WEST ORANGE, NJ — The seats of the Richard J. Codey Arena were packed with family and friends of the 2018 graduating class of West Orange High School on Thursday, June 21. Their cheers and applause echoed throughout the arena as the seniors walked onto the transformed hockey rink, united with their blue caps and gowns, and bound by their Mountaineer pride.
West Orange High School hosted its 123rd annual commencement last week to celebrate the 524 graduates’ hard work and success during their four years at the school. The commencement exercises featured speeches from faculty and Board of Education members, who expressed their pride in the graduates and gave them sound advice to take with them for their future endeavors.
“Success in the future may not come quickly or easily, but if you strive to do what’s right, if you work harder and dream bigger … you will then be successful,” Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Rutzky told the Class of 2018.
“There is no such thing as failure,” he continued. “Learn from that mistake because every experience, every encounter … are there to teach you and force you to be who you are.”
Salutatorian Aion Ashby delivered a similar message in her address. She encouraged her classmates to learn from the struggles they faced during their four years at WOHS.
“High school was a rollercoaster. There were ups and downs, and twists and turns that you would never expect … now it’s time to get off,” Ashby, who will be attending Cornell University in the fall, said. “I want you to take the twists and turns, and ups and downs, and use them to guide you through life because we all have great potential and we can all achieve anything.”
Valedictorian Aishwarya Kanagala, who will be attending Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus in the fall, began her address by thanking those “who have been part of this journey and walked with me every step of the way,” including the great teachers she has had during her time at the high school.
“Out of the millions of jobs in today’s world, the job of a teacher is the most tedious yet impactful,” she said.
As the seniors’ eagerness to receive their diplomas grew, Principal Hayden Moore gave a speech of his own in which he noted the accomplishments of the Class of 2018, including the girls’ athletic program ranking No. 1 in the county.
Yet, Moore was prouder still of the exemplary character that the Class of 2018 has displayed.
“I am proud of Class of 2018,” Moore said. “It was 2018 that stood strongly against racial violence; it is you, 2018, that memorialized the victims of the horrific tragedy in Parkland … it was you, 2018, who took a stand for racial unity right here in our school; it was you who contacted state politicians from both side of the aisle; and you expressed your beliefs with class, grace and dignity.”
Before departing the stage to allow members of the Board of Education, assistant principals and student management officers to present diplomas, Moore reminded the graduating seniors to hold on to their Mountaineer courage and spirit.
“You are Mountaineers, which means you climb every challenge and solve any problems,” he said. “I ask you to keep focus, keep determined, keep persevering. You can and will be successful.”
Photos by Steve Ellmore