Monthly Archives: August 2015

Commencement Speech

Recently, half of my class traveled to the Dominican Republic for our senior service trip to teach English in schools with Outreach360. We noticed that the kids there were happier than those back home. Honestly at first I found this counterintuitive, as I had always assumed that wealth directly correlated with happiness. Society teaches us that the harder we work, the more money we have to buy more, and the happier we’ll be. However, according to BBC news the happiest country in the world is Nigeria, while the United States of America doesn’t even make the top ten. So what are we doing wrong? Perhaps rappers Biggie Smalls and P. Diddy were getting at something when they suggested, I quote, “mo’ money, mo’ problems.” I think the answer lies in our perception of happiness: our misguided belief that material wealth will lead to a fulfilling life. If we instead consider happiness as satisfaction with oneself and how well adjusted an individual feels, the criteria changes. I’m not suggesting that we should not pursue practical jobs in order to live comfortably, but there are ways we can increase net happiness simply by changing our definition.

In his New York Times Article The Moral Bucket List, David Brooks proposes that “there are two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.” Resume virtues are the skills that you’d put on a college application or job resume, like being good at soccer or debate, while eulogy virtues are what teachers write about in your recommendation letters, or what people will remember about you when you’re gone, like being considerate and kind. American society’s obsession with success and wealth rewards resume virtues rather than eulogy virtues, leading us to believe that resume virtues are more important. People receive accolades to the point where they measure self-worth by them. While awards are opportunities to celebrate individuals for their merit and hard work, they are still just more material acquisitions. Fostering relationships with family and friends, or spending the money you make on an experience from traveling, as Mr. Novak says, is a far more gratifying use of your time.

Now don’t get me wrong. Resume virtues have their place, and the class of 2015 has no shortage of accomplishments:

-We have all-star athletes who have been scouted to play collegiate level sports, and others who are skilled enough to walk-on if they choose to

-We have college acceptances to Vassar, Middlebury, Smith, Columbia and U Penn, Harvey Mudd, and Duke, some of the most prestigious universities in the nation.

-We have Central Park interns, non-profit organization starters….

But I’m proud of my class because despite our formidable collective resume, our eulogy virtues are even more impressive. Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox said that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. On a grander scale, you are a reflection of the communities of which you are a part. You adopt the values of your peers, specifically those you look up to. As leaders of the upper school, my classmates are role models, and their qualities define the values of the Staten Island Academy community.

Sade Dinkins has taught us that someone can excel in both resume and eulogy virtues. In fact, her resume virtues earn her leadership positions in which she exercises eulogy virtues to earn the respect of her peers. In terms of resume, Sade is a superb, 3-season athlete and also wickedly smart—do you know what the Latin literary device Tmesis is? Yeah me neither, ask Sade. I’ve played on multiple sports teams with her, and she is the nicest captain I know. She proves to us that people can lead efficiently and still be kind. When your team is losing, it’s easy to get frustrated and yell, but she always chooses to focus on solutions instead and remain calm, even though it’s harder. Her consistent effort to respect her peers is not just leadership: it’s nobility, and the respect is mutual.

Nick Borghese has taught us (besides Physics, Computer Science, and most of Calc) to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. On the way back from the Dominican Republic, he stayed at the baggage claim until every single person got his luggage even though he didn’t even check his own bag.  People are naturally inclined to give Nick responsibilities because he is honorable. He can do you a huge favor without you even realizing it because he never seeks recognition for doing the right thing. Recognizing you now Nick.

Teenagers specifically are known for being selfish, but somehow Erica Ashurova has figured out how to eclipse native human egocentrism and ALWAYS puts others before herself. Erica cares for her friends like a mom does, and she inspires us to do the same. She’s compassionate, generous, and self-sacrificing. Erica has taught us altruism.

Julia Xia’s capacity for appreciating beauty in literature, nature, and in people is unparalleled. All communities need more people like Julia, because when someone expects the best from you, you’re most likely to deliver.

Mr. Weissman, the theater community at SIA is the most welcoming I know, and that is a reflection of you. Your shows have taught us that what’s gratifying about being in a play, or a community, isn’t any individual role but the process of collaborating to create something great. Outreach360’s third principle is “it’s not about you.” When you have responsibilities to others and feel needed, you forget that you bombed that related rates test and that your SAT is next weekend. You forget self-centered worries because you realize you’re now a part of something larger than yourself, which matters to you because it matters to the people you care about. And this is happiness: finding a home, or a community in which you belong. The theme of our spring musical In the Heights was this concept of home. When I think about home, I think about SIA. I think about Claire and myself hiding out in Dr. McGrath’s office in the dark days of junior year, back when we were averaging 4 hours of sleep a night. I think about Mr. Crane surprising Veronica with tea when she was sick and Mr. Ahern routinely saying hi to me in the mornings, when I most needed constancy in the midst of the brutal college application season.

