Remarks to the Class of 2022: DFHS Pride, History, and Legacy

To the Board of Education, Superintendent Brady, Administration, Faculty members, Parents, Family members, Friends, Students, and Graduates…

In typical years, my commencement remarks center around reflections of the past four years and some final parting words of advice to our graduates that I always hope might stick as they move onto the next phase of their lives. This year, however, I’m going to do things a bit differently. On Wednesday, our seniors walked through the hallways of Springhurst for the final time as students in our Dobbs Ferry Schools. For those of you who don’t know, this is a tradition that we started with the Class of 2016, and it provides our graduates one final opportunity to go back to where it all started, to see and thank their former teachers before they move on to the next chapter of their lives, and of course to hear and sing “I Remember Springhurst” one final time. It’s a moment that gets us all choked up, and no matter how many years Principal Drake and I make that walk we find ourselves getting flooded with emotions each and every time because it speaks so near and dear to the close knit community that we have here in Dobbs Ferry. For our students, it connects the past with the present, and includes so many of the people, including their teachers, who directly impacted their lives and helped to make them the graduates that we have sitting here before us today.

When our current graduates first officially entered Dobbs Ferry High School in September of 2018, they instantly became part of a rich history and legacy of former Dobbs Ferry students and teachers that dates back to the Class of 1934, the first official graduating class who walked the halls of our current school building. I am now finishing up my eleventh year of serving as the principal of our high school, and each year that I serve I am more and more humbled and honored to be part of that history. There were 14 principals who came before me since 1934, and we have had countless teachers who have served our students, and made Dobbs Ferry the place where they have made their life’s work.

This year is unique for us, because in addition to all of our graduates sitting here before us today, we also have a large (for Dobbs Ferry High School) graduating class of teachers, each of whom will be retiring from our school after many years of dedicated service to our students and community. And just as we celebrate our graduates here today, and recognize how they are forever part of the legacy of our school, we also celebrate our teachers, who after decades of service to our students and village are also prepared to move on to the next chapter of their lives. In thinking about each of our retirees, each whom taught our students so much inside of the classroom, our graduates can also take some final lessons as they now move on to life after high school.

The first of our distinguished group of retirees is Ms. Paulette Sirakos, who is completing an incredible 41-year career in education, with her final 20 years being spent with us at Dobbs Ferry High School. During her time at Dobbs Ferry High School, Ms. Sirakos taught all levels of mathematics, and was instrumental in starting up a number of our school clubs and programs, including our Math League Team and Peer Tutoring Program, while sharing her passion for Sign Language with her students and of course her love of the band Queen. Ms. Sirakos was an individual who was simply born to teach, and she was tireless in her preparation and dedication to her students.  From Ms. Sirakos, our graduates learn of the importance of always holding ourselves to the highest standard of achievement. Ms. Sirakos always demanded that of both herself and her students, and she provides our graduates with a role model of an individual who never cut corners, always put in the work, who always demanded the best from herself and her students, and always received great results due to that mindset. Thank you, Ms. Sirakos, for your 20 years of dedicated service to the students of Dobbs Ferry. We wish you the very best in your retirement. 

Our next retiree, Mrs. Maureen Lindner, leaves us after serving as a teacher in Room 309 at Dobbs Ferry High School for the past 23 years, and 25 in education overall. Ms. Lindner wore many hats as a teacher in our English department, including that of teacher leader for several years, and also served as the advisor of Orpheus, our school literary magazine, as well as serving as the first advisor for both our GSA and Anime clubs. Perhaps the greatest lesson that Ms. Lindner leaves for our graduates is the importance of being a true team player. Over the 11 years that I worked with her, Ms. Lindner was always selfless when it came to what is in the best interest of our school and our students. Whether it was being asked to teach new classes for the first time, which happened frequently with classes such as TOK, Advisory, and IB English SL, or taking on new clubs or endeavors that she perhaps didn’t know a whole lot about but it was what the students had wanted, Ms. Lindner recognized the importance of always doing what is best for the team, and that by working together with kindness, flexibility, and empathy there’s so much that we can accomplish as a whole. Thank you, Ms. Lindner, for helping to make our school such a wonderful place to be. We wish you the very best.

 After 23 years of dedicated service to our district and 39 years in education, our next retiree, Ms. Marion Halberg, is ready to move on to the next phase of her life after leaving behind a legacy that is certain to carry on well beyond her years in Dobbs. During her time at DFHS, Ms. Halberg has been a champion for all students and a true leader in helping to promote equity and inclusion into all aspects of our school. As our ENL coordinator, Ms. Halberg worked tirelessly to ensure that so many families and students were welcomed and supported as they transitioned to Dobbs, and as our IB DP Coordinator for the past 12 years she was an instrumental member of our team as we truly moved to IB for All at Dobbs Ferry High School. From Ms. Halberg, our graduates are provided with a true example of an individual who dedicated her life to providing equal opportunities for all students, and a belief that all people have the ability to advance beyond their circumstances if provided with the right support, belief in themselves, and desire to put in the hard work necessary to achieve one’s goals. Thank you Ms. Halberg to your tireless dedication to so many areas of our school, for your work as our IB Coordinator, and for leaving Dobbs Ferry a much better place that you found it. We wish you the best in your retirement.

