Back and Better than Ever
As students passed through the 18th century Pegasus Gate, their easy chat turned into broad smiles. The unmistakable sounds of "Pomp and Circumstance," recorded by the John Jay Orchestra, grew as they neared the Venetian Theater, as well the buzz of 1,500 faculty and family members gathered in the gracious, tented space.
John Jay’s commencement at Caramoor is a long-standing tradition. Yet 2022 marks the first time in three years that the school was able to celebrate graduation at the historic Katonah venue. To create safe social distance during the pandemic, the district moved commencement to a shopping mall parking lot and then a minor league ballpark. It was good to be back!
There was another first to the day, too. A ramp led up to the Venetian Theater’s stage, making John Jay’s commencement accessible to all.
A ceremony that showed the school community's unity
While the impact of the pandemic on the Class of 2022 was a backdrop to all commencement addresses, the perspective was future minded, with flashes of humor illuminating the deep bonds between members of the school community.
“After over two years of the pandemic displacing many rites of passage, I am thankful that we are able to bookend our high school years with normality,” said Valedictorian Kaitlyn Varriale.
Salutatorian Victoria Fenton combined a reference to last year’s hybrid schedule with a challenge for her classmates to be change-makers. “As long as nothing that we learned during Zoom schooling is necessary for that task, I think we are up for the challenge.”
Processional into the Venetian Theater
Superintendent Andrew Selesnick Addresses Seniors
Congrats to the Class of 2022!
Andrew Smith, the senior selected by his classmates to speak at commencement, brought down the house with his reference to Superintendent Andrew Selesnick’s snow day morning phone calls, ending his comments with Selesnick’s signature sign-off, “Be safe and be well.”
“I am not discouraged by the future because I have had a front row seat to it,” said Principal Steven Siciliano. “When you hear people say that the world is divided and polarized, I hope you’ll hear an opportunity to be a listener and a connecter,” said Superintendent Andrew Selesnick, before declaring the Class of 2022 to be graduates of John Jay High School.
How else could he close Commencement but say to all, “Be safe and be well!”
Kaitlyn Varriale, Valedictorian
Throughout our KLSD education, it has been instilled upon us to be the best versions of ourselves. Likewise, as the honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg inspirationally explained, “I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the best of her ability.”
I hope that we can all be remembered this way, that throughout life, each of us uses whatever talents we have to do our work to the best of our abilities. I know that this is an ambitious goal. For being your best doesn’t come without challenges, and frequently doesn’t even include being the best. Instead, it often requires humility, hard work and the courage to overcome adversity. It can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining, but even more so tremendously uplifting and rewarding.
Victoria Fenton, Salutatorian
Our journey through high school was one of spirit, flexibility and fortitude. This class always found a way to overcome our obstacles together. No junior prom? That’s alright, we can do it ourselves. We won’t see most of our classmates for the better part of sophomore and junior year? We’ll just have to make senior year twice as memorable. In my opinion, we certainly did.
It is our continued resilience and optimism that brings me such confidence that we will achieve great things beyond high school, not simply for ourselves and our futures but for the greater good of the world. We are at a critical turning point in our lives where our generation will no longer be observing world problems and demanding someone makes a change: we will be the people to make that change.
Andrew Smith, Student Speaker
When people ask me what I'm going to miss about high school, of course I'll say I miss my friends and the amazing teachers at John Jay ... but there's one thing that tops it all for me. Nothing, and I mean nothing, topped the feeling of waking up on a cold brisk January morning to the sound of the phone ringing with the gracious, angelic voice of Andrew Selesnick filling the room telling you that school has been cancelled for the day ...
All jokes aside, some of the most genuine and nicest people I've met are sitting behind me. I would say good luck to the Class of 22 but I know they won't need it. This class's ability to adapt and overcome challenges is what made us so special. I conclude with a quote from Mr. Selesnick as he would always say in his morning snow day phone calls, "Be well and be safe."
Jessica Binney, Faculty Guest Speaker
Love hard. Love big. Love vulnerably. Love loudly. Love without fear, without shame, without regret. Grab your parents by the shoulders, look them square in the eye and tell them that you love them so much. Introduce yourself to the lonely kid and tell them they’re cool. Do not let the world tell you to hide your love away. Don’t toughen up because you are scared to open yourself up to love. As the narrator of “Fox 8” by George Saunders reflects: “If you want your stories to end happy, start being nicer.” If you have an imperative to fight for anything it must always, always, be for love. Fight for love. Love of nature. Love of equity. Love of diversity. Love of humor. Love of gentleness. Love for the underdog. Fight for love. Fight with love, always with love.
Dr. Steven Siciliano, Principal
What a strange journey it’s been, hasn’t it? It’s been a grind at times and we’re all a little weary if not a little downright crispy at this point. You will be able to tell your children the equivalent of the “I had to walk five miles to school in the snow, uphill, both ways” story. You have earned this. Your parents will explain the reference to you later at lunch.
I think history is clear that every generation has its existential challenges and how they emerge from it has so much to say about what the future holds. It’s your graduation day, 2022. And yet watch the news, or better yet, don’t watch the news! There’s war, disease, global warming, political polarization, social unrest, inflation, gun violence in schools and a post-truth media that validates all or biases.
Yes, we’ve made a real hash of it, haven’t we, and we soon hand you the keys ... But I’m not discouraged about the future because I’ve had a front row seat to it. It’s been a privilege being the Principal of John Jay High School Class of 2022.