‘When Will You Take The First Step?’

NORTHPORT, New York, July 3

BY: Andrew Wroblewski

With so many graduates thinking and talking about the future, Northport High School’s 2014 valedictorian, Nicole Hawkins, thought it might be best to visualize that future for Saturday’s audience as she took to the podium to conclude the school’s commencement exercises.

The valedictorian of Northport’s class of 2014, Nicole Hawkins, addresses the crowd and her fellow graduates during Saturday’s commencement ceremony.
The valedictorian of Northport’s class of 2014, Nicole Hawkins, addresses the crowd and her fellow graduates during Saturday’s commencement ceremony.

“You aren’t just going to wake up one day and suddenly become your ideal self. You’re going to have to work for it – probably harder than you’ve ever worked for anything before,” Hawkins, who will attend Villanova University in the fall, said. “Fellow graduates… Picture yourself at the top of a mountain. As you look back down to the bottom of the mountain you see the freshman version of yourself – take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve come.”

But now, looking beyond the top of that mountain, as Hawkins described, there is a staircase – a staircase that is tall, but requires climbing.

“Glance up again and you see your family, friends and people that you don’t even know yet,” the valedictorian said to the 545 other members of the class of 2014. “[They’re] wearing jerseys, sporting your name, lining the stairs and cheering you on to the top. So, Class of 2014, I’m not asking you if you can make it to the top – I already know that you can; I’m asking you, ‘When will you take that first step?’”

A special message graced Northport’s scoreboard on Saturday as graduates took their seats on the football field.
A special message graced Northport’s scoreboard on Saturday as graduates took their seats on the football field.

While Hawkins’ words were undoubtedly inspirational, it may have been hard for any of the 546 graduates to envision climbing anything close to a set of stairs as the sun mercilessly beat down upon them and the monstrous crowd, with temperatures rising through the 80s.

The heat, however, didn’t keep “good friend of Northport,” Congressman Steve Israel, from making an appearance and addressing the class with a few words of advice.

“Be yourself, don’t be what society wants you to be,” Israel said. “I really believe that Northport High School, your middle schools and elementary schools gave you all the tools you need – you just have to decide what you’re going to do with those tools.”

Congressman Steve Israel shakes the hands of Northport graduates on Saturday after addressing the class with some words of wisdom.
Congressman Steve Israel, right, shakes the hands of Northport graduates on Saturday after addressing the class with some words of wisdom.

But while Hawkins and Israel both spoke of the self and how to further prepare one’s self for the future, salutatorian Joshua Gaines centered his speech upon the importance of those with which graduates will surround themselves.

“I want you to leave graduation today with, of course, an immense sense of pride, but almost more importantly: the decision to love,” Gaines, the future Brown University student, said. “Love is a decision. It takes dedication to love someone else… Everyone has some flaw that can irk you and to love them you must decide if you can handle it. I urge you to accept the flaws in others. It’s those imperfections that make each of us so unique.”

No matter which words of advice the Class of 2014 chooses to follow, one word is sure to always be applicable to them: “Congratulations!”

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Originally published: Long Islander News: The Record (Thursday, July 3, 2014;  A17)

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