For the first time in 25 years, the Byram Hills High School prom was held on land and for the first time in school history, the community was invited to attend the pre-prom event with all of the high school students. Students and parents chatted, mingled, took photos and were grateful to share in the occasion. Thanks to the PTSA and Grade Activity Board, students arrived to a balloon arch, a red carpet, a step and repeat, snacks and great music.
The school administration, the Senior Grade Activity Board and the PTSA began their plan to update the prom over a year ago to make the experience more inclusive for students, safer, and with more community involvement.
Hundreds of fashionable couples walked the red carpet and were photographed, both inside and out of the high school they have called home for the past four years. For the students and their families, this was a most special and memorable evening.
With excitement in the air, members of the Class of 2019 arrived on the graduation stage to the traditional melody of “Pomp and Circumstance,” heard inspiring speeches packed with words of wisdom, and finally crossed the stage as graduates.
Byram Hills High School’s 51st Commencement Ceremony was held on June 18th at The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College, where seniors said goodbye to high school life and welcomed the start of their next chapter.
Principal Christopher Walsh welcomed the graduates, their relatives and friends and the Byram Hills faculty by declaring that all of the graduating seniors have fulfilled the mission of the District. “I am very happy to report that on stage tonight we have assembled 213 productive and responsible citizens ready to face the world and all of the challenges that come with it.”
Salutatorian Emma Lucchino questioned how, at age 18, high school graduates are supposed to have their lives all figured out. “It’s exciting and freeing to not know what’s going to happen,” she said. “Now is our time to experience new things, take chances and find our own paths.”
“This is one of the few times when not knowing could be seen as a good thing,” she continued. “That’s why we have a high school graduation, to declare that none of us know what we’re doing, and that’s something worth celebrating.”
Valedictorian Alan Chang told the story of himself as a 16-year-old boy who thought he could solve his problems by reaching a goal one summer. He discovered that it was finding the confidence to be himself that led to happiness.
"We are all capable of such great change, yet sometimes we’re too hung up on trying to change our self rather than change the world,” he said. “In reality, every single one of us is, and should stay, their own person.”
In the principal’s address, Mr. Walsh recalled the Oscar-winning documentary, “Free Solo.” It’s the gripping story of renowned rock climber Alex Honnold’s “free solo” climb of El Capitan, an ascent up the 3,000-foot, vertical rock face in Yosemite National Park he made alone and without a rope or other safety gear.
Mr. Walsh believed that Mr. Honnold was lucky to find his life’s purpose at a young age, and he urged the graduates to spread their wings in search of their own.
“My hope today is that each of them will find a purpose, which they will pursue with as much passion as Alex Honnold did, and that those of us in their lives have the courage to support that pursuit,” Mr. Walsh said. “Graduates, what you’ve earned here today is the opportunity to become what you have the potential to be. That can only happen if you’re willing to take those risks and remain vulnerable in life.”
Superintendent Dr. Jen Lamia reminded the graduates that she had seen most of them learn, struggle and bloom since they were 5-years-old. “Through the years, you have defined the Byram Hills student,” she said. “You are brilliant, committed and independent. How can you use these attributes in the next chapter in your lives?”
“Remember that your motivation to be who you will be is within you and must be true to you,” she said. “That is what you have shown us thus far. Seniors, thank you for the way you have defined yourselves and for the lessons you’ve taught all of us about brilliance, commitment and independence.”
Other highlights included the presentation of the senior class gift, the concert choir’s performance of “A Million Dreams,” the presentation of the diplomas and the cap toss.
A sweet tradition has begun at Byram Hills High School: the Senior Walk.
The Class of 2019 set off on the first Senior Walk after graduation rehearsal on June 12, as the seniors promenaded through the hallways where they once walked as middle school and elementary school students.
As they moved through H.C. Crittenden Middle School, Wampus Elementary School and Coman Hill Elementary School, they glimpsed their past just days before graduation and the start of their next chapter. So many memories. Such small lockers, and even smaller students.
The event gave the seniors a way to come together as a class and say goodbye to the District while inspiring younger students. The grade school students and their teachers applauded and waved to the big kids and many seniors stooped down to high-five the younger children who sat on the floor outside their classrooms.
