One by one the 346 graduates of Riverhead’s Class of 2017 walked across the podium inside Riverhead High School’s gymnasium Saturday morning. They smiled, waved toward gleaming parents in the bleachers and posed for photos with their diplomas.
Finally, only two names remained.
The first to ring out over the loudspeakers: “John Dennis Anderson.”
The students erupted into applause and sprung from their seats for a standing ovation as the rest of the crowd inside the sweltering gym quickly followed. Maria Anderson posthumously accepted the diploma in honor of her brother, who died earlier this year, while her parents, Dennis and Carmel, looked on from the first row.
A second name followed, eliciting even more cheers: “Danielle Gabrielle Lawrence.” Her father, Tony, and younger sister, Brandy, hugged the administrators and board members on stage to accept the diploma in honor of Danielle, who died in 2015.
Throughout the commencement ceremony, speakers took time to remember the two students who couldn’t be there, and the particular challenges and adversity the Class of 2017 faced amid two tragedies.
“Leaders were born from the loss of our classmates,” principal Charles Regan said during the ceremony. “Students organized memorial services and fundraisers. And while they didn’t say ‘I’m going to be a leader for this,’ those students helped the healing of our school and community. And I thank you for that.”
Valedictorian Kyle Gevinski encouraged his classmates to remember those who helped them achieve success and spoke of how classmates leaned on each other for support during times of turmoil.
“During these moments, I learned the most important job as a friend is to lift others up when they fall down,” he said in his commencement speech.
A downpour early Saturday morning forced the ceremonies inside the gym for the first time in about a decade. By the time it was over, the rain had given way to sunshine, giving the new graduates bright skies to welcome them into the next chapter of their lives.
See more photos below:
Top photo caption: Students give a standing ovation to the families of Danielle Lawrence and John Anderson. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)