Mayor to Knox School grads: ‘Don’t ever lose the optimism of youth’

Jacqueline Cohen, of Smithtown, receives her diploma at Jacqueline Cohen, of Smithtown, receives her diploma at The Knox School graduation ceremony. The school is a private boarding and day school in Nissequogue (June 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Erin Geismar

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Representing 20 countries and holding more than $600,000 in scholarship and grant money between them, the 35 students in The Knox School Class of 2012 spent their last day on campus Sunday, but vowed to return.

In a ceremony on campus and overlooking the Long Island Sound, Yuanjia “Grace” Sun, originally from China, called Knox her “home beside the shore” and said it would forever be a part of her life.

“Our diplomas symbolize the beginning of the next step in life,” she said in a speech called “Farewell to the school”. “But we will remain a part of this community.”

In addition to its diverse international population, The Knox School, a private boarding and day school in Nissequogue, also graduated five Long Islanders this year and one student from Manhattan, said Virginia Riccardi, a teacher and administrator at the school.

Local students included Jacqueline Cohen, of Smithtown; Sara Davis, of Sayville; Matthew Cohen, of Oakdale; Breanna and Taylour Dickerson, of Hauppauge; and Angel Valdes, of Manhattan.

Yvonne Valdes had tears in her eyes after watching her son, Angel, receive his diploma. She said she’s seen him grow both academically and as a person.

“It’s been beautiful,” she said. “He’s learned so much from it. He’s learned to be a well-rounded person. Even his appearance has changed.”

Angel Valdes, who will attend Roanoke College next year, also won one of six awards handed out at the ceremony, the A. Brewster Lawrence Award, given to a person who exhibits “gentleness, loyalty, citizenship, integrity and scholarship.”

Qiao “Jessie” Jin, from China, won three awards at the ceremony, for possessing qualities such as school loyalty, dependability, dedication and service to the community.

Riccardi said Jin, who is the student council president and will attend the University of Southern California next year, led this year’s student council in a fundraising drive for an impoverished school in the mountains of China. They raised enough money for the school to install a heating system.

Richard Smith, the mayor of Nissequogue, gave the commencement address and warned students that getting their diploma was just the first of many challenges they’ll face in adulthood. He said the mark of a successful person is “the ability to persist through life’s challenges.”

He passed on tips for leading a “purposeful life,” among them to stay positive, be proactive, practice tolerance and be honest.

He advised them to embrace the lessons they were sure to learn in the future, but not to forget those they’ve learned already.

“Don’t ever lose the optimism of youth and what you’ve done here at Knox,” he said.

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