Class of 2015, you’ve got the resume virtues to be conventionally successful; you’re bright and you work hard. But also use your eulogy virtues to find your happiness. In his book Brave New World, Aldous Huxley asserts that “Happiness is never grand.” Realize that ultimately, your relationships with other people in the larger framework of communities are going to be fulfilling, not material extravagance. It’s these relationships that’ll make you forget about your own worries and these communities that’ll make the world seem a little smaller. So good luck on your pursuit of happiness, and remember that *“everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold.” Thank you. I love you guys.

*taken from Kid Cudi song “Pursuit of Happiness”


Commencement Welcome

Good morning, Trustees, Mr. Cauz, Faculty, Parents, Grandparents, Friends, Alumni, Students, and the Class of 2015.

It is my pleasure and honor to welcome you all to the Commencement for the Class of 2015.

In thinking about the Class of 2015, I tried to find what differentiates us from previous SIA senior classes. In a lot of ways, we are the typical senior class.  We have students going to some of the best colleges in the nation, students who shined on the courts and athletic fields and who will go on to play college sports, students who starred on the stage, and others who excelled artistically. However, what makes us different is a very simple fact: we were actually a really needy bunch for four years.  But it’s not our fault. I blame all of you, the teachers. You have bent over backwards and catered to our every whim for four years, causing us now to require incredible amounts of attention.

So who is the primary culprit in making the Class of 2015 a needy bunch?  Perhaps none other than Mr.Crane.   If you’re having difficulty in a class, talk to Frank. If you’re nervous about a test, Frank can and WILL calm you down. If you’re having any issue at all in any aspect of life, Frank Crane will be able to help you get through it and give you some sort of historical fact along the way. Although Mr.Crane is Staten Island Academy’s very own Zeus, the all-knowing god, his power to help us in any situation has only stricken us with one of our biggest downfalls! Now, many of us require his advice just to make everyday decisions—like where to go for lunch each day during our Senior Privilege.

Or maybe it’s Mr. Manske that should be held responsible for this neediness. Mr. Manske is not just a teacher who walks around Kearns Hall always looking spiffy and ready to answer any math question.  He loves his job.   Say a student was going away to Mexico on a family vacation 2 weeks before an AP Statistics exam, Mr.Manske would offer that student a bed, bathroom, and kitchen in his home so the student wouldn’t have to go away with his family and miss class. If that is not generosity, then I don’t know what is. And this is all out of the goodness of his heart. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that the goodness of his heart is wrong!   If a student decides to leave for Mexico and miss a week of class, forget him Mr.Manske.  He doesn’t deserve to stay in your home. Making us the great mathematicians that we are is great, but offering us your home when we need it is only flaming the fans of neediness that already burn inside the Class of 2015.

Even on our class’s worst days, we seemed to be treated by the teachers with nothing but respect and kindness. Suppose a student was 12 minutes late arriving to Miss Faust’s British Monarchy class. Does he get scolded?  No.   Instead, he is handed exactly what he needs at the moment of stress and worry: Crumpets and tea. Miss Faust shoots out rays of joy and kindness to all her students. She will do anything to brighten anyone’s day. I’m sure every member of the Class of 2015 has benefited from Miss Faust’s personal supply of sunshine and happiness.  But this is exactly what the Class of 2015 did not need! Every time there is some rain or misfortune in our lives, we can’t just run to find Ms. Faust hoping that she will smile at us to make everything better!

And when it comes to fighting our own fights, even that has been an issue. When our soccer team’s lives were threatened by 25- year-old high schoolers with biceps the size of my head and facial hair that would make Mr. Wollney jealous, here came 4 foot 5, 95 pound Miss Corig running across the field to save us from these freaks of nature.  The big question here is why did our Assistant Head of School have to come help sort out an altercation in which we were involved?!  Why did Miss Corig put her life at risk by going near these hormonally unbalanced high school students? She did it because she wanted to protect us.  But, Miss Corig… next time there is an issue like this, please don’t get involved — for your own safety and so that the next graduating class will learn to settle their own problems.

Despite the faculty’s tendency to pamper, protect, and provide for us, the Class of 2015 has come to learn something very important.  We are no longer needy; we CAN stand on our own.  We can truly excel in everything that we put our minds to. We are a talented collection of athletes, scholars, artists, actors, and musicians – a talented ready to take on the world. We are no longer needy! With the great role models that we have had here at SIA, we can now solve our own issues. We can now calm our friends and ourselves down, we can give each other the best advice, we can offer our own homes and belongings to friends in need, we can brighten each other’s days with coffee and brownies from Starbucks, we know how to deal with the adversity of missing a week of class, and we can fight our own fights. Our neediness is no longer an issue.  It has been replaced with our own independence and a need to help others.  Like many of us did in our service projects in the Dominican, at Project Hospitality, and at Meals on Wheels, we are more than willing and able to take on the world and what it throws at us.  Class of 2015, it has been an honor.  Now let’s leave here today knowing we have the personal strength to establish ourselves and to share with others.

