Crammed inside the school's main gym because of rain, the 530 members of Watchung Hills Regional's graduating Class of 2011 were urged to find and follow their passions, never lose their caring attitude for others, work hard—and call mom.
The final bit of advice came from Michael Bloomberg, by way of Watchung Hills Regional Board of Education President Robert Horowitz, who also offered words of wisdom from Maria Shriver—and noted college dropouts Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
But the big hit of the night was a minute-long rap by Valedictorian Brittany MacTaggert, who had also told her fellow classmates that they have a reason to celebrate.
"Every math problem has been solved, every essay written, every note sung," she said. She recounted the scientists and politicians she'd met while at Watchung Hills Regional, and added, "There is truly no limit to what can be done."
"If you're going to go out in the world, try to accomplish something," she said, before launching into her rap.
MacTaggert was followed by Principal Thomas DiGanci, who recited the accomplishments of the previous generations at Watchung Hills, from the members of the "Greatest Generation," who built and taught at the school first, to the Baby Boomers, who rallied for civil rights, to the current generation.
"While teenagers seem to be criticized everywhere, this is an overblown critique," Dr. DiGanci said. "As The Who said, 'The kids are alright.'"
Dr. DiGanci said the students had been "wonderful to work with" and noted their courteous and caring demeanors, which Superintendent of Schools Frances Stromsland picked up on in her comments. She mentioned the students' efforts at raising money for the victims of the Japanese tsunami, North Korea freedom fighters, and other comunity service projects.
"These things show that you care and that your care is followed with deeds and action," she said. "I believe that you can and will affect purposeful change around you."
Class President Nicole Liebler reminded the students that when they were in middle school, they couldn't wait to be in high school.
"In high school, all we want to do is get out and go to college," she said.
Adding that she's confident the students have a great future, she said no matter where they go and what their futures hold, "there is one thing that will always hold us together—we will always be Warriors at heart."
Scans of the graduates names included in the commencement program are attached to this story.