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Ceremonies salute the Class of 2024: Grads urged  to give back and ‘don’t settle’

Speakers offered a lot of sound advice to graduating seniors Friday, June 21, at ceremonies in the school auditorium. In their speeches, Valedictorian Sophie Clark and Salutatorian Leonardo Dougherty, clearly communicated their love for all that is special about Shelter Island.

The two graduates expressed their understanding of a responsibility to set examples for all who will follow in their footsteps.

Ms. Clark spoke of her gratitude to family, friends and teachers who have helped guide her through the years, with a special shout-out to teacher Daniel Williams for helping her find a love for science.

Class Valedictorian Sophie Clark spoke of the gratitude she and her classmates felt for the school and the community. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

Recognizing the years ahead will present her and her classmates with decisions to carve out their own paths, she reminded them to explore all options that present themselves. One need only look at the multiple activities in which Ms. Clark engaged during her years at Shelter Island School, along with the hours of service she’s given to the community, to know she has practiced what she preaches.

Salutatorian Leonardo Dougherty told his fellow graduates to recognize that just as their years at Shelter Island School have flown by, so too will the years ahead. It’s hardest to live in the moment, he said, but to live life at its fullest, it’s important to find out what is meaningful.

Salutatorian Leonardo Dougherty spoke about living life to the fullest and always exploring what is meaningful. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

Education is not a straight path, he said. It’s a long, winding road, and it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., reminded parents that the school community is “devoted to your children,” and the faculty and staff are “not just teachers here, they’re like family.”

Superintendent of Schools Brian Doelger, Ed.D. addressing the graduates and friends and family at the June 21 graduation ceremonies. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

He reminded the graduates of three people whose stories have informed their education — Christian Napolitano, George Strom and Leah Friedman.

In May, Mr. Napolitano, only 31 years old, succumbed to injuries sustained when he was struck by a vehicle in Peconic in April. Mr. Doelger recalled him as a student who was smart and funny, adding that he knew Mr. Napolitano would be a “successful member of our community.” He encouraged graduates to contribute to the community the way Mr. Napolitano did.

The second person who has spoken to students through the years is George Strom — unable to be at the graduation ceremony Friday evening — now in his mid 90s, a person who has inspired all who have met him. Mr. Strom is a member of the “Greatest Generation,” a World War II Navy veteran, who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima, one of the deadliest battles of the war.

Throughout the years, he has shared his memories and reflections with the community, and is emulated for the courage he showed as a veteran and his commitment to his community back home, Mr. Doelger told the students.

The third member of the community, Leah Friedman, at 93, was in the audience applauding the achievements of the graduates. Mr. Doelger honored her for bringing her latest play, “A Bronx Shabbas,” to the school. The play was made into a film produced by Peter Waldner and John Kaasik.

Ms. Friedman’s mother escaped Poland at 16 years of age, but so many other relatives perished at the hands of the Nazis. So much of her writing through the years has been autobiographical, recalling her growing up in the Bronx, but tinged with the horrors that beset so many family members.

Mr. Doelger said Ms. Friedman has stood up to evil and never been afraid.

“All are heroes, all are valuable members of the Shelter Island community,” he said of the three Islanders he named, noting they are role models for the young graduates to follow.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor), in his final term before he retires from elective office in January, told the graduates they join a long line of East Enders who have received the gift of a public education. The relationships they have established and the experiences they have had don’t end as they graduate, he said.

Mr. Thiele spoke of other Islanders who have preceded this year’s class and are figures to be cherished and to learn from — Joey Theinert, who lost his life in Afghanistan in 2010 protecting his troops from harm; former Olympian Amanda Clark, whose sailing exploits thrilled those back home; Cliff Clark who has mentored and coached so many Islanders after his own successes on the track, and who was led the Island’s 10K event  for many years.

What makes the Island special is each generation gives back to the next to ensure they have the same opportunities, Mr. Thiele said, adding, “Never forget where you came from. Keep Shelter Island in your hearts. Pay it forward.”

Board of Education President Kathleen Lynch praised her colleagues who have become friends, and the school leaders who have made the district special.

She recalled Mr. Doelger, who had been a social studies teacher at the school before leaving the Island to pursue his doctorate degree and gain experience in administration, before returning to lead the district. “He has been loving your children,” Ms. Lynch told parents in the audience.

She told the graduates a story in which a farmer experienced what appeared to be good and bad luck through the years, facing both with the same “We’ll see” attitude, pointing out what seems bad or good may change with time, and to remember as they go through life that, ultimately, whatever they encounter, everything will work out.

“You guys are in a moment right now, ready to launch,” she said.

Don’t settle, she advised, leaving them with the words of J.M. Barrie: “All the world is made of faith and trust and pixie dust.”

Hats off to the Class of 2024. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)