Ben Gambella said his reasons for joining the Celtic Friars Pipe Band as a St. Anthony’s High School freshman were simple.
"I heard it was free," he said, shrugging.
Four years later, Gambella appreciates the band as more than just a cheap hobby, as he played the bagpipes while helping lead the St. Anthony’s Class of 2014 into its commencement ceremony Saturday morning.
The 18-year-old from Amityville is the last founding member of the band among St. Anthony’s students. It debuted during his freshman year and includes students and members of the community.
"It's pretty cool because we get to play with a lot people," said Gambella. "We've competed and we get to march every year in the St. Patrick's Day parade in the city."
Gambella graduated with honors despite the destruction of his home at the hands of superstorm Sandy.
"I live on an open bay in Amityvillle. Most people's houses were flooded but mine was literally knocked [down] by ocean waves," said Gambella.
Sandy demolished his home just one day after his father had finished refurbishing the house from Tropical Storm Irene. While relocating to his grandmother's house after Sandy, he said the biggest challenge was finding a place to do his schoolwork.
Still, the destruction of his home did not dampen his spirit. If anything, it empowered Gambella.
"I feel like I can beat anything now," said the senior. "No matter what happens you can still do what you want."