Joy Reyes could not contain her excitement as her cousin pushed her wheelchair across the stage Sunday morning and she accepted her diploma.
“I’m overjoyed . . . speechless,” said Reyes, 19, of Merrick, following her graduation from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore.
Reyes, who plans to pursue a career as a civil rights and immigration lawyer, is headed to Hofstra University in the fall to earn her undergraduate degree. From there, she hopes to attend Harvard Law School.
Watching her daughter graduate from her seat at the NYCB Theatre in Westbury, Ellen Reyes said Sunday marked one of the best days of her life. She added, “I want Joy to have love, peace and joy, and be very successful, which she will be.”
The 332 members of Kennedy’s Class of 2013 are bound for 111 different colleges, but a large contingent of them, 25 in total, are off to Binghamton University.
Even for those students attending the same school, salutatorian Jordan Liebman, who is headed to Yale University, told his classmates that college presents them with an opportunity to hit the “reset button” and “redefine” themselves.
“Take new, fascinating classes, try new things, date a little bit more or maybe even a little bit less,” he said. “Establish yourself as the person you want to be.”
Liebman also told his fellow graduates that they still have plenty of time to discover who they are, change their minds, fail and try again. He pointed out that it took him three tries to finally pass his road test.
Meanwhile, valedictorian Eric Fegan, 18, of Merrick, admitted to the audience during his speech that he still doesn’t have his driver’s license.
Fegan, who is bound for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he came across countless inspirational references comparing life to a road, but he suggested it is more like a maze.
“In the maze of life, there is never really only one correct path,” he said, adding that many times obstacles force people to deviate from their planned route and find new ways to succeed.
Using the way the Bellmore-Merrick communities came together to endure the effects of superstorm Sandy, Fegan said that each obstacle a person comes across in life presents a lesson to be learned.
“The lesson from Sandy is the power of everyone united toward a common goal,” he added.
And as for Fegan’s driver’s license, he is taking private lessons now.
“It’s getting more comfortable,” he said, “but I still have stuff to work on.