A grueling half-year of police training came to an end Monday for 89 new graduates of the Suffolk County Police Academy as they stepped across a Stony Brook stage to receive their certificates.
In his address to the graduates at the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, Suffolk Police Commissioner Edward Webber called the class "the best trained, best fit police officers that the Suffolk County Police Academy has ever graduated."
"The day a person is sworn in as a police officer is the day they start to become a hero," Webber said.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told the graduates that they had chosen a career that is both "incredibly rewarding and incredibly difficult."
"While we are lying safely in our beds in the middle of the night, you're out there, keeping us safe," Bellone said.
The Suffolk County Police Department will receive 65 of the graduates, while others will join the Suffolk County sheriff's office and other departments.
Matthew Colao, who was recognized as the top overall recruit, recalled in his speech the first day in the academy when the recruits had to introduce themselves and say why they wanted to become officers.
"Almost every person answered, 'I just want to help others,' " he said.
Colao said the academy left him and his classmates with "some great memories and other memories we'd like to forget" -- such as physical training and being sprayed with pepper spray.
"Shockingly, Taser day was one of our fun days," he said.
Jen Macaro, 27, of Bethpage, said she worked for the NYPD in Queens for five years before entering Suffolk's academy.
Her girlfriend, parents, brother-in-law and 2-year-old nephew, Tyler -- dressed in a miniature police officer's costume -- attended the ceremony, along with her older sister, Christina Macaro, 32, of Seaford, who has worked eight years for the Nassau County Police Department.
"I'm so proud of her," Christina Macaro said.
As John Cappetta stepped forward, his mother and fiancee snapped photos, while his sister took a video on her smartphone.
Cappetta's father, Thomas Cappetta, a sergeant with the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, hugged his son enthusiastically and kissed his cheek.
"He's a wonderful kid and he's going to make a great police officer," Thomas Cappetta, 67, of Coram, said of his son after the ceremony. "I'm so proud of him for his chosen career and just for being himself."