Seventy-one seniors graduated from Pierson High School on Saturday in a ceremony filled with all the pomp and circumstance that a traditional Whaler ceremony entails, including the "alma mater" school song, cap-toss at the top of Pierson Hill, and wise remarks from a speaker prominent in the Sag Harbor community.
During her speech, Eve Iulo, the class salutatorian, estimated that at least 80 percent of the names in her senior yearbook were the same as those in the kindergarten yearbook. She found comfort in this "oneness."
"Being raised in such a cohesive community may be a blessing to some and a curse to others . . . it is this camaraderie that has resulted in my class's aspiration to do our personal best," Eve said. She also said Sag Harbor has "undeniable integrity that has transcended even the most arduous of times."
The Principal's Award was presented to Zephyr Lipman-Wulf, who "overcame a lot" of challenges to grow into an "amazing human being," said Brittany Carriero, Pierson's principal.
Nancy Remkus, the minister of the Old Whalers Church, a 1976 Pierson alumna, and a retired Sag Harbor Elementary kindergarten teacher, drew on her own experiences at the school to inspire the graduates.
"I have known many of you since you were 5 years old. You walked into the elementary school wearing a whale tag tied to a piece of yarn around your neck -- do you remember that? -- wide-eyed, some of you in tears, ready to embark on your school career. We played with blocks. We read stories. We learned to read and write and count, and we sang together every day for six years. . . . Teaching and watching you grow has been one of the greatest joys in my life."
"Each of you is a gift -- an amazing, beautiful, and wondrous gift," she later continued. "My best advice to you is to always remember the gift that you are, the miracle that life is, and to take very good care of this gift. Follow your dreams, live your best life, make good choices, and, as they say, take good care of your body, because if you don't, you'll have nowhere else to live."
She congratulated them for being strong, resilient, and ready to take on the future. "These have been some tremendously difficult years, the likes of which we've never experienced, and now you stand tall and you stand together on this hill to celebrate the years you have spent together. That alone should bolster your confidence and" help you to "withstand whatever challenges come your way."
"It really touched me how she remembered everything we did in elementary school," said Emma Grace McErlean, who will study practical nursing at Suffolk Community College in the fall.
After they sang the Alma Mater song, the graduates raced up Pierson Hill -- making sure to wait for Brandon Winenga, who made his way on crutches to reach the top -- before they all tossed their caps up together.
Emily Glass, the senior class vice president, who will attend the State University at New Paltz in the fall, summed up graduation by calling it "surreal."
"I can't wait for the future," she said.