NEWARK, NJ — The gymnasium at Essex County College in Newark was filled with anticipatory energy and bursting pride on Thursday, June 21, as the 508 members of the Columbia High School Class of 2018 were conferred their diplomas.
The graduating seniors were joined by family and friends, who watched as they walked across the stage, concluding four years of hard work and looking forward to the next stages of their lives, whether they include college, a career or the military.
“It is an honor to share in the joy of the graduation ceremonies for this, the 131st graduating class of Columbia High School,” Principal Elizabeth Aaron told the soon-to-be graduates at commencement.
She highlighted the dedication of CHS’ staff and faculty and credited them with helping the seniors accomplish so much.
“Students achieve when their teachers and school create the environment that makes it possible for them to do so,” she said.
Aaron also told the Class of 2018 that they hold “a very special place in my heart and you always will,” as they were incoming ninth-graders when she took the helm at CHS.
“You have done well and it is the pride of my career to have been your principal,” she said. “We’re here today because we chose for the last four years to work together to get us here and that is the kind of work that matters.
“You have raised awareness of the things that matter most in our world today,” she continued. “We have no doubt of your ability to make the world a better place. … The world awaits you and we can’t wait to see what you do next.”
According to Student Council President Ryan Sartori, he knows the Class of 2018 will go on to do great things, based on the lessons they have learned at Columbia and in their diverse community. He stressed that their diversity is not just racial, but also a “diversity of interests, passions and pursuits.”
“I really believe that what truly makes this place special is the people who make up our school and our community,” he said, recalling how at the Senior Awards Night prior to graduation, his mother had pointed out to him that “no matter who went up to get their award, each and every student whose name was called was met with the same response, a monumental outpouring of support.”
As he looks back on the South Orange-Maplewood and CHS communities, Sartori also urged his fellow graduates to strengthen their new communities, wherever they may be going after graduation.
Class of 2018 President Toibat Ayankunbi expressed her confidence that her peers will better their future communities.
“We stand here today as physical embodiments of greatness,” Ayankunbi said, citing their willingness to devote their lunch periods to study, to support the Minority Achievement Committee Scholars program, to win the 2018 ultimate Frisbee state championship, and much more.
“I see greatness today. Columbia High School’s students, teachers and staff have come together to form a great community,” she said, adding that “communities are spaces in which one has a natural sense of belonging.”
“Community is an incredibly powerful force and it is one our country and our world need even more right now,” she said.
While expressing his belief in the future successes of the Class of 2018, acting Superintendent of Schools Thomas Ficarra still had some advice for the graduates.
“As you exit CHS and over the next phase of your life, you’ll come into contact with exciting and diverse people and ideas,” he said. “Be mindful of what truly brings you happiness. … Be careful not to shape yourself to be a more potent consumer or a follower of the day’s new hip trend.”
He also cautioned that, while they may find themselves utterly swept up the new ideas and the new people they will encounter after graduation, they should always remember where they come from and draw strength from that.
“As you go about the job of reinventing yourself, remember one very important thing: Call home often, because it is at home where you will find the unconditional love you are seeking,” he told the Class of 2018.
Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker thanked the graduating seniors for their energy, their passion, their outspoken voice, their strong moral compass and much more.
“Use those gifts to support one another and those who will come after you,” Baker told the Class of 2018, urging them to continue fighting injustices by first acknowledging them and then facing them. “Do right by yourself by recognizing your talents and do right by others. Give blessing to those around us. Do right for your community and world. Be agents of change.”
Following all these words of wisdom and support, the members of the Class of 2018 received their diplomas and began the next stage of their lives.
Photos by Steve Ellmore