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Pierson’s Class of 2014 Graduates

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Pierson girls celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School 2014 commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 28. Photo by Michael Heller.

Pierson girls celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School 2014 commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 28. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Genevieve Kotz

On a warm Saturday evening, the 79 members of the class of 2014 walked across the grassy lawn of Sag Harbor’s Pierson High School to receive their diplomas.

The ceremony began as the graduates—girls in white, boys in black—proceeded down the hill and to their seats as the band played “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Hundreds of people filled audience, either sitting in seats reserved for families or sitting on the lawn under the shade of trees.

Salutatorian Marley Holder was the first to address the crowd. She began her speech by noting how her fellow students made her work extremely hard to obtain her position as salutatorian. In her speech, she applauded her classmates’ work ethic and character.

“Most of my classmates and I have known each other since kindergarten and being in such a small school, we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well,” she said.

She went on to describe how character, something each member of her graduating class exemplified, is defined by the way one deals with the challenges one faces.

“I want us to face our obstacles with honesty and courage,” She said. “I want us to strive for goals we think are far beyond our reach, and I especially want each of us to remember the importance of preserving good character as we achieve these goals.”

Valedictorian Cole Severance also had a similar theme in his speech. He began by noting the hard work he and his classmates had put in and the accomplishments they achieved. He advised his classmates to be themselves, comparing life to prom, which he said was one of the most memorable moments from high school.

“The more you let go and be yourself, the happier you will be,” Cole said. He noted that the future is difficult to predict and that no one really knows where he or she will be in 10 years.

“If we all continue to be ourselves and to pursue the things that genuinely interest us, we will find our callings and lead fulfilling lives,” he said.

Before Cole finished, however, he explained how he wanted to remember graduation forever, before pulling out a smartphone to snap the perfect “selfie” with first his peers and then the audience.

Principal Jeff Nichols then awarded the Principal’s Award to Aaron J. Schiavoni, noting that the decision to give the award to Aaron was unanimous among the faculty. Mr. Nichols then handed out a slew of other awards, including community scholarships such as the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter United States Marine Scholarship and the Sag Harbor Fire Department Scholarship.

Following the awards, Kevin O’Connor took the podium to give the 2014 commencement address. Mr. O’Connor, who is the president of the Bridgehampton National Bank, urged the students to be passionate about the decisions they make, noting that the common trait of all the successful people he knows is the passion they have for their craft.

“Passion motivates you, passion makes you work harder, passion inspires others,” Mr. O’Connor explained, “Passion makes you successful.”

Before concluding, he noted how many people were pessimistic about the future of the country, but he said he believed that this generation has the potential to be the next greatest generation.

“Please go out and seize this opportunity, build on the successes you’ve had, become the leaders this country needs, have the vision of the success,” he said, “and the passion to achieve it.”

Following his speech, the students thanked several teachers who had helped them the most throughout their high school careers. The senior members of the chorus then gave a rendition of the song “Keep Holding On.”

Before the diplomas were distributed, interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso gave a few remarks to the class. In his talk, he compared the school to a cathedral, as the center of a community, built by and for the community. The school, he said, will always be there for them.

“What kind of cathedrals will you build? What kind of cathedrals will you be?” He asked the students.

The ceremony concluded with the awarding of diplomas. After singing the alma mater, the students filed down the aisle. In a Pierson tradition, they ran up the hill to the school, throwing their caps in the air before being joined by their families and friends.

Five Easy Lessons

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Heller_Pierson 2011 Graduation_6611

by Courtney M. Holbrook


After years of tests and classes, grades and extracurricular activities, the seniors of Pierson High School are done. Some will go on to more grades and classes at their respective universities; others will take different paths.

The 2011 class of Pierson High School graduated on Saturday, June 25. Although the day began with promises of rain, the sky was clear and the wind blew softly — one that signaled the end of days past and the promise of new beginnings.

At 5 p.m., the 2011 class filed down the grassy hill in front of Pierson High School. The girls wore white gowns and the boys wore black. On the sidelines, parents and siblings, grandparents and godparents, aunts and uncles and more stood smiling and flashing photographs.

As the students took their seats on the white chairs arrayed before the audience, the Pierson Band and the Sag Harbor Community Band sounded out the processional. After the Pledge of Allegiance, the Senior Chorus of Pierson High School sang the National Anthem. Members in the crowd gently sang along, some voices loud, others soft.

After introductions made by Elizabeth Oldak, a Pierson 2011 graduate, Gabriel Burford stepped forward. He was to make the salutatorian address. He warned the crowd that he was not known “for the length of my sentences,” but he would do his best.

“To our parents, you got your kids on this hill alive,” Burford said. “And here we are. Thank you.”

Noticing the mild applause, Burford shouted, “This isn’t a funeral, no one died. So let’s here it.”

Burford’s twin brother, Graham Connor Burford, then approached the podium to give the valedictorian address. His address was marked by a discussion of art and academics, noting, “If we use our imaginations and our creativity, we will turn out with our smiles still on.” However, the audience applauded when, at the end of his speech, he pulled out a ukulele.

“This is a cross between Bruno Marx and Jack Johnson melodies,” Burford said. “Hopefully it will work.”

For the audience, it did work out. They cheered at the end when Burford welcomed the students to the “freedom” of post-high school life.

Awards followed the valedictorian and salutatorian speeches as numerous students stepped down to receive their scholastic, artistic and athletic honors. Then, Joan Frisicano, the former principal of Sag Harbor Elementary School, gave the commencement address.

“When they first asked me to do this, I honestly said, ‘Wow, budget cuts must have cut deep this year,” Frisicano said to audience laughter. “But I of course immediately accepted. I was so honored.”

Frisicano’s speech was the second graduation speech she had made to many of the Pierson graduates. She doubted they remembered her speech to them seven years ago, when they left elementary school. Now, she offered new lessons for the world after high school.

Frisicano divided her lessons into five parts — “seize the moment,” “you decide,” “go for it,” “hang in there” and “do some good.” Seemingly simple, she elaborated, offering suggestions and philosophical anecdotes to encourage the new graduates.

“Young people today are gifted in some ways, cursed in others,” Frisicano said. “You have instant access to everything, but success is not instantaneous. You have to take it up and do things that aren’t as exciting as you’d like, don’t pay as much as you like, in order to succeed.”

Frisicano concluded the speech with hope and discussed the “beginning of a new adventure and a life well lived with purpose” for the graduates.

The Pierson Senior Chorus returned to the stage as Frisicano left the podium. They sang, “What I Did for Love,” from the musical, “A Chorus Line.”

At the last refrain, the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. John Gratto, and the principal of Pierson, Jeff Nichols, stepped up to the podium. The time the students and families had been waiting for had arrived. They presented the diplomas for the class of 2011.

After each student stood up holding the paper that granted him or her entryway to life beyond high school, they sang the alma mater.

Finally, they walked back down the aisle in two rows of white and black, with family members standing alongside the chalk-lined rows on the green grass. As they passed through the audience of chairs, some of the previous solemnity evaporated, and the new graduates started running through the lawn.

The Pierson High School class of 2011 had officially graduated. It was time for new goals and adventures.

“May I present the class of 2011,” Nichols said. “Congratulations.”