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‘We are more than a virus’

Lynbrook High School class of 2020 celebrates graduation

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The Lynbrook High School class of 2020 has experienced many firsts, marking history in a time of immense change and unpredictability. For one, it’s the first class to graduate at Point Lookout Park, breaking with a 50-year tradition of collecting diplomas on the Marion Street Elementary School field.

The decision to organize a ceremony at the park was made jointly by Vice Principals Salvatore Brescia and Matthew Sarosy, Principal Joseph Rainis and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Melissa Burak as a way to keep the ceremony while adhering to social-distancing protocols.

“The seniors had made it clear to us in April and May that they wanted to be together at graduation, if at all possible,” Rainis said. “Our goal all along was to try to make this happen for the graduates.”

Allowing adequate space for guests to congregate, the ceremony took place in a Point Lookout parking lot on July 23. Only graduates and one vehicle per family were permitted in the lot. Graduates were asked to provide a beach or folding chair to place in front of their family’s vehicle, and all family members were asked to remain with their cars throughout the program, follow Town of Hempstead guidelines.

In addition to the deep green of Lynbrook on caps and gowns, graduates s;ported spirited face masks to show school pride and keep their friends and loved ones safe. Heartfelt speeches were made by several administrators and students, including Valedictorian Arpie Bakhshian and Salutatorian Anna Rath. Graduates walked up to receive their diplomas as their names were read aloud, one by one.

In her speech, Bakhshian recounted the day of her senior Class Night victory, a milestone in the graduating class’s time at LHS, as well as their last day in school before the shutdown. Class Night is the annual competition between grades at the high school, held in March, when students put on skits and compete for first place. Bakhshian also gave a special mention to Zachary Bernstein, a Lynbrook student who died on March 12, 2014, of complications of an inoperable brain tumor. Bernstein’s class will carry on his legacy of kindness and hope, graduating, she said, with him in their hearts.

“As we all celebrated that day, I felt the spirit of our friend Zach, graduating and celebrating alongside us,” Bakhshian said. “He touched all of our lives in profound ways and taught me how to make the most of the opportunities I have been given.”

In her speech, Rath explained that even though the class of 2020 had to overcome many obstacles, including adapting to distance learning, graduates also learned to come together from afar. “We are more than a virus,” she said. “We are more than a shutdown. We are the class of 2020. We are the Lynbrook High School class of 2020. A virus and a shutdown do not define us, will not define us and cannot define us.”

The class assembled a time capsule of Lynbrook memorabilia, sentimental items and responses to questions posed by Burak, including: What was your favorite moment/event in the Lynbrook Public Schools? What would you have done differently? What is your dream for the future 20 years from now?

The capsule will be buried in the high school courtyard, after the completion of the school’s renovations, and opened at the 20th class reunion in the year 2040. The class has also developed a virtual graduation website featuring speeches, senior photos, student accolades and memories from the past four years.

“The world will never be the same again after this 2020 moment in time,” Burak said, addressing the class. “You have the power to change the world for the better. Use that power and the tools we have provided you in the Lynbrook Public Schools to make the world a better place.”

Rainis said that through their variety of service activities, members of the class raised and donated nearly $30,000 to several programs and organizations in the region.

“Over the past four and a half months, your children have demonstrated again and again their humility, perspective, resilience and gratitude for what they have,” he said. “It has been an inspiration to me and to the entire LHS family. I have no doubt that our future is much brighter because of the young people graduating today.”