“No matter what else you achieve in your lives, this moment right now is blessed,” said former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey to 766 graduates of Union City High School on Wednesday night. “But it is no mere accident that brought you here. It took hard work and headaches. You should be grateful for this moment and be grateful for every day. This is a gift from God.”
McGreevey, the keynote speaker for the graduation ceremony, encouraged students to give back through public service, and quoted Winston Churchill.
“You make a living by what you get,” he said. “You make a life by what you give.”
McGreevey had stepped down from the governor’s office in 2004 emist a scandal, but has since then taken classes to become an Episcopal priest and works in Jersey City government in job training for ex-prisoners.
The gymnasium of Union City High School – a large building on Kennedy Blvd. that combined two smaller high schools five years ago – echoed with the cheers and laughter of the 766 graduating students Wednesday night. But the expressions on many of the faces showed a touch of sadness and uncertainty about the future.
The long processional of students entered to the playing of “Pomp and Circumstance,” drawing shouts from proud family members and applause from Mayor Brian Stack and school administrators.
McGreevey encouraged students to plan their lives and pursue their passions, and to avoid getting caught in the mere pursuit of money.
“Americans get confused and think money is God. It isn’t,” he said. “This country was built on the sweat of immigrants, and like them, it is up to you to determine the course of your life. You can live your life out of fear or with love. Love is work.”
Time is precious
Salutatorian Natalie Moncayo had words of wisdom as well.
“All our lives we were told the time is precious. But growing up, we don’t always grasp the meaning,” she said in her salutatory address.
“You should be grateful for this moment and be grateful for every day.” – Jim McGreevey
“Time is an illusion,” she said. “We always think we have more than we have. We either must make the most of what we have or let it drip through our fingers.”
She said she came to realize that she would not have her two best friends with her when she goes to college.
“Money can’t buy a memory,” she said. “Time is more valuable than money.”
Words of praise
Outgoing Principal John Bennetti praised the students.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to share your journey over the last four years,” he said, “and to end my career as high school principal with this class. You will be sorely missed, and Union City High School will always be your home.”
This drew cheers from the students, who perhaps began to grasp the seriousness of the moment, filling the gym floor in a sea of blue and white graduating gowns, set against the backdrop of championship flags on the walls.
The Union City High School Singers stirred up some happier feelings with their rendition of the song “I lived; I believe,” followed a short time later by the Union City High School Symphonic Band performing “Sunburst,” and an even more ambitions funky jazz piece called “Breakout.”
Not to be outdone, the High School Dance Company performed a very energetic dance called “Beautiful People.”
After presentation of diplomas, Brissae Valdes and Joseph Respicio concluded the ceremonies with a rendition of “See You Again/Goodbye.”
Don’t sleep your way through life
Valedictorian David Villacis was awarded the Waterford Valedictorian Award, which has been given in memory of Sal Edward Tieri Jr. – who perished in the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
Villacis said traditionally, speeches like his often referred to great works of literature, and his was no exception. He used the classic Rip Van Winkle tale written by Washington Irving as a metaphor for the class.
“Life passes you by,” he said, noting that Rip Van Winkle slept away 20 years of his life. He compared it to not taking advantage of what he had.
“He slept away the pivotal moments of his life,” he said, encouraging his fellow students to avoid the same fate. He credited his accomplishments to his parents, who encouraged him.
“Life is scary,” he warned the other graduates. “There are no magic fixes.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.