The 374 members of the 2012 graduating class of were honored for their achievements and cheered for their persistence by a packed house of friends and family at the Tilles Center Sunday.
The moving ceremony was attended by members of the Board of Education, district and faculty leaders and was filled with commencement pomp and pageantry. But the guests were also treated to unusual stories of perseverance in the face of adversity.
Salutatorian Nicolas Golio told of the tree that fell on his home that forced his family to spend two years living in a hotel. "At first, I felt incredible pity for myself," said Golio. "But before too long I realized how lucky I was. I still had my health and the drive to succeed."
Taking advantage of the hotel gym, Golio lost 75 pounds and "took control of a life-long weight problem."
Taking charge of one's own destiny was a recurring theme at Sunday's ceremony, attended by about 900 people on the campus of Long Island University's C.W. Post campus.
Class President Daniel Mogel told the graduates of losing his father at the age of 12 and being forced to move from various homes in order to stay in the school district.
"It's not about what you have but who you have," said Mogel. "It's who is by your side as you go through your life.... Home is a feeling that lies in your heart and no one can take that away from you."
Student Government President Timothy Kim spoke of his mother, who came to the United States to study the piano. A short time after arriving, Kim's father died.
The family went forward. Just recently, Kim's mother became a U.S. citizen and is still studying piano.
"I'm proud to call her my mother, and I hope she's proud of me as her son," Kim said to cheers.
Plainview JFK recounted some of the achievements of the Class of 2012, including 116 academic awards totalling some $70,000 and $5 million of scholarships - and counting. He praised the athletics, business and music departments, among others, for their consistent high levels of achievements, and described the graduates' work as "academically breath-taking."
, who is heading to Harvard in the fall, asked his classmates rhetorically: "How can we shape our own destiny?"
"Pursue what you love and don't settle for second best; Never settle for 'Plan B,' even if you tried 'Plan A' and at first failed at it."