Spontaneous reunions broke out in each school between teachers and their former students, with many hearty hugs and handshakes and proud words of congratulations.
The seniors loved the fun, nostalgia-filled walk down memory lane and seeing teachers they had not seen for years, said Zach Cogan, a senior who helped organize the event.
“It’s a nice way to end everything and say goodbye to our school,” he said. “I liked being part of this group.”
“The senior class leaves behind this legacy of unity of our school and a good way to say goodbye to Byram Hills,” he added.
Byram Hills High School Principal Christopher Walsh was thrilled that the Class of 2019 was excited to take the first-ever Senior Walk.
“I love the way it ties together the mission of the District,” he said. “Our graduating seniors really do fulfill that mission. It’s important for everybody in the community to really understand that they play an important role in helping them achieve that mission.”
“It’s also important for all of our graduating seniors to acknowledge and show gratitude to all of those people who helped them get to this point,” he added. “That includes all of their former teachers, staff members, custodians, secretaries. It really does take a village to get them there.”
At Coman Hill, Elise Feder, a kindergarten teacher who has worked in Byram Hills for 30 years, loved seeing the halls filled with students who “take up much more vertical space than our little ones.”
“I saw faces that had changed and yet were the same,” she said. “We could watch recognition and joy spread across the high schoolers’ faces as memories came rushing back.”
Susan Tyrrell, a first grade teacher who has worked in the District for 25 years, said she could feel the students’ joy and excitement as they came past her in the hall.
“It was a good feeling to see the seniors tour the school where their lives in Byram Hills begin,” she said. “I appreciated the seniors who sought me out in the hallway, letting me know my classroom was once home to them.”
Senior Ellen Amico said the event was a great way for students to reflect on their time at Byram Hills.
“Seeing some of my old teachers for likely the last time and all the students that are there now was so fun!” she said. “I think it’ll be a cherished tradition in the future.”
Byram Hills High School is pleased to announce the top-ranked students from the Class of 2019: Alan Chang is this year’s valedictorian and Emma Lucchino is the salutatorian.
The students, who have the highest weighted grade point averages, will be recognized at this year’s commencement on June 18.
“Congratulations to Alan and Emma on earning valedictorian and salutatorian honors,” Principal Christopher Walsh said. “It is an incredible achievement and the faculty and staff are very proud of their hard work and dedication during their four years with us. These achievements have earned them the honor of addressing their classmates at Byram Hills High School's 51st Commencement Ceremony. They join a distinguished list of valedictorians and salutatorians who have come before them.”
Alan, 18, is headed to the University of Pennsylvania, where he will study in the Vagelos Life Sciences & Management program in pursuit of a dual degree in science and business. During his four years at Byram Hills, Alan, a STEAM-focused student, was deeply involved in school life while earning wide national recognition for his academic achievements.
Alan was a semifinalist in the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, a finalist in the National Merit Scholarship competition and a National AP Scholar. He is a member of the Byram Hills chapter of the Cum Laude Society, an honor for the top 10 percent of the class. A student in the three-year Dr. Robert Pavlica Authentic Science Research Program at Byram Hills, Alan was a semifinalist in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search and his research was published in the scientific journal Cell Systems.
As a junior, Alan won the Harvard Prize Book and the Columbia University Book awards. This year, he won the Byram Hills mathematics award for outstanding senior.
He also was co-president of the Interact Club, a community service group; co-captain of the Math Team; co-president of Science Olympiad; co-captain of Mock Trial; secretary of eNable, a community service club; captain of the Academic Challenge team and he was co-captain of the swim team junior and senior years and earned All-League distinction as a senior. Alan is an accomplished pianist, violinist and Chinese calligrapher.
Becoming the valedictorian felt like a reward for all of his years of hard work, and a validation of the effort he put into his studies.
“It’s humbling, but yet it’s something I’m very proud of,” Alan said. “I was happy and proud that all of the long nights and hours of studying was worth it at the end.”
