For Wheatley School class of 2017, graduation defies expectations

Noah Manskar
Wheatley School graduates shake hands as they walk onto the stage at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

When they were younger, many people may not have expected much of the Wheatley School’s 2017 graduating class, students and administrators said.

The students were often collectively chastised in middle school, and lost the annual “Showdown,” a competition between the high school classes, almost every year.

“To put it in blunt terms, we were a handful, and we knew it,” Laura D’Angelo, one of the graduating seniors, said during Sunday’s commencement ceremony at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts.

But the 133 graduates won the Showdown this year, by a razor-thin four-point margin. They also started the “Senior Sunrise” and “Senior Sunset,” a new Wheatley tradition in which the senior class gathers to watch the sunrise on the first day of classes in the fall and the sunset on the last day in the spring.

Walking across the stage on Sunday was just more proof of how much they had grown and how much they could accomplish, students and East Williston school district administrators said.

“All that old talk about some of the challenges with this class, well, that certainly should not be what defines you, either individually or as a group,” Sean Feeney, the Wheatley School principal, said at Sunday’s ceremony.

The 2017 graduating class is Wheatley’s 60th since the high school opened in 1956 on part of the former Robert Bacon estate in Old Westbury.

The first class of 108 students got their diplomas in 1958, and more than 8,800 others have followed in the years since, Feeney said.

D’Angelo noted that the class was the last to be comprised of graduates who were all born in the 20th century.

She compared the past worries about their success to the panic over the supposed Y2K crisis in 1999, when many of them were born — a lot of furor over something that turned out to be unfounded.

“We weren’t a perfect grade. We still aren’t,” D’Angelo said. “… But here’s the thing about us: just like the panic of 1999, we really turned out just fine.”

Graduates speaking on Sunday reminded their fellow classmates to hold onto the people and memories that shaped their time at Wheatley, but to also move forward into the future with confidence.

Jakob Gilbert, the class president, urged the graduates to go for hard, fulfilling work over a job that is easy and brings “small but frequent successes.”

“When you leave this ceremony, promise yourself one thing: that you will be happy,” Jakob Gilbert, the class president, said. “Accomplish your goals by leading a life of fulfillment. Do what you have set out to do, not what you’re expected to do.”

Elaine Kanas, the East Williston school district superintendent, encouraged the class to prioritize kindness to others throughout their lives.

Kanas recounted the story of Oseola McCarty, a woman who garnered worldwide fame after she gave her life savings from working as a washerwoman to the University of Southern Mississippi.

“When you help others, beyond the person you are helping, you may also have a much larger impact on the world,” Kanas said.


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