Pride and thanks at graduation

WEST MILFORD. Graduates pay a special tribute to their classmate Alexander Schambelan, who died July 18, 2023, after his junior year.

| 28 Jun 2024 | 09:32

Members of the Class of 2024 recalled their struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic and offered a special tribute to a classmate who died during the West Milford High School graduation Wednesday, June 19.

On the hot and humid evening, the graduating seniors were led to their seats on McCormack Field by members of the Highlander Marching Band as family and friends packed the grandstand.

With the band playing, a chorus of students sang the National Anthem before the class recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Principal Mathew Strianse said he was proud of all the graduates and thanked parents, teachers and staff for their support of the students and the school.

He was followed by interim Superintendent Lydia Furnari and teacher Susan Nebiker, adviser to the Class of 2024. Each offered congratulations to the graduates and thanked all those who have made a positive impact on their lives.

A special tribute was offered to Alexander Schambelan, who died July 18, 2023, after his junior year. An empty chair in the front row was labeled with his name and his classmates gave him a standing ovation.

Later in the ceremony, Strianse presented Alexander’s diploma to his mother, Josephine. A white birch tree has been planted on the high school grounds in his memory.

To another ovation, Strianse said graduate Kailey Maasin is entering U.S. military service.

Bagpipe solo

Valedictorian Ava Murphy highlighted her classmates’ struggles during the pandemic and spoke about what it took to earn the role of valedictorian.

She offered praise to all the graduates along with her best wishes for the future.

Murphy played in the high school concert and marching bands and has led the school’s traditional pipe band. She performed “Amazing Grace“ in a bagpipe solo at graduation in honor of Schambelan.

She plans to study music at Rowan University.

In his speech, salutatorian Colin Iwaszczuk said, “This is kind of a surreal night. It’s very special being here with so many people that I’ve been fortunate enough to build connections with.

“It’s not really ending for us,” he added. “We’re just moving on to begin another chapter in our lives. That’s the best part of this. While it’s an ending, so much is starting at the same time. It’s awesome.”

He will attend Rochester Institute of Technology to study physics.

Proud parents

Jodie Comune, a teacher at Maple Road School and mother of a graduate, Melissa, said, “I’m so proud of my daughter and the achievements of the entire class. As a teacher, I’m so excited for their futures and wish them all continued success.”

Honesty Sollitto, mother of graduate Nyla Morquecho, found extra meaning at the ceremony because she was not able to experience graduation when she was young.

“I’m so excited for Nyla and all the graduates,” she said. “It’s so special for her, our family, and I’m sort of living vicariously through her today. It’s a wonderful accomplishment for Nyla and all the students.”

Laura Vogt, with the full family present for her son Connor’s graduation, said, “He is my youngest child, so it’s been quite a journey. We’re now looking forward to the future.”

Graduates Shelby Durant and Avery Vacca, celebrating after the ceremony, offered words of inspiration for their classmates.

“You can do anything if you put your heart into it,” said Durant, who is headed to Rutgers University.

Vacca, who will attend the College of New Jersey, said, “Do what you love.”