Alan said the key to his academic success at Byram Hills was a combination of determination and a strong work ethic, while always trying to work to his full potential and stay on top of his studies. “It’s setting a goal for myself and holding myself to the goal that I set, even when it seemed intimidating and hard,” he said. “My central mantra was, be the best me I can be, and to not do less than what I think I’m capable of.”
He said Byram Hills has prepared him well for life after high school, especially by teaching him skills that are not traditionally covered in the classroom. As a science research student, he learned to send professional emails and present his research in public.
“The teachers here are phenomenal,” he said. “They are excellent at explaining complicated concepts and they’re always open to helping me, whether it’s at lunch, before school or after school. In addition to academics, they give worldly and life advice. They provide support outside of the class and they’ve taught me a lot of real world skills. Byram Hills has done a great job in implicitly preparing a proper work ethic and a proper college mindset.”
Alan urged students coming up behind him at Byram Hills to go after what they want, but also to remember the other things in life, like extracurricular activities and friends, that matter.
“Do the things that you like and set your goals and hold yourself to those goals and you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve,” he said. “Challenge yourself, but keep in mind everything else that is important.”
The most important lesson he learned in high school is to be open-minded when it comes to finding solutions to problems or obstacles, and to always keep pushing forward, even after a setback.
“It’s the importance of moving on and learning from mistakes and to keep going and not to be held down by any problems you’re dealing with because that only wastes time and takes away from your future endeavors,” he said.
Emma, 17, plans to attend Vanderbilt University in the fall, and is leaning toward a major in a STEAM field.
Emma was a National Merit semifinalist and is a member of the Byram Hills Cum Laude Society and the World Language Honor Society. A student in the science research program, she placed third as a poster presenter at the Upstate New York Junior Science and Humanities Symposium and third at the New York State Science and Engineering Fair.
As a junior, she won the University of Pennsylvania Book award, and this year, she won an award for outstanding senior English students at Byram Hills and the award for general excellence in French. She was co-president of the Second Grade Club, a member of the Autism Speaks Club and a volunteer at the Mount Kisco Child Care Center. She played field hockey at Byram Hills for all four years, and was also a chemistry teaching assistant senior year.
Emma was excited to learn she had been named salutatorian.
“I feel like it’s rewarding after working really hard for the past four years of high school to have this honor,” she said. “It represents everything I’ve been through. I don’t think that every class I took in high school was easy, that every grade I got, that I earned it easily. There were definitely times when I was frustrated, so it reminds me of how I persevered through that and still was able to earn this honor.”
She credited being organized and having good time management skills with helping her succeed. “It’s one thing to be able to perform well on a test,” she said, “but you always have to be thinking ahead and you have to plan your time well.”
Emma urged younger students to never give up as they move through high school.
“Keep trying because there are definitely times when the work will get hard or it will be frustrating, especially now with finals and APs, but if you keep trying and push through, it will be rewarding at the end,” she said.
Emma summed up the most important thing she learned at Byram Hills this way: “Instead of just learning facts in high school, I learned how to think.”
“You learn to analyze information and interpret it for yourself,” Emma said. “Learning one fact will only apply to that one unit or class, but if you learn how to think, you can apply it to all subjects and life beyond.”
“I definitely have a really good foundation for what I’m going to learn in college.”
If you are looking for an engaging summer read, consider picking up Frank Bruni’s “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.”
The book is the subject of the first Byram Hills Community Book Read, and will be discussed at the Byram Hills High School library on October 17 at 6 p.m. The event is open to the entire Byram Hills school community, including parents, students, teachers and community members.
The book talk, led by the Byram Hills Challenge Success Steering Committee, will engage the community in a productive and respectful discussion about the college application process.
“We hope to broaden the community’s understanding of the college application process and the stress our students are often under,” Principal Christopher Walsh said.
The book appears on the independent reading list for Byram Hills students. “We are hoping many of them will read it, especially our incoming 11th graders as they really start to ramp up the college admissions process,” Mr. Walsh said.
Byram Hills High School has been working with the nonprofit Challenge Success to help redefine what it means to be a successful student and to help bring more balance to the college admissions process.
In addition to the October book read, future discussions are planned for January and April.