I would now like to introduce Mr. Michael Acquilano, affectionately known as The Acq or sometimes “That Crazy Guy from Geneva Who Really Wants Me to go to Hobart, but I’m Afraid to Tell Him No.”  He is the man who has given the Class of 2015 so much of his time and effort, not to mention his valuable advice, feedback, guidance, and support… Of course, he also gave us deadlines, papers to write, homework, and grades.  And then let’s not forget the buckets full of dirty river water that he violently threw directly in our faces while on the Senior Rafting Trip.  But the Class of 2015 appreciates everything that you gave and did for us.     Mr.Acquilano, you were with us every step of the way throughout the college process, helping a needy bunch of seniors learn what we needed to do to be accepted to our colleges.  None of us would have been able to achieve as much as we did without you. We love you and thank you for all the kindness, generosity, and support you’ve given. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Michael Acquilano.



Commencement’15 Keynote Introduction

Good morning Mr. Cauz, Ms. Corigliano, faculty, guests, and to the Class of 2015. First and foremost, I would like to thank my classmates for this opportunity to speak before you today, and to publicly express my gratitude for every person, of which there are many, who have helped me and my fellow seniors reach this point.

To begin, I would like to share a brief anecdote. Early last week, having already completed senior exams, I was home. I had just finished washing my hands, when my iPhone buzzed signaling that I had received a text message. Without thinking much of it, I reached over to pick up the phone…and it promptly slipped from my hands, shattering to the floor.

You can ask my parents; I called them and fessed up almost immediately. Ultimately, I was surprised by this incident, as, due to my own lack of coordination, I tend to drop my phone more often than I would like to admit, yet never before have I encountered this problem.

On this particular occasion, I credit the alignment of a multitude of different factors that proved fatal for my phone, including the fact that my hands were still slippery, that I had taken the case off just an hour earlier to fit my phone into a charging dock, and the fact the precise spot where I dropped it was on hard tile rather than carpet.

Now you may be wondering what significance this tale could have to today’s events or to any of you, or maybe you’re simply wishing that I would just get a screen protector and move on with my life, but here is how I view it.

In the midst of apologizing profusely to my mother, it hit me that this event is a bit like the Class of 2015. My phone has fallen many times before, but it was the “perfect storm” of factors this time that reduced my screen to shards of glass. Similarly, we stand here today, each with our own histories and tales that have aligned to bring us to this point. These experiences, while each unique in their own right, all intersected in another “perfect storm” to create the Class of 2015. Some of our paths originated here as early as Pre-K, while others have been joined along the way, as we have learned and grown each year into the Class that you see before you, 36 students strong. Notwithstanding the many personal journeys that have assembled us here, and the many that we will surely embark upon in the future, the Class of 2015 will remain forever united by this shared experience that we have forged together.

Being entirely realistic, I cannot say for sure when, if at all, this class will again be assembled together in its entirety. Some faculty might second that statement given our collective attendance record in the 2nd Semester, but all the more reason to recognize and to savor not only the accomplishment of reaching this milestone, but also the fact that we have done so together. I will remain forever grateful for the times we have shared, and our many unique paths that have brought us here. My wish for this class is that we may leave a favorable legacy here that endures much longer than did the warranty on my iPhone.

On that note, it is now my pleasure to introduce today’s Keynote Speaker, Mr. Dereck Whittenberg. As a guard for North Carolina State University, Mr. Whittenberg was a member of the “Wolf Pack” team, under the tutelage of iconic

Coach Jim Valvano, that captured the NCAA National Championship Title against the University of Houston in 1983. Since this early triumph, Mr. Whittenberg has held coaching positions at 8 schools nationwide, among them Wagner College here on Staten Island. During his tenure as Head Coach at Wagner College, Mr. Whittenberg led his team to the NCAA National Tournament. Mr. Whittenberg is currently the Senior Assistant Coach at his alma mater NC State.

To those of you who know me well, it may seem strange that I of all people would be tasked with the introduction of a basketball star, but having reviewed footage of NC State’s Championship Victory in 1983, it appears that Mr. Whittenberg and I have more in common than meets the eye. For those unfamiliar with the game, this particular Championship has gone down in history for the famous buzzer-beater that sealed NC State its victory. This game-winning basket was assisted by none other than Mr. Whittenberg, yet there has long been controversy as to whether or not this assist was indeed a skillful pass, or an intended shot that, as was the case for me and my phone, simply slipped from his hand. Regardless, the Class of 2015 is very grateful for Mr. Whittenberg’s coming to speak today, and with that, I am pleased and honored to welcome Mr. Dereck Whittenberg.