The future is bright for Absegami graduates (Slideshow)

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Absegami High School Valedictorian Patrick Dinh Absegami High School Valedictorian Patrick Dinh GALLOWAY– Absegami High School Valedictorian Patrick Dinh told the Class of 2014 on Friday, June 20 that graduating high school is a big milestone, but it is not the biggest.

The best is yet to come.

“There are possible movie stars, astronauts, spectacular elephant-wranglers and possibly even the inventor of the world’s first electric sponge in this class of ours, and it is here that I emphasize the word ‘possible’,” Dinh said in a prepared speech titled, “Century 21.” “Every single one of us graduating today could be a lot of things, and some of it depends on how much we work toward it, but most of it depends on what we were meant to do.

“Some of us might not even achieve the salary that one associates with the American Dream, and maybe that is the problem with the American Dream,” Dinh told his fellow graduates.

In a poignant speech, Dinh emphasized that the American Dream should not be about “a big house, nice car, two kids, white picket-fence and a large salary.” “Why does that have to be our one and only American Dream? As diverse a group as we are, our dreams should be varied and unique, not uniformly the same.”

He described when he first came to America from Germany,  blinded by the “American Dream.”

“My family did not have a house we could call our own, and we certainly did not have a white picket-fence. We didn’t even have a complete family; it was just my mom, my brother, and I, and as such other people and I labeled ourselves as underprivileged.”

Dinh recalled a time when he and his family were driving around.

“I pointed out a Century 21 sign, not because I had found a house that I liked, but because I thought the house only cost 21 dollars. I said, ‘Mom, I can pay for this house; I have 21 dollars.’”

He admitted to classmates that it took him a decade to realize what was wrong with his “obsession with material things.”

“We should not judge someone’s worth based off of how many cars they can buy or where they work. We should rather base someone’s worth off of how happy they are... Finding happiness and keeping it, that should be our American Dream.”

Dinh’s speech was greeted with applause.

Salutatorian Tiffany Ip began with some humor in her speech titled, “Footprints.” But her message was just as important.

“From the squirrel fire freshman year to the chemical spill last year, we’ve definitely left our mark on this school’s history. And with seven snow days this year, it certainly felt as if our beloved school never wanted to let us go. But alas, graduation has arrived and it seems appropriate that we pause and reflect,” she said.

Ip spoke about how she and fellow classmates have grown so much over four short years at Absegami High School as has the impression they have all left on each other.

“We have all made some sort of impact on each other, which I like to think of as our own personal footprint,” Ip said. “In our lives, we’ve met the best people who have inspired us to reach for our goals and encouraged us to become better people or we may have met people who challenged us to approach things different than we have done in the past. Just like these individuals have made an impact on you, you have made an impact on others.”

Then Ip asked the Class of 2014 to consider how each and every one of the students influenced and changed other people along the way.

“Like Maya Angelou once said, ‘I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’"

This year, unlike the prior two years when a tornado took over the football field in 2012 and a storm dampened the 2013 graduation, the skies were clear with low humidity. The temperature hovered around 80.

Parents and friends packed the bleachers. Some held bright balloons, bouquets and signs congratulating their special graduate. Then there were cheers and whistles, and even noise makers to usher in the major achievement of the 408-member graduating class. The graduation was postponed from Thursday, June 19, due to an unfavorable weather forecast. And waiting one day sure made the difference to the Bencivenga family.

“It just couldn't be more perfect,” Ben Bencivenga, of Galloway, said of not only the weather, but the special night, as he waited for his 18-year-old son Luke to enter the football field with the other graduates.

“Like any parent, you are extremely proud of your child's accomplishments. Luke put his mind to it. He worked hard, had an idea and pursued it,” Bencivenga said of his son's decision to get his degree in exercise science.

Luke's mother Carmela Bencivenga and sisters Tara, 23, and Krista, 21, both Bencivenga's as well, couldn't be happier.

“I'm very proud of Luke. He is a great kid and he's worked hard. I know good things will come his way,” Carmela said.

After all of the names were called and each graduate took their diploma, the Class of 2014 turned to the bleachers to wave at their loved ones, which was met by applause and cheers. They then recited the Gami cheer, tossed their caps into the air, and went to their families. They hugged, laughed and some did a little dance.

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