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A busy 10 years for the Class of 2000

Some of the Glen Cove High School Class

Some of the Glen Cove High School Class of 2000, seniors Newsday has followed since they were in kindergarten. Here they are seen in 2000. First row, from left, Michael Arnone, Carol Jin and Carolyn Kroeger; second row, from left, Jessica Brondo, Tulani Thaw, Caterina Ienopoli, Diana Orlando and Lea Di Caterino; third row, from left, Levonne Pittman, Todd Rokos and Donato Cipriano. (May 31, 2000) Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

They arrived in Glen Cove's four elementary schools on Sept. 8, 1987, kindergartners dealing with cubbies, snack time and making new friends.

Their education began at a time of economic downturn - just weeks before the October stock market crash - but high school graduation occurred amid great prosperity.

One year later they witnessed the worst terror attack on the United States. Now they find themselves in another economic downturn, with the unemployment rate for young people hovering around 15 percent.

They were the Class of 2000 - more than 200 students in Glen Cove whose academic lives were chronicled by Newsday for 13 years, from kindergarten to high school graduation.

When they assemble in Glen Cove next weekend for their 10th reunion and talk about their lives then and now, they will do so as a group that came of age post-9/11, lived through a dizzying technological boom and witnessed the election of Barack Obama.

 

Upbeat and optimistic

Shaped by the tumult of their time, they remain enthusiastic about what is to come, according to the snapshot that emerged as Newsday tracked down members of the class, now in their late 20s, and interviewed or surveyed them about their lives.

Their comments echo findings from a national poll of the so-called millennial generation - those born after 1980, the first generation to come of age in the new millennium - which found they are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.

"They register optimism at higher levels," said Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends Project, which conducted the survey. "It stands out - no question."

In exploring the generation's behaviors, values and opinions, researchers found those who are making "the passage into adulthood at the start of a new millennium have begun to forge theirs: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change" - even as their entry into careers and first jobs has been badly set back by the Great Recession.

Indeed, the vast majority interviewed say they are satisfied with their lives and optimistic about the future.

"Every day I wonder, How did I get here? And every day I am reminded of how lucky I am," said Amber Abrams, one of those grads.

 

Their post-9/11 world

Abrams, who lives in Cape Town, South Africa, was studying ethnic studies and critical race theory at Columbia University on Sept. 11, 2001.

"On a variety of levels, Sept. 11 altered my existence," said Abrams. "All in one day I lost and regained hope in humanity, and all in one day my identity, my ideas of who and where I would go were undone."

After the Twin Towers fell, Abrams worked for three days organizing and packing supplies and helped create a central office for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"That organizational experience in a moment of crisis, with others just pitching in and lending a hand, that experience gave my jaded early-20s self hope for people again."

The terrorist attacks so close to home had a different effect on Carlos Espinoza, who had entered the military after graduation. Honorably discharged from the Marine Corps two days before Sept. 11 after suffering a shoulder injury in training, he became more cautious.

"It's really hard to know who you can trust. Someone can smile at you, that same person can stab you in the back," he said.

Paul Miller, 28, who now lives in Levittown, commutes to Manhattan with his wife. They have established a meeting place in case of emergency.

"Working in the city after 9/11, you look at everybody with a different eye, and you have to be more aware of surroundings," he said. "It is always in the back of your mind when you enter that tunnel at Penn Station."

For Carol Jin, the defining moment was the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in December 2004, which struck coastal regions of Thailand she had visited earlier that year. The event is "seared in my memory," she said, and she still finds the scale of destruction "unfathomable." But the aftermath brought hope.

"Watching different nations rally together to provide humanitarian aid showed me that despite its imperfections, the world is composed of compassionate people," Jin said.

 

Witnesses to history

Like many of her classmates, Jin has welcomed life's unanticipated turns. "I've learned to embrace the idea that things in life don't always turn out the way I expect them to, but often it is for the better."

Levonne Pittman, another Glen Cove 2000 grad, said she never thought she would see the election of the first African-American president, especially before she turned 30.

"Who thought in a million years this would ever happen? And it is going on in my generation," said Pittman. "That to me is like a privilege when things like that happen."

Shanise O'Neill, a Glen Cove grad who is now an assistant district attorney in Queens, said she closely watched the presidential race, including the Democratic primary contest between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, knowing history would be made if either were elected.

"It was nice to see that we were taking such a turn for such a change. I didn't think I would see that while being a young woman," she said.

Balancing that joy is the gritty reality of living in a struggling economy.

Pittman, for example, is a certified medical biller but works in an after-school program in Glen Cove. She received her certificate in 2003.

"I am still looking for a job in medical billing. I am looking all the time," said Pittman, who still lives in Glen Cove. "It's very difficult. They want people with experience."

Daisy Alvarado, who is married with two children, lost her job, and her husband, Jeff, did, too, in 2006 when both were employed in the housing loan industry at Ameriquest. "We saw that things were changing," said Alvarado, whose maiden name was Sanchez. "We never expected something that bad to happen."

She and Jeff bought a house in Hicksville in 2005, and managed to hang on to it: Jeff landed a job in direct sales for Cablevision, which owns Newsday.

The Class of 2000 also witnessed the arrival of the iPod, Facebook and Twitter.

"I believe we've reached a really interesting, thrilling but scary time with big changes in the last 10 years or so," said Scott Goldberg, who lives in Glen Cove and makes independent films. Technology is part of his career, but he is wary of its power. "We see more people becoming more needy, seeking attention on social network sites, and we are relying more and more on the Internet and technology than remembering what it's like to live a normal life without it."

 

Living on Long Island?

Whether a normal life includes living on Long Island is hotly debated by the Class of 2000 - with nearly half of those who replied to an informal survey saying they have moved away. Local demographic experts have worried about this trend for years.

But on this topic, too, their optimism comes through: Though nearly two-thirds of the 44 respondents agree Long Island is too expensive for people their age, even more agree it's a good place to live and start a family.

"Although people may complain that Long Island is expensive, which it is, I still believe it is better than other parts of the country," said Donato Cipriano, 27, a human resources administrator who remained in Glen Cove.

Michael Arnone - a third-grade teacher in the same classroom he attended as a third-grade student - said he would like to purchase his own home and raise a family. But like many classmates, he said the high cost of living on Long Island makes that difficult. The median price of a home in Glen Cove was $399,500 in 2009, compared with $237,000 in 1999.

For now, Arnone lives with his parents. "I still live at home, and I am not sure what I am going to be doing," he said.

About one in four said they live with their parents.

Miller stayed local because his family lives here.

"It is tough to live on Long Island," said Miller, who owns a home in Levittown and works in television production. "Anywhere else, I could afford a house twice the size of what I have now for less money."

 

Reaching out

A few said they had lost their jobs recently. Others have started their own businesses.

Espinoza, the Marine Corps veteran, launched a nonprofit organization, Semper4Soldiers, to help servicemen and women returning home. "I see how many of the guys come back and they don't know what to do or where to go for help. That happened to me," said Espinoza, who resides in Huntington.

He holds food drives at area supermarkets and collects donations through a website. His organization also works with several veterans agencies.

"Last week I got a phone call, a woman said her son is coming back from Afghanistan and she couldn't afford to buy food. I said, 'Don't worry I am going to help you.' That's how I help."

Taylor, of Pew, said this age group will face multiple challenges in the years ahead: a staggering national debt, older people putting off retirement, meaning fewer chances in the job market, and other lingering effects from the stalled economy that could impact wages for years.

"The deck seems stacked against them," Taylor said. "But on the temperamental side, they seem to have a lot in their favor."

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