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RNHS Class of 2020 Honored With Drive-In Commencement Ceremony

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Rye Neck High School celebrated the Class of 2020 with a special drive-in ceremony at Rye Playland on June 18. The socially distanced event featured remarks by valedictorian Grace West and salutatorian Heonjae Lee, as well as video presentations that looked back at some of the students’ most memorable experiences throughout their educational journey.

Principal Tina Wilson welcomed the guests and praised the students for their ability to persevere, and remain engaged and motivated despite being challenged – individually, as a family unit, as a school community and as a society – by the pandemic.

“While we might be separated by the metal and glass your cars are made of, I am beyond elated to be physically in the same location as all of you,” Wilson said. “Even with digital communication tools that have enabled us to remain connected, I am certain we all realized just how much we missed and craved face-to-face human interaction.”

As they move into the next phase of their lives, Wilson encouraged the students to embrace the positive rather than the negative aspects of any situation. She assured them they possess the necessary skills to successfully pivot in the face of future challenges.

In her remarks, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Barbara Ferraro reflected on the students’ creativity, generosity, strength of character and ability to confront each challenge with courage and flexibility.

“Your leadership has been evident during this pandemic,” she said. “Your outreach to help those in need, your support of our district’s younger students and your concern for one another have reinforced the uniqueness of your class, illustrating the power and strength of teamwork and collaboration.”

The graduates also heard from County Executive George Latimer and guest keynote speaker Ryan Pennell, a RNHS Class of 2010 graduate. During her valedictory address, West spoke about the power of gratitude and recognized the people in her life – parents, teachers, coaches, friends – who have inspired her and guided her throughout the years.

“Gratitude is an expression that allows you to recognize things that are good,” she said. “It’s a spotlight that shines on the people that inspire you. As we all go forth to the next chapter in our lives, take a second, a minute, an hour to think about the people that have made you who you are.”

In his salutatory address, Lee reflected on the value of community and their common experiences that have motivated them to pursue their goals. He also recognized his fellow classmates’ outstanding achievements – from taking Advanced Placement courses to delving into their interests, learning the value of teamwork through athletic competitions and games.

“We are a small class – Rye Neck’s smallest in several years – but our achievements are certainly not,” he said. “It has been my greatest honor and privilege to learn, explore and grow alongside my fellow graduates for the past 12 years at Rye Neck. My heart is so full.”

One by one, and after years of hard work and dedication, the students stepped out of their vehicles to take hold of their diplomas and take their first steps as Rye Neck High School alumni.

Eighth Graders Encouraged to Use Their Talents to Achieve Prosperity

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In a virtual moving-up ceremony on June 18, Rye Neck Middle School celebrated its eighth graders’ achievements and successful completion of their middle school days. In his remarks, Principal Dr. Eric Lutinski acknowledged that the students have endured what will hopefully be the “toughest time our planet will go through in your lifetime,” and encouraged them to think about perspective and potential as they prepare for high school.

“It’s easy to get stuck in details and complain about the loss of our little rituals or comforts we think we have a right to,” Dr. Lutinski said. “It’s natural to feel like a victim and it’s natural to blame other people for how crises are handled. The trick is to allow these big events to inform our perspective, not let them become our identity. All of you have your potential intact. All of you are still armed with natural gifts and talents that you will use to achieve prosperity.”

He shared a brief list of people who were around the eighth graders’ age when they went through the influenza pandemic of 1918 and were still able to achieve success.

“This crisis will help form our life experience, but most of us are just watching it go by,” Dr. Lutinski said. “Corona is not our fault. It’s also not to blame for our problems in life, and it doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Maintain perspective and you will maintain a hold on your considerable potential.”

The celebration included inspiring words from student representatives Max Deckinger, Caroline Johansen, Haruka Nanri and Julie Van Roijen, as well as a reflection from Cathy Toolan, a teacher and eighth grade team leader. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Barbara Ferraro described the 122 eighth graders as creative, kind and hardworking.

“This unusual school year brought to life your inner strength, resilience, creativity and perseverance, enabling you to find positive results to new challenges that you face,” Dr. Ferraro said.

During the ceremony, faculty members announced awards for excellence in academics, athletics and the arts. Signifying the conclusion of one chapter and the beginning of another, Dr. Lutinski announced the names of each member of the Class of 2024.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, a group of staff members drove through various parts of the district to hand deliver an envelope to each eighth grader’s home. The students received their certificate and a hard copy of the program, as well as any awards they may have earned.

