Oh, the places they will go – HPHS Class of 2016

Assembled in the majestic front lawn and lit by a slowly receding sun, Highland Park High School’s Class of 2016 comprising 124 students graduated on Wednesday, June 22 in front of school faculty and staff, family, and friends.

The commencement ceremony of 2016 returned to the traditional outdoor setting after storm concerns forced 2015 graduation ceremony inside the school. This year, however, the weather cooperated and contributed to the positive mood and ambience.

The evening began with a processional introducing those integral to the graduation. The high school faculty, board of education members, and graduating students all walked alongside the lawn’s sidewalk and then down the center aisle — all set to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” performed by the high school’s concert band.

Following a flag salute, the national anthem, and another musical piece from the concert band (this time, “Tiger Trail March” by Julie Giroux), the grade’s salutatorian Chaokun Wangli took the podium to give a short speech. Ms. Wangli highlighted the Model UN club’s groundbreaking trip to Montreal, a December trek that marked Highland Park High School’s first international field trip in 25 years. She also touched on Highland Park’s first year of Global Citizenship, a new program endorsed by Rutgers University. Before ending her speech, Ms. Wangli included several nuggets of advice for her fellow graduates, such as “Never be afraid to take a leap of faith.”

Then, prefaced by a performance of Undine Moore’s “Servant of the Lord” from the high school’s Master Chorale, class president Eliana Hriczo stepped to the podium to present her own reflections and memories of the grade. Ms. Hriczo looked at the class’ successful fundraisers this year, which included DECA club’s “Make-a-Wish Walk” and a community “Color Run.” She also spoke glowingly of the grade’s commitment to success inside and outside the school. “We are a class full of absolute and pure passion,” Ms. Hriczo said, a statement confirmed by whoops from her classmates in the audience.

Another musical performance followed Ms. Hriczo’s speech — this time featuring the A’Cappelics Anonymous club at the high school. The group sang John Denver’s “Country Road,” but only after encouraging the audience to sing along. The class of 2016 made the song a school anthem during the year and the commencement performance capped off the piece’s influence in Highland Park High School.

The final student speech was delivered by valedictorian Nicholas Heah. In his address, Mr. Heah made sure to extend thank you notes relating to his high school journey. After sending his appreciation to his parents, staff, and fellow students, Mr. Heah moved on to describe the grade he had spent high school alongside. “We have this willingness to group up with people of different personalities, and our enthusiasm towards excellence in our activities have resulted in massive achievements.”

The remarks from district administrators included: the Highland Park Board of Education President Darcie Cimarusti and Highland Park High School Principal Michael Lassiter. Both said they were inspired by the accomplishments of the members of the Class of 2016.

Finally, Highland Park School Superintendent Scott Taylor stood at the podium to offer his words of advice to the graduates. Dr. Taylor referenced the early-in-life struggles of people like Michael Jordan, Dr. Seuss, and Oprah Winfry, in order to send recent graduates the message that “failure is necessary in life.” He, like the other speakers from the evening, voiced confidence in the abilities of the class members to rise and combat the challenges of post-high school life.

All the illuminating words, encouraging phrases, and philosophical quotes were pushed to the back of the audience’s mind when the day’s most awaited moment arrived. Grade advisor Niko Kasapidis called each of the 124 graduating students one by one up to the state to receive their diplomas. Dressed in burgundy and white robes, the graduates donned confident strides and wide smiles as they walked across the platform in steps that were emphasized by hollers and cheers from family, friends, and fellow classmates in the audience.

Then, with their certification of high school competition in hand and spirits high, the class of 2016 vigorously threw their caps into the sky — an apropos ending to their productive four years at Highland Park High School.

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