By Chuck Stewart, Jr.
Newburgh - Newburgh Free Academy’s graduation ceremony ended abruptly Thursday evening. After some 600 students made there way onto the football field for the ceremony, it began to rain - light at first, then a virtual downpour.
The parents and students were hopeful that the weather would hold out, but minutes after the NFA Senior Madrigal Singers sung the “Star Spangled Banner,” thunder and lightening began.
NFA Principal Peter Copeletti asked Superintendent Annette Saturnelli to “come up to the podium and confer the graduates this evening.” He then told students that diplomas would not be handed out then, but that they could be picked up at the school next week.
Angry and disappointed parents and students began booing. There would be no remarks by Cranarian Council President Andrew Lok. No speeches by the salutatorian or valedictorian, Claire Cassiello and Matthew Ter Bush, respectively.
Emphasizing the decision was based upon the safety of the students, Copeletti turned the microphone over to Dr. Saturnelli. She quickly certified the class by saying, “by the authority granted to me by the New York State Board of Regents, I hereby certify that these candidates have qualified for a New York State high school diploma.” With those words spoken, students and parents, in shock and disbelief, headed inside for shelter.
In the boys gym, parents waited for the graduates as they talked about the ceremony. “I can’t believe they did that. The district knew the rain was coming,” one parent said, “why didn’t they cancel for today and go with the rain date for Friday?”
Another asked, “Why was there no backup plan? The district should be ashamed of themselves. These kids worked so hard and have waited their entire lives for this moment.”
Copeletti said once the graduation procession began, there would be no rain date option.
So after 13 years of waiting to experience the “Pomp and Circumstance” of a high school graduation, many were left feeling cheated and disappointed - robbed of a once in a lifetime memory.
On Friday, after an outpouring of parents and graduates, Dr. Saturnelli announced at a press conference that another graduation ceremony would be held on Thursday, June 28.
“Because of the unusual circumstances, however, we have decided to contact every member of the Class of 2007, school district staff and members of the press to invite them to a Graduation Ceremony which will take place on Thursday, June 28,” Saturnelli said.
Saturnelli said the rain was not the problem. “No one minds getting a little wet in a situation like that. But when the first lightning was sighted, the safety of all those gathered gave us no choice but to end the ceremony.”
The ceremony is set for Thursday - thudnerstorms are in the forecast.