It was a night of firsts for the rite of passage known as high school graduation. The sun shone brightly when the evening began at 6:30 as the crowd of city and school officials joined the 228 students and their families for the first graduation ceremony on Peekskill’s newly-renovated Torpy Field at Depew Park. Guests learned that this graduating class represents a first in 20 years — a graduation rate of over 84 percent.
As the evening progressed with speeches from Valedictorian Luisa Urgiles and Salutatorian Jida Pauta and remarks from guest speaker Tuesday McDonald, executive director of Peekskill’s Youth Bureau, the sun slipped down and the lights at the new field came on while the full moon was rising behind the crowd.
Both Urgiles and Pauta referenced the support and inspiration they received from family in achieving the highest grade point average, leading to their selection as valedictorian and salutatorian. For Urgiles, it was her single mother and grandfather that taught her tenacity, intelligence and curiosity about the unknown. “There’s no sense in feeling frustration due to incomprehension, rather it is better to use that energy to understand what is being taught. I remember feeling sad or even disappointed in myself for getting a bad grade, but what I gained from this experience is that I don’t learn anything when lamenting myself. It’s better, that instead of suffering, one must find a way to solve a problem. Life is the same in this way. We have to construct our paths, make errors and learn from experiences.” The path that Urgiles plans to take is at Binghamton University where she will study computer science and engineering.
Pauta acknowledged the sacrifice of her parents, who immigrated to this country, so she could become the first in her family to go to college. She plans to study psychology and criminal justice. “As young adults, we are coming to a stage in life where we want to be cool and popular, however there are instances that we lose ourselves along the process. My advice is to be your honest self. Don’t ever change for anyone. You are perfect. Also, help fellow neighbors in Peekskill. Become involved in volunteering and take roles of leadership and become a well educated member of the community,” said Pauta who works part time as a counter attendant at Patriot Laundromat & Cleaners and volunteers at her church.
Some of the colleges that members of the PHS class of 2021 will attend include: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Drexel University, Fordham University, Fashion Institute of Technology, Syracuse University and Howard University.