“I used to dream about this moment now I’m in it! The Whaler teams were fire now it’s time to spit it!”
So began a rap by Hope Brindle, the Pierson High School Class of 2018 salutatorian, who, fitting to her character, chose a less traditional commencement speech. Graduation ceremonies this year were held on a cool and cloudy afternoon that staved off rain, allowing family and friends to celebrate loved ones on Pierson Hill.
Saturday would be the last time members of the class of 2018 would come together, with proud parents, siblings, friends and faculty gathered to watch the 5 p.m. ceremony. The feelings of joy, anticipation and pride couldn’t be matched as the graduates filed out of the high school in a traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” processional, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance — led by class president Isabella Di Russa — and the National Anthem performed by senior chorus members.
It was graduate Catherine Spolarich who introduced Brindle who reminisced about the times she spent in local parts of Sag Harbor and the things that made her days here so memorable, including many of her classmates. “Sophie Lattanzio keeping it poetic, Catherine Spolarich holding me when I felt pathetic, Leigh Hatfield my nerdy neighbor in all things, Zebulun Kinney the wind beneath all our wings,” she recited.
Brindle also spoke about the stressful time of deciding one’s next steps and how they will transition from high school to wherever they choose. “We all decided to work hard or want to succeed, we all decided to cry, sweat, break down, or bleed, we all studied, we all fought and God we tried, now we hold our breath as two worlds collide,” she said.
“I was only here five years but thank you for every day, I’m never worried about all you savs and queens,” she said in closing. “If you made it this far you can make it to your dreams, break your leg, the world’s waiting, it’s your scene. Hey Sag Harbor, welcome to the class of 2018!”
Hatfield, the class valedictorian, talked about the importance of relationships, embracing change and uncertainty, and achieving greatness. “Our family started when we entered Sag Harbor Elementary School. It started with singing the Happy Birthday song, standing hand-in-hand, with recesses on the multi-purpose court. But as the work got harder and the college applications began flowing out, we grew closer. I know that I have become very good friends with people I never expected. I have learned the value of establishing close relationships, with both my peers and with teachers, something I will take with me into the next stage of life.”
One of the biggest changes in their young lives occurred on Saturday; transitioning from their small-town community to the real world that is filled with “natural disasters, nuclear weapon testing, Russian investigations, ‘fake news’,” said Hatfield. “We are the people who will make a difference in the world… because everyone here is ambitious and determined to get what they deserve, and to stand up for what they feel is right.” Hatfield praised her classmates in the causes that they support like women’s rights, gun control and environmental protection. “If you cannot accept change, then you will never be able to move forward in your life,” she said. “And all these people next to me are moving forward to bigger and better things.”
Recently, Hatfield was asked about the kind of legacy she wanted to leave behind at Pierson. After some uncertainty, she said, “I realize I do want to leave a legacy, I want everyone here to leave a legacy. This doesn’t mean becoming famous or getting rich, it means changing the day for the better for someone you cross paths with. It means having a positive effect on the people and things around you, whether recognized by many or by few. This is what I consider greatness, and it is something we can all achieve.”
“Our greatness comes when we appreciate each other’s strengths, when we learn from each other, when we lean on each other,” said Hatfield, quoting former First Lady Michelle Obama, in her closing.
Businessman, investor and marketing expert Rohan Oza served as this year’s commencement speaker. Referred to as the “Brandfather” by the Hollywood Reporter, Oza has worked for companies like Mars and Coca Cola and grew brands like Vitamin Water and Smartwater into the renowned companies that they are today.
Oza talked to the graduates about his life experience of being an immigrant and living the “American Dream” as well as the high and low points of his career. “There are going to be ups and downs as you go through this adventure, but it’s how you tackle those ups and downs is what matters,” he said.
Oza encouraged students to “Be your brand and live your true self, trust your instincts because it will be your X-factor, and be that cultural change you want to see because if you’re in a great environment you can make it better. Whatever you do in life, make sure you find your passion and make sure you have a good idea but the x-factor is to have a game plan.”
“Defy the experts,” he said. “You know how good you are, you know how talented you are. And if you follow your passion with the energy and drive of being your true self, you’ll achieve the dreams you want to have.”