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Retiring Division Avenue principal cites ‘Hamilton’ at graduation

Joan Lorelli, principal of Division Avenue High School

Joan Lorelli, principal of Division Avenue High School in Levittown, waves to members of the Class of 2016 at the school's graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 18, 2016. This was to be her last year at Division. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

Division Avenue High School principal Joan Lorelli and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of “Hamilton,” have something in common.

Around the same time that Manuel will be leaving the hit Broadway show in July, Lorelli will be officially retiring after 30 years as an educator and 17 years in the Levittown district.

She drew on this comparison in her address to the Class of 2016 at their graduation ceremony Saturday at Hofstra University’s Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, posing the question of why Manuel would leave his show after all its success.

“Maybe it’s just time to go — go, while the going is good,” she said in her address. “Graduates, you know it’s time to go. It’s time for me, too.”

Lorelli spent just three years as principal at Division Avenue, but it was a position she waited a long time to reach. She said she knew she wanted to eventually become principal as soon as she became a teacher 30 years ago.

“The more time I spent in schools, I said I want to embrace the kids and let them know that they count, that they’re meaningful to the people who run this school,” she said. “I knew I could do that as principal, that I could set that tone. I feel like I did that.”

Others describe her as a mentor whose focus is entirely on the students. As she stood in her black robe handing out diplomas on stage to graduating seniors, many of them hugged her unabashedly while she held back tears.

Class valedictorian Sepideh Vasseghi said her energy is what draws students to her.

“She welcomes us every day, she’s the epitome of school spirit, and she’s contagious,” she said.

“She definitely cares for us on a personal level,” salutatorian Kristin Schultz added.

In an unscripted moment, Peggy Marenghi, president of the board of education, also paid tribute to Lorelli.

“I have never met a more committed, loving, intelligent, and most importantly, witty, principal,” she said. “When our students cry, she cries.”

Following the ceremony, after rounds of conversations and embraces with her final graduating class, Lorelli was relaxed. It was not time for upsetting goodbyes.

“I will miss it terribly, but I think if I lived to be 100, I would miss it,” she said.


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