'Freebird' the soundtrack at Floral Park graduation

Vanisha Baker, 18, who plans to study forensic

Vanisha Baker, 18, who plans to study forensic science at the University of New Haven in West Haven, Ct., received her diploma during Floral Park Memorial High School's graduation ceremony at Hofstra University in Hempstead. (June 22, 2013) (Credit: Brittany Wait)

Wearing a suit, Erik Jakob picked up his electric guitar and began strumming.

“If I leave here tomorrow... would you still remember me?” sang Jakob, 17, who plans to attend New York Institute of Technology in the fall. “For I must be traveling on now 'cause there's too many places I've got to see.”

Jakob said performing with his band Rake — made up of himself, drummer Kyle O’Connor, 18, guitarist Andrew Burkhardt, 17, and Robert Wagner, 18 — was the perfect way to end their high school career together.


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“It’s a good feeling to finish this way,” Jakob said. “But we’re not going to stop playing.”

To close out their senior year at Floral Park Memorial High School, the band played Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1975 hit “Freebird” while the nearly 240 graduates walked out of the arena, officially concluding the graduation ceremony at Hofstra University in Hempstead.

During the ceremony, class president Stephen Esposito in his speech asked students to take a moment to reflect on their four years in high school.

“It’s the little things I’ll miss,” said Esposito, 18, who plans to study political science at Fordham University. “Although we are all moving on to the next chapter of our lives, we still remain family. Thanks for the adventure class of ‘13, now go have another.”

Because he signed up for a second trip to Nicaragua through the high school’s annual program to build schools there, Esposito won’t be able to rest after graduation.

Instead, he said he was catching a plane to Nicaragua at 5 a.m. Sunday to spend eight days there.

“The experience makes you put things in perspective,” he said. “We’re so lucky to have the education system we have and if we can help provide the gift of education by building a comfortable environment for these kids, well, then it’s well worth the effort.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) also made a brief appearance to speak to graduates, advising them to find a career they love and not to settle for anything else. He ended his speech by saying, “Congratulations Class of 2013, Good luck and godspeed.”

Valedictorian and aspiring doctor Vishnu Tiwari advised his class to keep their chins up, prepare for the future, follow their passion and grab life by the horns.

“I wish you all the success in the world,” said Tiwari, 17, who plans to take the pre-med track at Brooklyn College in the fall. “Look out world, here comes the class of ‘13.”

As his graduating class was filing out of the arena, tears began rolling down Jakob’s cheeks as he and his bandmates performed “Freebird.”

By the time Jakob got to, “‘Cause I'm as free as a bird now,” his classmates had left the building, on their way out toward their future.
 

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