Emileigh Gaeta shot a glance at her younger sister as she stood on stage to receive her high school diploma. For the past two years, she has helped raise her two younger siblings and said she finds it hard to believe she will have to leave them when she goes out of state for school in the fall.
Growing up, Gaeta was always the cheerleader and dancer who could count on her mom to be her No. 1 fan. On March 2, 2010, Gaetas mother Joanne Gaeta died at age 50 from a heart arrhythmia.
Ive been forced to grow up fast and do things like pick a college without any help, said Gaeta, 18, of Massapequa Park. Senior year it hit me hard, but I couldnt have asked for better support from my fellow students at Kellenberg.
On Sunday, Gaeta walked among 546 other graduates during the 25th Kellenberg Memorial High School graduation ceremony at Hofstra University in Hempstead. She graduated with academic honors and an Honor Character Certificate.
Nicole LePetri, class valedictorian who will soon attend Georgetown University, agreed with Gaeta that Kellenberg students have a deep bond.
Shared experiences are the best experiences, and we will stay connected through the memories weve had here as we embark on our own journeys, said LePetri, 18, of Rockville Centre, as she stood in front of her fellow graduates.
LePetri also described the senior class trip to Walt Disney World as a family vacation.
Connor Barrett, salutatorian of his class, recognized during his speech that Kellenberg is a place that has put a smile on all its students faces no matter what adversity they face.
Students laughed together when Brother Kenneth Hoagland, Kellenbergs principal, rapped during his speech.
In total, the graduating class received 2,302 scholarships from universities all over the country. Almost half of the class of 2012 will be attending schools out of state.
Assistant principal John Benintendi has been working for the school for 20 years and said he finds it inspiring to see the students travel outside of Long Island for school.
Our message to them is to go off and live their lives, said Benintendi. If they are going out of state for school, that is exactly the kind of thing weve prepared them to do.