Shelter Island grads hear door is always open

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | The Shelter Island High School graduating class of 2014.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | The Shelter Island High School graduating class of 2014.

It was a double farewell Saturday as Shelter Islanders bid adieu to 27 graduates and Superintendent Michael Hynes, who leaves the district on July 25.

But with the goodbyes came the message the graduates will always be welcome home again, with the community ready to applaud their future achievements and soothe the wounds the outside world may inflict.

“I love you all,” Dr. Hynes told the graduates, his voice cracking. “Life is not measured in the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away,”

Diplomas “represent years of hard work, dedication and achievement,” Dr. Hynes added, before turning to comedian-philosopher George Carlin for words of wisdom, including, “We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life” and advice to “laugh often, long and loud.”

Following valedictorian Drew Garrison’s speech, the superintendent said that he would be the person he would quote next time he’s giving a graduation speech.

“We are all certified winners in our bubble here,” Mr. Garrison said. But in the wider world, they shouldn’t expect to be coddled. Their mistakes that likely ended with a slap on the wrist here are more apt to draw a “punch in the gut” in that wider world.

The valedictorian predicted that he and his fellow graduates would face many new challenges for which they’re “not really equipped,” and said while they have been taught to pass Regents exams and “worked for paper pride,” the road ahead would require a different kind of knowledge and the realization that there will always be consequences.

“Maybe one of us will be the next Edward Snowden,” he said, referring to the whistle blower, accused by some of providing government secrets to enemies and hailed by others for risking his own future to tell Americans about the actions being taken in their names by that government.

“This is the time to make choices” and not mistakes, Mr. Garrison said. “There’s a chance everything won’t work out in the end. We have a lot to lose” with no real safety net. The choices will be harder and stakes higher, he said.

“Chance does not determine our lives; choice does,” Mr. Garrison added, encouraging his classmates to make their choices count.

Salutatorian Matthew BeltCappelino reflected on life on Shelter Island, telling his fellow graduates, “You cannot have lived in a better place,” he said. “Shelter Island will always be a part of you. We’re like a family on Shelter Island.”

At the same time, he encouraged his fellow graduates to remember who they are and what brought them to this point. “Do what you love. Follow your dreams. And remain the awesome people you are,” he said.

He offered individual messages to each class member, many that evoked laughter, and all that will remain in Mr. BeltCappelino’s memories of his friends whose futures will take them in different directions.

Matthew Dunning offered a message from his classmates to Dr. Hynes, thanking the superintendent for his vision for the district.

“Take a piece of the Island with you,” he told the departing superintendent.

In addition to their diplomas, the class took home a total of $34,000 in community scholarships, prizes and awards for outstanding performances in various subject matters.

If the processional at the beginning of the graduation ceremony to the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” was serious, the Recessional was far more light-hearted with hugs among the graduates, family members and friends.

That was topped by the joyous tossing of caps, another long-standing tradition.