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Hempstead High graduates urged to celebrate their diversity

Hempstead High School Valedictorian Stephanie Chevez after giving

Hempstead High School Valedictorian Stephanie Chevez after giving her address to the graduating class of 2018 on Saturday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Class valedictorian Stephanie Chevez implored Hempstead High School’s Class of 2018, which is primarily black and Latino, to recognize the power of its diversity Saturday.

“Our culture is to be uplifted and raised. We are not a statistic. We are not a number,” Chevez, 17, said at the podium during the school’s graduation ceremony.

Chevez was among 252 graduates at the school’s 135th commencement ceremony whose walks across the stage in caps and gowns ended their high school journeys this weekend.

Families and friends packed the high school auditorium — folding chairs were added for the overflow — to see their loved ones complete an educational rite of passage.

Other speakers included Hempstead Village Mayor Don Ryan and Acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong. Nassau County 2nd District Legislator Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) gave the keynote address.

The speeches, which were given in English and Spanish, focused on encouraging perseverance and the pursuit of excellence, but topical issues also arose.

Citing the U.S. government’s recently ended policy of separating migrant children and parents coming across the border from Mexico, Hempstead School Board president Maribel Touré encouraged students to register to vote and be active constituents in the legislative process.

“You are a human being,” she said.

Even as graduating teens spoke about their parents sacrificing so they could succeed and teachers and administrators going above and beyond the call of duty to support students’ academic efforts, the event was also lighthearted at times.

Salutatorian Bairon Reyes Luna, 18, got the audience hyped up when he interjected some hip-hop into his speech.

“My dreams were way too big for my arms to carry. They got exhausted, tired, drained and extremely weary,” he rapped.

In his talk, high school principal Stephen Strachan spoke of the challenges that the school district had faced this year.

In May, the state Education Department said the district submitted inaccurately high counts of the number of high school students who made satisfactory academic progress in 2016-17, and said it could face a takeover by outside managers if the records were not fixed.

On Saturday, Strachan emphatically told the audience that graduating seniors had worked hard for their places on the stage.

“You started strong and you are finishing strong. . . . Every student on this stage has earned their high school diploma,” he said.

Hempstead’s Class of 2018 earned more than $2.3 million in institutional scholarships, the most scholarship dollars on record in the last 10 years, Strachan said.

Thirty-seven students also received the Seal of Biliteracy and more than 50 earned Advanced Regents Diplomas, he said.

At least two graduates are Ivy League bound: Luna, with a 98.91 grade point average, will be attending Yale University and Chevez, who had a 98.98 g.p.a., will be going to Harvard University.

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