Laura Ferone, the Floral Park-Bellerose school district board of education president, reminded the graduating Class of 2016 from Floral Park Memorial High School that their entrance into the world about 18 years ago was, in their parents’ view, the world’s greatest accomplishment.
She was saying this not only as the commencement speaker Saturday afternoon, but also as a mother to her son, Jonathan, who was sitting with the graduating class.
“The great mystery is that although it took 18 long years to arrive at today, it can seem to have happened in the blink of an eye,” she said in her address at the Hofstra University Mack Sports & Exhibition Complex. “Those of you heading off to college will say you’ve entered adulthood, mainly because you don’t feel like you have to listen to anyone anymore, especially your parents. But trust me when I say, you’ll be calling them when you need something.”
Ferone has served for nine years on the board of education for the Floral Park-Bellerose district, which feeds students into Floral Park Memorial High School, part of the Sewanhaka Central High School District.
“I’ve watched these kids grow up since pre-K,” she said. “It was really an honor for me — it’s the biggest speech I’ve ever given.”
In her address, Ferone discussed the concepts of failure, grit and leadership, each as a necessary ingredient to success. Quoting figures like J. K. Rowling and Henry Ford, she described failure as teaching moments and grit as a willingness to push through them.
“We are counting on you to find new solutions to old problems and solutions to problems not yet discovered,” she said. “Take risks — legal ones.”
And for that, she said, the world needs great leaders who lead in the service of others.
“You only need to look at the upcoming presidential race to understand how bad we need great leaders,” she said, to a short round of laughter and applause.
Though her son was on her mind while imparting these words of advice, Ferone said her intention was to include the entire class in her message.
“I knew where he was sitting but I just -- I wanted it to be for everyone,” she said.
Jonathan, who participated in Model UN and earned three varsity letters in high school, will be attending the University of South Carolina in the fall. He said having the commencement speech come from his mom was a singular experience.
“It really was special for me — it’s still surreal right now,” he said. “She’s definitely the better speaker in the family.”
Ferone left the Class of 2016, including her son, with a message both moms and mentors might agree with.
“Who you are and who you will become lies within you,” she said. “Your parents, family, friends and teachers have given you all the tools necessary for a successful life. They send with you their hopes, prayers, encouragement and love, but now it’s up to you.”