As they collected their diplomas over the past few weeks, top students at local schools had inspiring words for their fellow graduates.
“It’s perfectly natural to experience fear and excitement right now, but stay on the path that will fulfill your dreams,” Pleasantville High School valedictorian Jennifer Ozoria told her peers during their commencement ceremony Tuesday. “Don’t ever stop believing in yourself. We’ve gotten this far, and now we must all continue the journey into our own futures.”
By the end of the week, nearly 90,000 students in New Jersey will have graduated from high school and begun their post-secondary careers.
According to data released this week from the annual Kids Count survey, New Jersey ranks second in the country in education, with a 90 percent four-year graduation rate.
Research shows the benefits of high school graduation can have a lasting impact long after a student leaves their local district.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation 2019 databook, based on 2017 data, states that a high school diploma is critical for entering today’s workforce.
“Students who graduate from high school on time have many more choices in young adulthood. They are more likely to pursue post-secondary education and training, make healthier decisions and engage in less risky behaviors. They also are more employable and have higher incomes than students who fail to graduate,” the databook states.
In 2017, median annual earnings for someone without a high school diploma were $23,031, which is about 75 percent of the earnings of a high school graduate. Someone with a bachelor’s degree has the potential to earn even more, the data show.
Graduates in South Jersey will attend prestigious institutions like Yale and Princeton. Others will stay in state at universities like Rowan, Stockton and Rutgers, while many will take advantage of the state’s free tuition programs by attending local community colleges.
Those not heading to college after high school will enter the military, the workforce, or career and technical training programs.
Some graduates this year earned prestigious scholarships and awards for academics or sports.
Standouts include Mainland Regional High School’s Bradley Ferguson, who was among 161 students across the country to earn the title of Presidential Scholar from the U.S. Department of Education. Other local students selected as finalists were Theo Sherman of Millville High School, Ronald Canlla and Divya Rajput of Absegami High School in Galloway Township; Aidan Himley of Egg Harbor Township High School; and Samantha McBurrows of Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Newfield.
Egg Harbor Township High School senior Samantha Scalese earned the first ever Amazon Future Engineer scholarship this year, one of 100 students in the nation.
St. Augustine Prep’s Sincere Rhea will attend Penn State University on a full track and field scholarship, and Jayson Hoopes is heading to the University of Virginia to play baseball on a partial athletic scholarship.
Oakcrest High School senior Brielle Smith is headed to Stanford University to throw the javelin for the women’s track and field team on a full athletic scholarship.
Hammonton High School valedictorian John Grasso, who will attend Rowan University to study biomedical engineering in the fall, started his graduation speech by thanking his parents. He told his classmates to not be afraid of failure, that their journeys are individual and will shape them for the future.
“Take my advice — set small goals, and achieve them every day. Avoid clichés whenever possible, because they really do get annoying, don’t they? And when all else fails, since I don’t want to leave this class with a formal, impersonal goodbye, remember to ditch the formalities and just talk,” Grasso said.
Ocean City High School graduate Nora Faverzani, who represented students across the state of New Jersey on the state Board of Education this year, told her classmates to look back on their journey and give themselves credit for their accomplishments.
“As we venture on to college or career, we will draw from our experiences at community lunches with our friends or in classes with our favorite teachers. We are ready to leave this small community and thrive in the world. We have the power to make our own dots and connect them to form our own amazing image,” Faverzani said.