By Jessica Chin
The Mineola High School graduating class personifies “grit,” a trait that is defined by passion and perseverance, Dr. Whittney Smith, the principal, said during Saturday’s commencement ceremony at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts.
The 194 graduates “recorded over 2,000 hours of service to the school and community; this commitment is not required,” Smith said. “Instead it is embraced for the sake of doing something meaningful for others.”
Smith said he was honored to be on stage with the class, which he believes has exhibited grit throughout its years at Mineola High School, not only by service but by persevering through challenging coursework, celebrating differences and displaying school spirit.
The class valedictorian, Sandra Pinto, is an example of the class of 2017’s grit. Pinto said that she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in her freshman year but she persevered.
“I pushed through the painful moments of my life knowing that there was a greater good that I passionately wanted to find,” Pinto said. “And I accomplished my goals not without failures and tears shed but with a spirit of someone whose future seemed full of promise.”
She encouraged her classmates to do the same by setting goals that “seem impossible to obtain and conquer them with great passion and pride.”
Pinto credited the compassion of her friends, teachers and administrators at Mineola High School for her and her classmates’ being able to persevere.
She said teachers gave up lunch periods and came in before school to give her and other students’ extra help.
“They didn’t have to do these things for the students but they did because they believed in us,” Pinto said. “And with that kind of environment, it becomes nearly impossible for us not to believe in ourselves too.”
It is this environment that gave them strength that Pinto says she and her classmates will not forget.
“Even at our lowest points the halls of Mineola High School have allowed us to grow into better versions of ourselves,” Pinto said. “So as we all move on to the next big chapter in our lives, Mineola will remain a home that we will not and cannot forget.”
The Mineola superintendent of schools, Michael Nagler, pointed to Assistant Principal Larry Puccio, who is retiring, as a role model.
“Larry leaves a district with 493 sick days in his bank; he’s the personification of old reliable,” Nagler said.
He advised the graduates to strive for the characteristics that Puccio exhibited, to help them succeed.
“Graduates as you leave us on new adventures, remember that compassion, humility and hard work are characteristics of success in any time period,” Nagler said. “Follow those values and I’m sure you will find happiness whatever you choose to do.”