Great Neck South grads embrace new starts

Great Neck South High School's senior choir sings

Great Neck South High School's senior choir sings "The Star Spangled Banner" at the start of the school's commencement ceremony. (June 20, 2013) (Credit: Tara Conry)

For the past year, Benjamin Zander has used poetry to share his thoughts on a range of issues, including cancer, suicide awareness and anti-bullying, through his YouTube channel, “BENeficialPoetry.” So when it was time to reflect on his feelings about graduating from Great Neck South High School, he turned to rhyming yet again.

On Wednesday night, the eve before his graduation, Zander, 17, who plans to dual major in broadcast journalism and creative writing at the College of New Jersey — and who had his business card taped to the top of his graduation cap — posted his 60th YouTube video. In the clip, he’s seen reciting a poem he wrote, “Enjoy High School.”

Then at graduation on Thursday, he told fellow members of the Class of 2013 inside the Tilles Center on Long Island University’s Brookville campus: “You don’t know how lucky we are to be given the chance to reach for a star. This is the beginning, not the end, and I hope you will remain my friend.”

The idea of graduation being a new beginning was the theme of Great Neck South’s 2013 commencement.

Salutatorian Marc Fishman led the audience on a brief journey through time, recalling his class’ evolution from elementary school students to graduates.

“Life is a series of beginnings and endings,” Fishman said. “As we depart in various directions, we must leave the comfort of Great Neck South and enter a new world. We will once again become those puny freshmen, little fish in a big pond.”

Summing up quotes from a handful of famous people, including former Great Neck resident Groucho Marx, Great Neck Schools Superintendent Thomas Dolan advised graduates not to dwell on the past, but to live in the moment.

“We need to focus on the present, and enjoy that which life gives us,” he said.

Dolan also told graduates that when they do encounter challenges or difficult times, they should “transcend the moment” and not let it define them.

Reflecting on the natural disasters and tragedies across this country this past year, Great Neck South Principal Susan Elliot warned the graduates not to try too hard to make sense of it all.

“We want to believe that bad things can be avoided if we just do what’s right, that we can protect ourselves by following certain rules,” she said. “You get what you deserve, you earn your success. That’s the way of the world, until it’s not.”

Elliot said that in many cases, luck makes all the difference in life, and pointed out that the 2013 graduates are very lucky to be healthy, intelligent and surrounded by loved ones.

“We each owe the universe big time,” she said, suggesting to the graduates that they reciprocate by being kind to others. “Plant a tree, so that 50 years from now, someone else can enjoy the shade.”

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