Childhood’s end came on a warm summer afternoon for the Hightstown High School Class of 2019.
it was on June 21 when the seniors came together as a class one last time.
The 406 seniors gathered at the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton, marking Hightstown High School’s 104th graduation ceremony.
Seven graduating seniors, all of whom are entering the military, strode into the arena ahead of their classmates, carrying the American flag and the New Jersey state flag as the audience broke into cheers and hand claps.
Seniors Ryan Fogel, Vicente Hernandez Villafane, Christopher Vinicio Leon Barros and Rai Marerro Olmo are entering the U.S. Marine Corps, and Benjamin Edward Catana, Stephen Xavier Rice and Bryant Clayton Zea are entering the U.S. Army.
As the Hightstown High School Band played the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance,” three retiring faculty members – Lynne Woods, Merion Wells and Peggy Romans – led the faculty members, all clad in black academic gowns, into the arena.
Then the seniors – boys in blue gowns and girls in white gowns – filed onto the arena floor. One teacher joked with the students – “We did it” – as they took their place in row upon row of folding chairs. Family members and friends cheered them on as they entered.
Some of the seniors decorated their mortarboard caps, mostly with the names of the colleges they will be attending – the University of Virginia, Rider University, Rutgers University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Ithaca College.
A few seniors struck out on their own – from “The best is yet to come” to “Adventurers are never lost” to “Seriously? A piece of paper.”
Senior Class President Daniela Ferrel welcomed the attendees to the Hightstown High School graduation ceremony.
“It is still surreal to me that we are embarking on the next journey of our lives,” Daniela said, noting that 1,387 days had passed since they first took their seats together in the auditorium for freshman orientation.
Now, 1,387 days later, they have reached “a truly momentous occasion because it is possibly the last time we will all be together in the same place,” Daniela said. To commemorate, she reeled off a list of the class’s accomplishments, both on the athletic field and off the athletic field.
“Perhaps our most historical accomplishment is that this year’s Advanced Placement government and politics class, taught by Stuart Wexler, passed the (federal) Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act into law. It is the first law in United States history to be completely drafted (and adopted by Congress) by high school students,” she said.
The law calls for FBI and other federal agencies to provide copies of civil rights cold case files – mostly involving unsolved, racially motivated murders – to the National Archivist within two years. Nothing in the records may be blacked out or changed.
“Among all the accomplishments, we see glimpses of our future – future athletes, Broadway stars, educators, politicians, policy makers and so much more. So much of our success can be attributed to those who pushed us to go beyond the limits,” Daniela said.
Zaria Elizabeth Emery, the Class of 2019 student speaker, told her classmates not to doubt themselves and that they are stronger than they think. “If we never become complacent and always demand more from ourselves, then we are capable of anything,” she said.
“If I could offer everyone one piece of advice, it would be that it is okay not to know,” Zaria said. “We are 17- and 18-year-olds and we don’t need to have our lives planned out.”
“Some of you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up,and that’s okay. There is no set path in life, and we are allowed to change our minds,” she said.
And no matter where the classmates end up – college, the military or the workforce – there is one thing they will always have in common, Zaria said.
“We were Hightstown Rams yesterday, we are Hightstown Rams today and we will be Hightstown Rams tomorrow and forever. So go out into the world, Class of 2019, and do big things,” Zaria said.
Then, one by one, the seniors walked up to the podium and received a hand shake and a diploma. After the last student received his diploma, his classmates cheered.
Finally, it was time to turn the tassel on their mortarboard caps and join the long line of Hightstown High School alumni.