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Graduates weathered stormy months of pandemic: 20 young people set for next chapter

“I am in the presence of greatness with all of you,” Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., told the 20 members of the graduation class of 2021 Saturday morning, June 26. The class has weathered some of the most challenging times of any graduating class in memory and emerged in Salutatorian Jane Richards’ words as “a resilient bunch.”

They had one more challenge Saturday morning as clouds overhead threatened to rain on their parade. But the weather held until shortly after the graduation ceremony ended.

Board of Education President Kathleen Lynch characterized the more than a year of struggles as an “incredibly difficult but incredibly successful year.” Mr. Doelger credited his staff with the efforts they made to endure the challenges of the past 15 months.

The class has persevered through the worst, thanks to the guidance of parents and teachers, Valedictorian Theo Olinkiewicz said, telling the gathering of parents, teachers and friends the graduates are proud of making it this far.

It wasn’t the struggles they endured, but the moments of embarrassment he recalled that gave them the good humor to carry on through the challenges. “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you left them,” he said wistfully.

Ms. Richards spoke of the struggles her aunt endured to become a nurse and said it’s not super heroes who inspire, but ordinary people who overcome obstacles to achieve their goals.

“If they can do it, so can I,” she said of what fired her up through high school — that and competition with Mr. Olinkiewicz and other achievers in her graduating class.

Life is a series of changes, Mr. Doelger told the graduates, noting those who are happiest are able to adapt as needed. It’s not expensive houses or cars that are the mark of success, he said. Disappointment and failure are what “teaches you to get back up and try harder,” he said, noting the many losses endured by Abraham Lincoln before he was elected president.

It’s what you can do for other people, he said, quoting President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech in which he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

The mark of success for this year’s graduates is what they can do for others. It’s the friendship, understanding and assistance people give to others that live on in the memories of others, the school superintendent said. “You learn from life’s failures. You gain empathy,” Mr. Doelger said.

Ms. Lynch told the class she learned from her brother the meaning of a dash. On tombstones, there is generally the year of birth — the year of death. But the dash in between represents all of what they have done in their lives

“It’s how we live and love and how we spend the dash,” she said.

Quoting reggae singer Bob Marley, Ms. Lynch told the graduates, “Beginnings are usually scary, and endings are usually sad, but it’s everything in between that makes it all worth living.”

The graduating class received many awards at previous ceremonies, but reserved some special awards for Saturday’s ceremony. Guidance director Martha Tuthill announced the hours graduates have given through the years to community service, with Tyler Gulluscio topping the list with 286 hours; followed by Lydia Shepherd with 282.5 hours; and Matt Strauss with 105.5 hours. The entire graduating class gave 1,056 hours of community service, Ms. Tuthill announced.

The President’s Education Gold Award for achieving a 95 average or above in their academics went to Bradley Batten, Mr. Gulluscio, Nicholas Mamisashvili, Mr. Olinkiewicz, Ms. Richards, Ms. Shepherd and Brandon Velasquez.

The President’s Education Silver Award for maintaining a 90 to 94.9 average went to Jalill Carter, Emma Martinez Majdišová, Aroldo Pantaleon Castro, Mr. Strauss, Emma Teodoru and Caleb Wasilewski.

There were handshakes and hugs as the seniors received their diplomas, but two moments that were special for graduates Tyler Gulluscio and Matt Strauss as their dads — Todd Gulluscio, Director of Athletics, Physical Education, Health, Wellness & Personnel, and Robert Strauss, a member of the Board of Education — embraced them as they handed them their diplomas.

Finally, it was Zeb Mundy who led his fellow graduates in the traditional turning of the tassels as they flung them from the right to the left, signifying their successful completion of their years at Shelter Island School.

Family and friends viewed their tossing of their caps in the air and embraced their graduates as families lingered and mingled, enjoying a moment of pride and accomplishment.