Stronger Together, Fifth Graders Move Up to Middle School

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F.E. Bellows Elementary School fifth graders celebrated their accomplishments during a virtual moving-up ceremony on June 19. The event, which was livestreamed via YouTube, opened with a slideshow of the fifth graders’ yearbook portraits while Principal Michael Scarantino read aloud each student’s name.

“This is the first moving-up ceremony being conducted via a Google Meet in my long educational career, and you are the first fifth grade cohort to be moving onto the middle school having completed your studies from home,” Scarantino said.

He commended the students for putting in hard work and commitment over the last three months of home learning, and he reminded them that they were able to get through this difficult time together.

“Your teachers and I knew that even in March, before this pandemic ended your in-school Bellows careers, that you were already armed with the skills, knowledge and tools you would need,” he said. “All this pandemic did was make you stronger, individually and as a family.”

As the students embark on the next phase of their educational journey, Scarantino encouraged them to continue to value each other’s similarities and differences and know that they always have each other to lean on.

“Your persistence, determination and grit will serve you well into your middle school years and beyond,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Barbara Ferraro acknowledged that the students are ready for new, exciting challenges and opportunities that await them at middle school. She described them as a class of strong and resilient students, who quickly adjusted to new ways of learning while staying positive and supportive of each other.

The ceremony concluded with surprise appearances by two special guests – actor Kevin Hart and author Chris Gardner. During his remarks, Hart encouraged the students to stay together, stay focused and keep pushing forward to do better. Gardner, an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and author of the critically acclaimed “The Pursuit of Happyness,” said he was honored to be invited to share a few words of wisdom with the students.

“You’re not too young to start thinking about this, but this is not the time to disengage from your teachers,” Gardner said. “This is not the time to step back from pursuing your education. This is the time to turn on to it and turn it up because you all represent the future of this country, and before you know it, it’s going to be your turn.”

RNHS Honors Class of 2020 With Car Parade

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Escorted by police cars with flashing lights and sirens, members of Rye Neck High School’s Class of 2020 traveled from Harbor Island to the middle/high school campus in a car parade on June 16. Having decorated their vehicles with balloons and signs, the students waved and smiled at spectators along the route.

A crowd of teachers, staff, administrators, village and town officials greeted the graduating seniors on campus, where Principal Tina Wilson read the name of each student. Special thanks to Village of Mamaroneck Mayor Tom Murphy, Village Manager Jerry Barberio and the village's fire and police departments for their partnership.

Students Earn Community Service Award for Composting

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Four Rye Neck High School students – seniors Sonia Finkenberg, Jonathan Marcuse and Owen Robertson, and junior Dylan Spencer – have been honored with a 2020 St. Vincent’s Youth Award for their commitment to serving their community.

Having started ASAP Scraps Composting Inc., a nonprofit community compost pickup service, in May 2019, the students have been instrumental in making their community more sustainable.

“It feels very rewarding to be honored with this award, as we have put in hundreds of hours of community service into building this business, and it is a great feeling to be recognized for this accomplishment,” said Marcuse, CEO and president of ASAP Scraps Composting. “We will keep the spirit of this award close to us as we continue to benefit our communities for our whole life.”

After realizing that their village’s composting system was underutilized because it required residents to bring their compost to the recycling center, the students launched a service to eliminate that inconvenience. Each week, they collect and deliver composting for community members who register for a nominal monthly fee. Any profit beyond operating expenses is donated to environmental charities.

“Seeing the impact that we have made on our community through both the volume of compost we have delivered and the money we have raised is extremely rewarding to us,” Marcuse said. “Our plan would be to replicate our business model in other towns in order to achieve the same success. The greater impact we have, the more rewarded we will feel.”

Each week, the four students drive to each of their 68 subscribing households – a list that continues to grow – to collect the compost. They empty the individual compost bins into a larger collection bin before driving to the village’s recycling center, where they unload all compost into the municipal collection bins. To date, they have collected approximately 9,500 gallons of compost, or the equivalent of 3.2 concrete mixer trucks, 50 hot tubs or 220 bathtubs.

"To most, food scraps seem gross, but, for me, I find the buckets of waste absolutely beautiful,” said Finkenberg, CCO of ASAP Scraps Composting. “I love being part of a much bigger environmental movement, so physically picking up food scraps has been so rewarding.”

Finkenberg, Marcuse, Robertson and Spencer are the organization’s founding members, along with Daniel Ricci, a Class of 2019 graduate.

Presented by St. Vincent’s Auxiliary, the 2020 St. Vincent’s Youth Awards recognize high school students whose volunteer service exemplifies St. Vincent’s Hospital Westchester’s core values of respect, integrity, compassion and excellence. For more information on ASAP Scraps Composting, visit