He told the class not to be discouraged by events beyond their control. “You are not bound by the circumstances that surround you,” he said. “Stay woke.”
Newburgh Free Academy Salutatorian Juan Peticco addressed the Class of 2017 at the school’s 152nd commencement ceremony, held on Academy Field on Thursday. More than 600 students were awarded their high school diplomas.
Peticco urged his classmates to be aware of the importance of their choices, now and in the future. “It is the single choice that makes you study for and pass the exam,” he said.
NFA Main Campus Co-Principal Raul Rodriguez highlighted just a few of the successes of the school year: the college planning and career fair, the NFA Concept Vehicle Racing Team trip to London and the team’s placement as seventh out of 400 teams worldwide.
“Tonight, you finally become today’s leaders beyond Academy Field,” Rodriguez said. “May your successes be many. May your failures be few.”
Other achievements this year included the NFA Football Team’s third straight win of the Section 9 Class AA title, the NFA Girls Track and Field Team’s state title win in the 400-meter relay, and NFA senior Robert Walker’s win of the state title in the 400-meter hurdles.
NFA West also opened and artistic productions included “The Adams Family” and the NFA Fashion Show. There was the Empty Bowls Fundraiser, a blood drive and many, many examples of good works to be proud of, said NFA North Co-Principal Matteo Doddo.
“Continue to believe in yourself,” Doddo said, speaking to students from the stage. “Because when you do, you inspire others to believe in themselves.”
Families and friends watched with bated breath as the graduates moved their tassels from right to left. “I’m so happy and thrilled,” said Cynthia Fountain. “He’s an inspiration.”
Fountain’s grandson, 17-year-old Malachi Sky Fountain, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a severe form of muscular dystrophy. He refused to let the disease stop him from earning his diploma, she said. The student led a procession of hundreds onto Academy Field last week. “He went to his prom,” said Fountain’s other grandmother Linda Romney. “He managed to graduate. He’s on cloud nine.”
In a touching gesture, teachers, staff, audience members and the entire Class of 2017 stood up and applauded when Rhonda Valentine-Free, Omani Free’s mother, walked up to the stage and accepted her daughter’s diploma.
Free died in a shooting at a Halloween Party on October 30. “I’m happy and sad,” her mother said following the ceremony. “I’m happy that she is getting her diploma. I’m sad she isn’t here to receive it.”
If she were, “she would have a big smile on her face,” Valentine-Free said.
By SHANTAL RILEY