‘Work hard and good things will happen’

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The Hightstown High School Class of 2023 came together for the last time at the CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton to celebrate the high school's 108th annual graduation ceremony June 21. PHOTO COURTESY OF LEA KAHN/STAFF

Hightstown High School Class of 2023 embarks on next chapter

The Hightstown High School Class of 2023 came together for the last time at the CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton to celebrate the high school’s 108th annual graduation ceremony June 21.

Student Council President Priyanka Das welcomed friends and family members to the graduation ceremony.

The names of 13 seniors who are entering the U.S. military were read. Six seniors are joining the U.S. Marine Corps, three are enlisting in the U.S. Army and four have signed up for the U.S. Air Force. Each student wore a sash emblematic of their respective military branch.

Then to the traditional Pomp and Circumstance, the 417 seniors filed onto the arena floor. The boys wore blue caps and gowns and the girls wore white caps and gowns. Some students personalized their mortarboard caps with the names of the colleges they plan to attend, while others created fanciful decorations for their caps.

The Hightstown High School Class of 2023 came together for the last time at the CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton to celebrate the high school’s 108th annual graduation ceremony June 21. PHOTO COURTESY OF LEA KAHN/STAFF

In his remarks, Hightstown High School Principal Dennis Vinson said he has attended 33 graduation ceremonies in his career, but this one is special. His son, Grant Edward Vinson, is a member of the Hightstown High School Class of 2023.

“Every parent in this arena is beaming with pride. I truly know how each of you feel. I hope my son knows how immensely proud his mom and I are of him. There is no doubt that every parent or guardian shares this feeling,” he said.

Graduation Day marks a remarkable milestone in their lives. It is a testament to their hard work, dedication and resilience, Vinson told the seniors.

“Resilience has become synonymous with this graduating class. You have faced challenges that would have discouraged many, yet you refuse to be defeated. You have proven that true strength lies not in avoiding failure, but in rising above it,” he said.

Vison praised the seniors for the compassion they have shown to others from embracing diversity and fostering an environment where every student feels valued and heard, he said.

Hightstown High School has prepared them for whatever lies ahead, he said. At the same time, they must be able to strike a balance between hard work and finding happiness, he said.

“One of my favorite quotes of all time is to ‘work hard and good things will happen.’ However, it is crucial to remember that life is not solely about accomplishments and accolades,” Vinson said.

“Life is about savoring the moments that bring you joy, nurturing your passions and fostering meaningful relationships. Take the time to engage in activities that recharge your spirit and bring you happiness.

“Striving for life balance does not mean sacrificing ambitions or settling for mediocrity. It means making healthy decisions and finding joy in the journey. Take time to appreciate the present moment,” he said.

The Hightstown High School Class of 2023 came together for the last time at the CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton to celebrate the high school’s 108th annual graduation ceremony June 21. PHOTO COURTESY OF LEA KAHN/STAFF

Senior Class President Marilyn Jaya Zaruma asked her classmates to look around at their friends, family and teachers who are all united to support them on their special day of graduation.

“The power of support is an undeniable fraction of who we are and who we yearn to become. Class of 2023, we were the backbone of our school and the heart of its culture,” she said.

Their freshman year was cut short (due to COVID-19) and they have faced adversity and many challenges, she said, noting when the class returned to in-person learning as juniors, they came back not only older, but stronger and wiser, she said.

Graduating from high school may seem scary, but their lives are only beginning, Zaruma told her classmates. They have survived their best days and their worst days, and they are more than capable of taking the next step in their lives, she said.

“I hope you remember to remind yourselves that whatever direction life takes us, there is no rush. Life was made to be lived on your own time. Be kind and patient to others and to yourselves,” she said.

Zaruma encouraged her classmates to take a chance to expand and evolve, if they find they are not satisfied with where they are in life’s journey.

“Be who you are and speak your mind. Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter won’t mind. The world is not ready for what you have to offer,” she said.

Zaruma advised her classmates to appreciate life for what it is, because they may never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.

“Just like yesterday and just like tomorrow, today is yours,” she said.

The Hightstown High School Class of 2023 came together for the last time at the CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton to celebrate the high school’s 108th annual graduation ceremony June 21. PHOTO COURTESY OF LEA KAHN/STAFF

Superintendent of Schools Mark Daniels told the class that the graduation ceremony marks the end of their educational journey in the East Windsor Regional School District, and the beginning of a new and unwritten chapter in their lives.

The seniors are members of Generation Z, the first age-group in society to only know a world with the Internet, Daniels said. According to a researcher at Stanford University, Gen Z members are self-driven and care about others, he said. They value diversity and finding their own unique personalities.

Gen Z members are highly collaborative and social, he said. They are practical and value direct communication, authenticity and relevance.

While reviewing those attributes, Daniels said he was filled with a sense of optimism and reassurance about the future because those are the core values reflected in the school district.

Daniels offers some advice to the seniors – to love and appreciate their families, and to thank the people who have played a role in their journey leading up to today and into the future.

He encouraged them to find and pursue their passions and to trust their instincts. They should be prepared to put in the time and effort to achieve their goals, he said.

Daniels emphasized the need for civility, especially when there are disagreements. They should listen to different perspectives to learn and to seek common ground.

Compassion is important, he said. The seniors should be willing to extend a helping hand and to listen without judgment. Compassion should remind them of their shared humanity, he said.

Quoting Nelson Mandela, Daniels said that “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

“You all have such bright and unique futures ahead. I will be rooting for each and every one of you as you embark on this exciting new journey, while making a difference in the lives of others,” he said.

The seniors then rose, one by one, to pick up their diplomas. After the last senior picked up a diploma, the seniors tossed their blue and white mortarboard caps marking the next chapter for the Class of 2023.