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Bishop McGann-Mercy's 1966, 2018 valedictorians reflect as school closes

Composite: Mercy High School's 1966 valedictorian, John Raynor,

Composite: Mercy High School's 1966 valedictorian, John Raynor, and Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School's 2018 valedictorian, Olivia Valle. Credit: Bishop McGann-Mercy High School

John Raynor and Olivia Valle were both students of Bishop-McGann Mercy Diocesan High School in Riverhead. They both ran track and both graduated first in their class.

Raynor, Class of 1966, was one of the school’s first valedictorians. Then known as Mercy High School, the school was initially housed in a temporary building on Roanoke Avenue during the 1950s. Raynor’s class was the first to complete all four years in its current building, which was completed in October 1962.

Valle, Class of 2018, will be the school’s last valedictorian.

In March, the Diocese of Rockville Centre announced that due to low enrollment, Bishop-McGann Mercy High School would close in June. Valle, 17, said the news sent a wave of sadness through the building.

“The first week or so, a lot of people were crying in the hallways,” she said. “Some teachers still bring it up every day. They’re affected probably the most because they’re losing their jobs. Most of them could be teaching in other places and they choose to teach there because they just genuinely love it.”

For the valedictorian and her peers, Wednesday’s graduation ceremony will be bittersweet. Valle knows this may be the last time that the senior class -- which consists of 90 students -- will all be in the same place together. With that in mind, she knows there’s a lot riding on her valedictorian address.

“That speech is going to be a tough undertaking, like sitting down to write it, how do you start?” Valle said. “Obviously there are the classic things I want to say to my classmates, but really, I’m talking to all the alumni, I’m talking to the faculty, the administration, I might even be speaking in front of the person who made that decision. I’ll try not to cry during it.”

Raynor, 70, still remembers preparing for his own valedictorian address. He said he had joined a speech club started by one of the Sisters of Mercy, the founders of the school, in hopes of sharpening his public speaking skills.

“I joined that club because I really didn’t like public speaking, but I knew that I had to find some way to deal with it,” he said. “It’s a good thing that I did. …A lot of my professional career was involved in making appearances before various municipal agencies and public hearings, things like that.”

Raynor said he had been sitting in English class in 1963 when the principal came on the loudspeaker to announce that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. He based his speech on the title of a subsequent documentary about the president’s life and achievements, called “John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums.”

“[The speech] was more about the title than who it was about,” Raynor said. “When you’re looking back on it, as you finish your high school career, the years went by so quickly, so years of lightning. And we were then faced with making decisions about what happens next, that was the day of drums.”

Raynor went on to Columbia University, where he studied civil engineering. He then obtained his master’s degree at University of Rhode Island, this time concentrating on environmental engineering.

Valle will be heading to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall in hopes of studying brain and cognitive sciences.

“There’s a lot to look forward to, amongst all the sad stuff,” she said. “It’s still the end of the year, it’s still exciting, summer’s coming and everybody’s just trying to keep their spirits up.”

Raynor fondly remembers the transitional time in his life that Valle is facing now, and wonders how it all would have turned out if he could go back and tell himself about the milestones he would reach -- including landing a job at an engineering firm in Southampton, opening up his own firm after gaining his professional engineer’s license and meeting his wife, Sandy, with whom he has six children.

“I’m very happy with the years that I spent at my engineering practice and raising my family; I have no regrets,” Raynor said. “But just the things that you learn as you go through life, if you had known them back then, you would have done things differently.”

Raynor’s advice to Valle is to “share your life” with your high school class as you move forward. He said that two years ago, when his class held its 50th reunion, there was a decent turnout of friendly, familiar faces.

Valle is hopeful for her future and humbled by what it took for her to reach the podium as valedictorian.

“The goal has always been to try to work as hard as I could,” she said. “I never aimed to be valedictorian, I never aimed to get into MIT, I just did what I loved every day and it got me here. So looking back on it, it’s like this was a 12-year goal that I’ve been working on. I just didn’t know it at the time.”

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