When Justin Perez walked across the stage at his graduation from Gen. Douglas MacArthur High School, Levittown school board president Mike Pappas, his father’s former NYPD partner, embraced him and presented him with his diploma.
Perez’s father, Herbie Perez, died in September of a heart attack. Since then, his family has been looked after by Pappas and the rest of the MacArthur community. Both families have been close and settled in the same community of Levittown, and all their children attended MacArthur. Pappas’ family even set up a fundraiser for the Perez children’s college funds.
Pappas said he felt honored to present not only his own son Christopher Pappas, and his niece, Nicole Pappas, with their diplomas, but also that of Perez, whom he sees and treats as his own.
“They say there’s no rewards [in parenting], but there’s nothing more rewarding than handing your son, your niece and your co-worker at the New York City Police Department’s son their diplomas,” Pappas said after the ceremony.
Perez was one of 359 students graduating from the Levittown school during Saturday's commencement at Hofstra University. Pappas would best describe the Class of 2013 as unselfish, using as an example the story of Brendan Gallagher, a student with autism who was taken in by the school’s football team and made to feel part of the team.
“Their embracing of a young student here at MacArthur High School is one of the most heartwarming stories I witnessed in my entire life,” Pappas said as students and guests alike offered a loud rumble of applause for Gallagher.