This year’s graduation carried the usual significance, as over 1,000 family members and guests watched the 659 students of the graduating class move one step closer to their futures and independent lives. However, each of the speeches was made more meaningful by the collective experience its students and staff have undergone this year.
To begin, principal Dr. Rusielewicz held two moments of silence: first for a 2021 graduate who was lost this year to suicide; then, a moment of silence for the cumulative loss of friends and family throughout the Patchogue-Medford community.
The first student to speak was Madeline Schumann, the class co-president. She reflected on the time she has spent at Patchogue-Medford High School.
“My time at Pat-Med was a collection of wonderful memories,” she said. “Late nights at float site, our prom, screaming so loud at Raider Bowl we lost our voices. Whatever we did, we did together; we did it as the Class of 2021.”
Next, class co-president Giovanni Verdi gave a speech addressing the urgency of resolving world issues and how a Pat-Med education has prepared the class to solve them.
“I look around at each of us and know that the future is promising. I’m inspired by each and every one of you,” he said. “Our generation is capable of immense change, needed change... our time at PMHS has guided us along a key period of development, instilling pride and honor as our core values.”
Valedictorian Wilson Li joined Dr. Rusielewicz on the stage, as his prerecorded speech was displayed on large screens adjacent to the stage. His speech was brief, but highlighted the importance of human connection and kindness in a way that brought students and parents to their feet in a standing ovation
“I remember one day where I was tired and felt I did not have the energy to finish the school day. However, a classmate shared his cookie with me; as he gave me that cookie, he told me not to forget his kindness,” he said. “After all these years, I still have not forgotten. The cookie he gave me made my day better and gave me the energy to finish the school day. I think we should all follow Spencer’s example, as a cookie can go a long way.”
With COVID, there was constant uncertainty about when things would return to normal, and Rusielewicz admitted that even he had his doubts.
“We always knew we would get back to normal, but when would that be, there were many days within this storm that even I wasn’t sure it would end. We knew that by working together, we would get through it,” he said. “This is our victory to savor, our victory to rejoice, and this is our victory for you, the Class of 2021.”
Also, a tradition at every Patchogue-Medford graduation is that the departing class gives a gift to be remembered by and to set up the students who will graduate after them. This year, Annalise Rose Ilg, 2021 class treasurer, announced the class gift, which was a monetary contribution to the Class of 2022 to help make their senior year special since their junior year was put on hold. The second part of this gift will be given to the Class of 2025 to enhance their high school experience and allow them to take part in more exciting activities.
Throughout the evening, as over 600 former high school students walked in tandem down the aisles between parents and spectators to receive a diploma that tells them they completed a necessary step in their lives and the rest is up to them, the weight of this year and its impact on future generations was tangible. No matter how it goes from here, the community and the seniors and underclassmen of Patchogue-Medford have shown that it is truly amazing what they can accomplish and overcome when they do it together, and whatever path these graduates choose to take, their hometown will always be rooting for them.