Gazing out at his fellow graduates Sunday afternoon, Wellington C. Mepham High School’s 2013 valedictorian, Connor Jay Garet, was looking far into the future.
Instead of speaking about college or the careers that await the 340 members of the Class of 2013, Garet chose to focus his commencement address on what he and his peers would leave behind long after they have left this world: their legacy.
“It doesn’t take much to change someone else’s life, to be a hero, to leave a legacy,” Garet said, as he told a story about one of his friends who recently came to the aid of a stranded motorist and helped push the car safely to the side of the road.
“With one simple gesture, he helped a woman he did not know,” Garet said. “He may have even prevented an accident that could have taken someone else’s life.”
During their time at Mepham High School, Garet said his class has started to build their legacy by making positive, lasting impacts on their school and community. They started new traditions, including Senior Spirit Week, coordinated service projects and raised more than $66,000 for charities, including Ronald McDonald House and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
“Let’s continue to leave our legacy for the rest of our lives,” said Garet, who is bound for Duke University. “I know we can make a difference.”
Principal Michael Harrington said the graduates have earned a total of roughly $16 million in four-year scholarships, but remarked that it’s their “leadership, character and willingness to help others” that make them an “outstanding” class.
“They have impressed us with their minds, but they’ll be remembered for their hearts,” he said.
JoAnn Lee DeLauter, president of Mepham’s senior class of 2013, calculated that the graduates spent 23 percent of their young lives in high school.
“I’m sure most of us would agree that 100 percent of our time spent at Mepham has been a memorable, gratifying and life-changing experience,” she said.
Matthew McKenna has spent more time in school than the average Mepham graduate, though. As McKenna, 18, of Bellmore, accepted his diploma Sunday, a faculty member pointed out that he had not missed a single day of school from kindergarten through senior year.
“I just always liked coming to school, so it really wasn’t a big deal for me,” said McKenna, of his perfect attendance record. “The great teachers and great faculty made it easy to come every day.”
McKenna, who plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Connecticut, said he first became aware of his lack of absences when he received an award in second grade. From then on, he made it a goal to never miss class.
“As long as I wasn’t sick, I was coming to school,” said the athlete and honor student.
Plus, he added, “I hate missing work and having to make it up.”