In front of a crowd of hundreds Saturday morning, Mineola High School valedictorian Siobhan Adams spoke about how the death of a classmate two years ago affected the Class of 2012.
During Adams’ sophomore year, her friend Matthew Hylton died suddenly at age 15 from a heart arrhythmia.
"It helped our class come together to honor his memory,” said Adams, 17, of Albertson, who will be attending Boston University in the fall. "Our class bonded and helped each other through a horrible time.”
Adams was glad that something as sad as losing a friend could turn into something good -- pulling students together for the remaining years of high school.
To honor Hylton's memory, students planted a tree in the school’s courtyard on the one-year anniversary of his death, on May 19, 2011. Students also created a scholarship, awarding three students each $1,000.
Class president Joseph Massaro said the school has kept Hylton’s memory alive by hanging a mural of him in the cafeteria, wearing purple pins to school because it was his favorite color and holding a vigil the night after he died.
“I used to play football with him and he got along with everyone,” said Massaro, 19, of Albertson, who plans to attend Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. “Since then, I’ve seen the class come together to keep his spirit with us.”
Edward Escobar, principal of the high school, said the class was awarded $70,000 in local scholarships from the business community and Parent Teacher Association.
He said that what is most unique about the class is the camaraderie among students.
“I was proud of you then and I'm proud of you now,” Escobar said to the class in his speech.
Salutatorian Zachary Englis said Hylton’s death brought his class together, which was more valuable than what they could have ever learned in the classroom.
"After Matt died, we all got really close and we realized how short life is," said Englis, 18, of Mineola, who will attend Hofstra University. "So, enjoy every second of it. I can't believe we're finally here, graduating. Always remember these memories and your classmates because they will always be with you, everywhere you go."