Number of graduates 646

Guest speaker Gloria Gaynor, who sang her 1970s dance hit "I Will Survive" after her speech, said it's important to protect one's character and champion those too weak to protect themselves. "Work hard, be fair in your dealings with others, be certain that every one of your relationships has a basis in integrity, and respect the people you meet from your own culture and others," she said.

Student speaker Valedictorian Genese Zepmeisel, of Ridge, said people should lead by example and not fear what others think. "If you want the world to change something, change it in yourself first, show the world what it is to be that change," Zepmeisel said.

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Vincent Orlando, 22, of East Meadow; education and social science

"There's no better feeling than making a difference in someone's life," said Orlando, who wants to get a master's in education and become a teacher.

Andrea Lofmark, 24, of Ronkonkoma; math

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"College isn't something you can breeze through. You've got to work for what you want," said Lofmark, who wants to become a math teacher. "I've always wanted to teach, but I love math."

Evelyn Toloza, 24, of Islip; education and social science

"All our hard work, all those late nights drinking coffee paid off," said Toloza, who plans to go on to Stony Brook University in the fall to pursue a master's in social work.

Leon Taylor, 23, of Rockville Centre; business

"I want to start my own business," said Taylor, who said he has a few entrepreneurial ideas in mind. At Dowling, "I learned how to interact with people and how to grow."