OHS graduates have $35 million in scholarships

ORANGE, NJ — Commencement exercises for the 259 members of the Orange High School class of 2023 were held Friday, June 23, at the Richard Codey Arena, West Orange.

Following a welcome by senior class president Octaevia Brewster, OHS Principal Jason Belton told everyone to be ready for a little clapping. He then spoke directly to seniors and wanted to tell them two things.

“If you plan on accomplishing anything in your lives,” he said, “you’re going to have to believe in yourselves. People will tell you that you can’t do something, but the best education in the world is nothing if you don’t believe in yourself.”

He also told seniors to work on their weaknesses, leave their childish behaviors behind and work until tired.
“In this community, if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” he said, thanking the students for making him a better principal and better father.

Orange Superintendent of Schools Gerald Fitzhugh II spoke. The class of 2023, he said, had been awarded $35 million in scholarships, a record.
“We’ve prepared you for success,” he said. “You come in here as an Orange High School senior and leave as an alumnus, forever.”

He asked for one promise.
“You come back to Orange and reinvest in this community,” he concluded.
Next to speak was Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren.
“You are the greatest generation we’ve produced,” he said. “You will be invited to rooms we never knew existed. We were told boys should celebrate if they turned 18 without being shot. And then they should celebrate at 25 without being shot. And we were told girls couldn’t be innovators. Let the culture you created work for you, financially, educationally and spiritually.”
He asked students to focus on the city of Orange, plant their seeds and return.
“Orange is about investing and returning,” Warren said. “The people on this stage have done their investing. Now we look for a wonderful return.”
The next to speak was Bishop Darren Ferguson, of Bethel Baptist Church, Orange.
“I want to talk to you about DNA,” he said, referencing the molecular blueprint determining an individual’s characteristics.
“My father was a cop and I spent nine years in prison,” he said. “Who would have thought I’d become the city of Orange police chaplain?”
He told the students they cannot escape the DNA of their enslaved ancestors.
“Our DNA expresses itself in many positive things by Black people,” he said. “I came here tonight to tell you there’s greatness in your DNA. Don’t let anyone put you in a box.
“Life is going to try to push you to the edge,” Ferguson continued. “But some of you got a swag that’s incredible. You’re greater than your circumstances. You cannot escape your greatness and your DNA is greatness.”
The valedictorian address was given by Jeanne Exantus.
“Problems are inevitable,” she said. “Sometimes they come into our lives like a storm. God’s not going to make them go away, but he’ll guide us through them.”
Jeanne told her classmates not to compare themselves to anyone else.
“It takes humility to be an individual,” she said.
Belton and Fitzhugh awarded the diplomas.