CHS Class of 2023 Commencement - Celebrating Clifton Excellence
Important addendum, with my apologies for the oversight: credit for the photos goes to Mark Mecca and the CAST students who live-streamed the event. All photos are screen captures from that stream.
In a rainy ceremony that lasted just over an hour and a half, Clifton celebrated the CHS Class of 2023 on Friday, June 23rd, at 3 pm. Commencement was held on an inclement day at Clifton Stadium but the rain did not dampen the spirit of the graduates, who walked onto the field with smiles and waves.
As usual, the Mustang Band provided music for the 634 seniors and the many family members who filled the stands.
The event was emceed by Tiffany Guerrero, the senior representative to the Board of Education. She stood in for Student Council President Albaraa Gebril, who was out of state with obligations as a Gates Scholar.
Following the presentation of colors and the Pledge of Allegiance, seniors in the American Sign Language class lined up facing the audience to sign the words of The Star-Spangled Banner as the band played our national anthem.
Several speakers addressed the crowd, expressing gratitude towards the educators and families, emphasizing respect, kindness, and friendship, and acknowledging the graduates as new members of the Mustang alumni community while reflecting on pandemic challenges and the importance of diversity. The graduates who spoke shared a thoughtfulness and depth that highlighted the excellence here in Clifton.
CHS principal Ahmad Hamdeh was the first to speak, reflecting on the different experiences that contributed to the graduates’ growth as individuals and emphasizing the idea that success is measured not just by results but by one's efforts. “I hope that Clifton High School remains a part of you no matter what life brings,” he concluded. “Please remember, it's always a great day to be a Mustang.”
The Senior Choir assembled to sing the sweetly sentimental Slipping Through My Fingers:
Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture
And save it from the funny tricks of time
Slipping through my fingers
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Mayor Ray Grabowski was welcomed to the dais, where he acknowledged the other councilors in attendance and shared a memory of his own graduation, which he shared with Councilman Bill Gibson. “This is not a destination. It's just the beginning of your journey in life,” he said, ending with this advice, “Be kind because you never know in life. Keep your friendships close.”
Board of Education President Jim Smith said that he’d keep his speech short and was greeted by a round of grateful applause. He took a moment to acknowledge all of the people who deserve thanks and appreciation for helping the graduates get to this day. “Most importantly,” he said, “the parents, who have been there for you and have supported you along the way.”
Gabriela Wojick, the class Salutatorian, reminded her classmates of the tremendous challenges they faced and overcame. “Throughout these four years, we adapted to our ever-changing situation, proving that we are a versatile generation, willing to embrace any challenge head-on and overcome it. Being here today is a testament to our hard work and perseverance. No matter the obstacles we face, recognize everything we have overcome, everything we have accomplished, and everything we are capable of.”
Senior Class President and member of the varsity cheer team Jonas Arias spoke of his great pride as a member of the squad and of his trepidation about becoming an adult. “Know what makes you smile, do what makes you feel accomplished, do whatever you feel like you need to do and never let anyone else tell you otherwise...use all the negativity in your life as fuel to be better, be kind, be respectful. Stay true to you. Stay true to your purpose and make a difference because as you all know, we are the future. Congratulations, Class of 2023.”
The last graduate to address the crowd was Valedictorian Yasmina Abufasha, who focused on some of the remarkable things her class has accomplished. “We have volunteered our time to help those in need and we have stood up for what we believe in. We have fostered friendships that will last a lifetime. And most importantly, we have discovered who we are as individuals and how strong we are as a collective group.”
Quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald Abufasha concluded, “It's never too late or too early to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you're proud of. And if you're not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”
As Commencement neared its exciting conclusion with the reading of the graduates’ names and the moving of the tassels, Superintendent Dr. Danny Robertozzi took the podium. With his signature good humor he started, “Good news - I’m the last speech.” In an inspiring speech which shone a spotlight on one of the city’s greatest strengths he said, “Today, I want to highlight a fundamental aspect of your Clifton experience that has prepared you for the real world after high school. And that is - look around you - your remarkable diversity.
Not simply a buzzword or a check box on a form, it is the living, breathing heartbeat of our school community. Each and every one of you come from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences and you converge together at the single largest building high school in the State of New Jersey. And it is within the beautiful tapestry of that high school that you have been fortified for the challenges that await you after today.”
With obvious pride, Dr. Robertozzi certified and affirmed that the graduates had met the qualifications set forth by the state of New Jersey and pronounced the gathered seniors to be graduates of Clifton High School. The graduates lined up and received their diplomas in a remarkably well-run and choreographed event…all 634 of them.
When all of the names had been called and the graduates had returned to their seats, Tiffany invited everyone to move their tassels over, indicating that they were now officially graduates. With a great cheer and applause from the stands, many of the new graduates tossed their caps in the air before finding friends and family to hug.
Jennifer Bergmann, Counseling and Student Services Supervisor, reported that of the graduating seniors, an impressive 87% were moving on to some form of post-secondary education and/or training, including notable institutions like Columbia, MIT, Northeastern, Penn State University, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt University and Wagner College.
Congratulations to the CHS Class of 2023 and to all of Clifton’s graduates, whichever high school they attended. As Dr. Robertozzi said in his address, “The world awaits your brilliance. Go forth. Be bold. Let your light shine as a beacon of hope and inspiration for generations to come.”