Our next retiree leaves our schools after over 30 years of dedicated service to our Dobbs Ferry school community. Mrs. Marcia Heffler began her career in Dobbs Ferry in 1982 as a permanent substitute teacher, and soon moved on to various leave replacement positions in all subject areas before beginning her formal assignment in 1993 as a Spanish teacher in our Dobbs Ferry Schools. In addition to her work inside of the classroom, Mrs. Heffler has also been an active member of our village since moving to Dobbs in 1976, she raised both of her daughters in Dobbs Ferry, both of whom are graduates of our high school, she served as the President of the Home and School Association (prior to being named what is now the PTSA),  she served as a village Trustee and then Deputy Mayor of Dobbs Ferry, and was in charge of many committees, especially ones that were connected with Youth and Safety. In addition to being a constant advocate for all students, perhaps the greatest lesson that Mrs. Heffler provides to all of our graduates is the importance of serving and giving back locally. As an IB World School, we work to inspire our students to think globally and act locally, and Mrs. Heffler is a member of our school community who did just that. Thank you, Marcia Heffler, for your tireless dedication to our students, school community, and Dobbs Ferry village. We wish you the very best in your retirement.

Our final retiree has been dazzling students in Room 311 of Dobbs Ferry High School since 1983. For the past 39 years, Mr. Neil Abbatiello has truly graced all of us regardless of whether or not we were privileged to have him as a teacher. Mr. A, as his students call him, has an amazing ability to bring out the very best in all students, and truly believes that all students can be exceptional in anything that they do if they believe in themselves and they are provided with the right amount of positive encouragement. He took this approach not only as a math teacher, but also as a basketball and varsity softball coach in our district, and also as a father of three Dobbs Ferry Graduates, Andrea, Ali, and Neal. But despite all of Mr. A’s talent, and his overall popularity with everyone, if you know him at all you definitely know that he is completely uncomfortable at this very moment with me talking about him as I am. And that is perhaps the greatest lesson that our graduates can all take from Mr. A. Humility. In life, it is never necessary to seek accolades, or to tell people how good you think you may be if you are truly great at what you do. If you work hard, get great results, and have passion for what you do, others will notice, and you won’t have to tell them. This is very essence of being a true leader, and it is the type of quality that will draw others to lead alongside you. So while I congratulate and thank Mr. Abbatiello for a lifetime of service to our students, I am also pleased to share that his passion for teaching still burns strong, and although he is retiring, we will have him back in our school next year on a part-time basis so that future students can continue to be inspired by his positive energy and love of mathematics. Congratulations, Mr. Abbatiello, on a what has been a wonderful career in Dobbs Ferry. Have a great summer, and we’ll see you in September.

Just as we take individual lessons from the people who have touched our lives, whether directly, or perhaps for some of you, indirectly as is the case with our retirees, we also take two final lessons and important takeaways that all of you, our graduates, can be left with as you now prepare to venture to your next step, whether it be when choosing a major in college, or a job that you immediately want to pursue, or another experience that may be part of your journey.

First, choose a path in life based on your passion, and not based on money. One quality that is consistent among all of our retirees is a burning passion for their life’s work, and when you follow your passion in life, whatever that may be, you will find a level of personal fulfillment and intrinsic reward that will make you feel like you never worked a day of your life. It will inspire you to pour your heart and soul into all that you do, and with that you will soon find yourself on a path that allows you to rise to the top of your profession, whatever profession or pursuit that may be. By chasing your passion, and not money, you will also be pleasantly surprised to find that money will soon find you.

Second, seek opportunities throughout your life to contribute beyond yourself. While it is without question important to set and accomplish personal and professional goals, and I strongly urge you to do that, seeking opportunities to act selflessly will allow you to leave behind a legacy of giving that can truly transform the lives of people all around you. For some, this may mean acting selflessly towards your friends and family, and you all have wonderful people around you here today who are great role models when it comes to that, and for others, it might also mean finding new ways to serve your community, whether locally or on a much larger scale. Regardless of how you contribute, the intrinsic rewards that you will find will far surpass anything that can be found extrinsically, and the difference that you make in the lives of others will carry on to future generations.

The legacy of this graduating class will be forever etched into the history of our school, and you all now join a long line of graduates, teachers, and staff who have followed their passion, contributed beyond themselves, and went on to live wonderful and fulfilling lives. It has been an honor to serve as your principal over these past four years, I thank you for allowing me to be part of such an important time in your lives, and I wish you the very best as you leave all of us here today.

Congratulations to each and every one of you, the Dobbs Ferry High School Class of 2022.

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