Class of 2013 'Syosset Strong' after classmate's death

A sea of mortarboards at Syosset High School's A sea of mortarboards at Syosset High School's graduation ceremony in the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex at Hofstra University. (June 19, 2013) Photo Credit: Quinn O'Callaghan

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Syosset High School class of 2013 salutatorian Seung Wan Yoon, 17, can’t swim.

Class speaker Sidhant Wadhera, 18, couldn’t help but poke fun at Yoon in his speech at the school’s graduation ceremony Wednesday night. “Only in Syosset High school can you have an All-American track team, a wrestling state champion, and a salutatorian who can’t swim,” he said.

Yoon admitted the problem in his own nautical-themed speech to his class, addressing the future as an uncertain but navigable sea, and promising that the Syosset High School experience was “a pond to prepare us for the future, for the streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean.”

The only problem, Yoon said, is that he can’t swim.

“If your lifeboat springs a leak, you’d better have a way to survive — which is why I’ll learn to swim this summer,” he said.

Syosset High School graduated 575 students in the Class of 2013 at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex at Hofstra University. Speeches were given by both students and staff, and time was taken to appreciate the life of Jong Hun “John” Lee. Lee, a member of Syosset’s class of 2013, was struck and killed by a Long Island Rail Road train on March 26.

Wadhera’s speech made special note of the passing of Lee. Wadhera said although his large graduating class may not all know each other very well, the loss of their classmate unified them.

“I didn’t know John personally,” he said. “But I saw the outpouring of support to his family from everyone in the class, from his best friends to people who just quietly passed him in the hallway. This was our greatest triumph — because we came together. We were Syosset Strong.”

School principal Giovanni Durante led the crowd in a moment of silence for Lee.

Valedictorian Roger Witkin’s speech went a little outside the box.

“In Japan, a popular child’s activity consists of capturing and raising large beetles, which are eventually pitted against each other in a kind of beetle sumo to see who’s the strongest,” Witkin, 18, said.

He compared the children who raise the beetles to he and his classmates, saying that they are all driven by the compulsion to be the best at something.

Witkin said that while he’s occasionally bothered by the competitive nature of high school, he is also “relieved that we, as students, universally have something we want to excel at, something that makes us want to be consequential in the eyes of our friends.”

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