West Orange HS graduates 525 members of the Class of 2022

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange High School added 525 new alumni to its roster when the Class of 2022 graduated on June 23, ending the school year at Codey Arena in West Orange. The seniors were lauded as a resilient class, with much of their time in high school having been disrupted by the pandemic, leading to virtual learning. In between performances by the WOHS band and graduation choir, Principal Hayden Moore said the work ethic of the class was exceptional.

“You provided our school community with a strong sense of hope and pride,” Moore said at the ceremony. “You demonstrated commitment, hard work and resilience. You weathered illness, economic disruption, political strife and divide in our country, and instead of giving up or turning negative, you grew stronger and more determined.”

He said that the band kept playing, the ROTC kept marching and the WOHS sports teams kept competing, even when they faced obstacles in doing so.

“I know that time and time again I repeat how lucky I am to be the principal of West Orange High School, but, Class of 2022, you are a shining example of why that is true,” Moore said. “As your principal, my goal was to ensure that your experiences here at West Orange High School were positive, meaningful and inspiring. I hope that we have provided you with a nurturing, safe and welcoming environment.”

Moore told the graduates to use the academic and social skills they learned during their years at WOHS in the future. He also told them, when choosing a career path, to find something that interests them and direct their energy in that area.

“Keep focused, keep determined, keep striving for excellence,” Moore said. “Obtain a growth mindset. Use your failures and losses as lessons (of things) that you will not repeat, but instead spur action to help focus your journey on the individual success you seek. Just keep climbing and striving to summit your goals, and you will be successful. You have been challenged by the rigors of our high school, and you have succeeded. Now, you will begin the next facet of your life’s path. May life extend you good health, much happiness, exceptional fortune and unyielding success.”

Salutatorian Valentina Pappano began her speech by thanking Moore, and WOHS teachers and security guards. She saved a special shoutout for the weekday staff of the Bagel Box and Dunkin’ near the high school, where WOHS students spend a lot of time. Pappano spent most of her speech talking about the philosophical thought experiment “What Mary didn’t know.”

“Mary is confined to a black-and-white room and lives a colorless life. She is educated on color through black-and-white books and lectures relayed through black-and-white television,” she said. “In this way, she learns everything there is to know about the physical nature of the world and becomes humanity’s foremost expert on the theory of color. She knows everything about the blue of the sky; she knows its number of possible variations and the science of its light waves. She knows all of this despite never having seen the blue of the sky herself.”

Pappano asked if, when Mary steps out of the black-and-white room to experience color for the first time, does she learn anything new?

“While ‘What Mary didn’t know’ continues to be debated in philosophical circles, the general consensus is that being educated will never match living through the experience,” she said. “We have spent our entire lives learning about the world from inside our schools and our homes. We have learned everything there is to know, but we are about to step outside for the first time and experience the world on our own two feet, seeing it for the first time with our own two eyes. No matter what path you choose to take in the upcoming years, whether you will continue your education, look for a job, go to trade school or your next move is a complete question mark, this is the snapshot in time when our lives and experiences truly become our own.”

Emily Liew was named valedictorian of the Class of 2022. In her speech, she said that she was initially disappointed when she discovered as a middle school student that the WOHS mascot was not an animal.

“When I was in middle school and my brother told me that the high school mascot was a Mountaineer, I thought, ‘He’s lying. There’s no such thing as a Mountaineer,’” Liew said in her speech. “I could not accept that other schools get represented by cool animals like dragons, panthers and yellowjackets. Our mascot is a career. We get a person dressed up as a person.”

It wasn’t until recently that Liew said she decided the Mountaineer is actually a good mascot.

“A Mountaineer is someone who climbs mountains, which is typically a hobby or sport,” Liew said. “Mountains are often used as representation for obstacles, and as Mountaineers we have to be pretty good at overcoming obstacles. When COVID-19 entered our lives, it was sudden and chaotic. Experiencing a pandemic has to be one of the most defining mountains that we will ever see in our lifetime. Even when setback after setback was thrown our way and every step seemed to lead farther from the summit, we did what mountaineers do best: We persevered.”

Two years ago, graduates weren’t able to celebrate their accomplishments together and had to settle for a virtual commencement ceremony. Liew stressed how meaningful it was to make it through the pandemic to give her speech in person.

“I find no better proof of us nearing the other side of this difficult mountain than this ceremony, where we get to celebrate our graduation,” she said. “All 525 of us, together. Mountaineers willingly choose to endure more and face greater challenges in order to achieve a personal goal. While this is the last time we will be called Mountaineers, we will forever carry the perseverance and ambition of a Mountaineer to overcome future obstacles thrown our way.”

The full commencement ceremony can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/2zkw4ezw.

Photos Courtesy of Cynthia Cumming

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