” Mathew said. “Before I came here, I was happy with what I had in Dubai. It was all I wanted in the world.”
Both Melkun and Matthew received the Superintendent’s Award on June 17 at Clarke’s senior awards ceremony. Students were also honored with scholarships and awards for their excellence in academics, athletics, music, art, clubs and community service.