NUTLEY, NJ — The smiles were infectious as the Class of 2021 graduated from Nutley High School in the Oval on June 24. The nearly 300 students — along with their teachers, friends and families — were thrilled to be together in person again, approximately 15 months after the pandemic separated them.
The past year has been difficult for the students, but they rose to the challenge and excelled — thanks in part to the dedication of their teachers.
“I would like to give a special shoutout to all the teachers and staff of Nutley High School for always pushing my classmates and me to be the best we could be,” Senior Class President Isabella Rovito said during the ceremony, before prompting her peers to applaud their hardworking teachers. “Without all of you, we definitely would not be sitting in these chairs today.”
Rovito also spoke glowingly of her classmates and their long-standing friendships.
“Most of us have been friends since kindergarten, if not preschool, so this is more than just a promotion into the next part of our lives,” Rovito said. “It is a very bittersweet feeling to be standing among people who have always been there. Today we graduate from Nutley High School and from each other. Over the years we have helped and watched each other grow, but unfortunately all good things must come to an end.”
Nevertheless, despite the struggles of the past year, Rovito said her class “made out like bandits,” cementing beautiful memories and achieving astounding accomplishments. For instance, for the first time in NHS history, there are two salutatorians, showing the Class of 2021’s high level of academic dedication.
Co-salutatorian and Class Vice President Anish Kumar said he was “genuinely proud” of his classmates for their many accomplishments and for reaching graduation during such turbulent times. He too gave a lot of credit to the NHS staff.
“Honestly, during the pandemic, I didn’t even realize that I was learning virtually because of the constant help I received from teachers, counselors and school staff,” Kumar said. “Because of you, we have made it this far, and your help will always be appreciated.”
Kumar followed this with some words of advice and hope.
“My speech today revolves around two main ideas. The first idea is that you will be just fine. Ever since I was a child, this idea of ‘you will be just fine’ was my mantra, and it got me through practically anything,” Kumar said, explaining that this mantra can help one reach seemingly unattainable goals. “The second idea I want to share is the importance of being focused and having a sense of purpose and belonging. A famous story that I love is when John F. Kennedy went to the NASA space center and saw a man carrying a broom. John F. Kennedy walked over and asked what he was doing. The janitor replied, ‘Mr. President, I am helping put a man on the moon.’”
Co-salutatorian Erin Laney also shared a mantra with her fellow graduates. Her piece of wisdom came from her grandfather, who emigrated from Ireland, served in the American army during the Korean War and had eight children.
“He lived an amazing life but was no stranger to hardship and struggle. There was one phrase he repeated frequently, even during the last years of his life. ‘It’s good to be us,’ he would say, always with a big smile on his face,” Laney said. “This is a quote my whole family finds comforting. We know that no matter what challenges we face, we will always have each other.
“When I look back on this past year, it is sometimes difficult to find the good in this situation. Some of us have lost loved ones. As a graduating class, many of us did not get the typical senior year experience. We missed out on events and celebrations like the junior formal and the senior cruise; however, I also think about how far we have come,” Laney continued, repeating often that, even with everything that happened in the world during the Class of 2021’s four years in high school, “It’s good to be us.”
Valedictorian Saumya Dwivedi also praised his classmates for their fortitude.
“Congratulations, Class of 2021! We made it! Four years ago we were freshmen intimidated by the prospect of going to high school. Now, sitting before me, I see these same people have grown to be mature, responsible adults,” Dwivedi said, adding that there is still a lot of growth to come, as well.
According to Dwivedi, during the past four years, he defined himself through his academics, often losing sleep and sacrificing activities for his grades.
“But we are now entering a new stage of our lives, one where the rigid structure of high school education doesn’t exist,” Dwivedi said. “The rest of your identities are yet to be created, whether you are a class officer, a class leader, or a varsity athlete, a hardworking student, or just a good friend in high school. The impending journey demands that you ask the important questions about your identity.
“You must now become who you want to be. Find your passion; make it a part of your identity,” he continued. “You all are the creators of your own destiny. I see limitless potential in all of your eyes and I know for a fact that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to and become who you want to be.”
With such inspiring and touching student speeches, NHS Principal Denis Williams joked that he was a bit nervous to follow their act, and could not be prouder of them and their classmates.
“Before us are assembled AP and National Merit scholars, the artists, the athletes, the volunteers, the poets, the musicians, the engineers, the Eagle Scouts, the school record breakers, the state champs, the singers, the performers, the actors, directors, blood donors, voters and leaders you’ve become — and that’s just scratching the surface,” Williams said. “The Class of 2021 has left its mark in the academic and extracurricular books. You have done an excellent job during your time at Nutley High School.”
Williams had the graduates stand in cohorts, telling those headed to two-year and four-year colleges, “Remember the lessons of your teachers … and remember that mom’s not going to be there to wake you in the dorm room”; telling those going into employment and trades, “Always remember to give back in service and caring that which was modeled for you in these past four years” and those heading into the military, “As you do your patriotic service, always remember that you come from a town that has always defended freedom.”
During her speech, Superintendent of Schools Julie Glazer gave the students a final high school lesson on expectations, disappointment and growth.
“Throughout our lives, we all set expectations. We make a picture in our heads of where we’re going to go, what we’re going to do,” Glazer said. “It doesn’t matter what it is, we have an idea of what it’s supposed to be and how it’s supposed to go. The first day of kindergarten, the dream trip to the beach or Disney.”
Glazer laid out a number of scenarios that will occur throughout the graduates’ lives, including dates, championship games, friendships and more.
“All of these dreams and expectations are each day, for tomorrow and for the future. And sometimes we’re disappointed. Our child cries and doesn’t want to leave our side to go into the school, or worse, lets go of our hand and runs toward school without ever looking back. It rains on the beach day. You can’t find the Disney princesses, only Gaston,” Glazer said. “It’s our human nature to feel sad, angry, frustrated, deprived and wanting to shout out ‘Why is this happening? Why now? Why to me?’ Well, I challenge all of us to ask instead of ‘Why me?’ ‘What’s next?’ There is no problem in this world, no crisis, no injustice that we can’t solve together.
“You have achieved things that your ancestors never would have imagined,” she continued. “This may not have been the picture that we had in our heads and definitely not our expectations for junior and senior year, but I hope that you’ve still created memories to last you a lifetime.”
The final speaker at the ceremony, just prior to the graduates receiving their diplomas, was Board of Education President Charles Kucinski.
“Adding a pandemic to the curriculum was never our vision. Enriching our students was always paramount in our goals. We never could have dreamed that would still be preparing you for your future virtually. The Class of 2021 will be remembered for your resilience, determination, enthusiasm and ambition. There was no better preparation for life than this; however, don’t allow the past 15 months to define you,” Kucisnki said. “Imagine how far you can go and make your dreams a reality. You can do this. If you can make it through graduation during COVID-19 and world pandemic, there isn’t anything you cannot do.
“Trust yourself. Trust your instincts; if it doesn’t feel comfortable, don’t do it. Believe. Believe you matter, because you do,” he continued. “Strive to make a difference in the world. Be kind to yourself and to others. A simple act of kindness can make everyone’s day. Be confident, because it’s self-confidence that will take you where you want to go. In my opinion, most importantly, listen to your parents and your grandparents; they still know what’s best for you.”
With all these words of advice and praise to buoy them, the members of the Class of 2021 walked across the stage to receive their diplomas from Williams and to head out into the next phases of their lives.
Photos Courtesy of Nutley Public Schools