Chester's graduating class sets district record

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    CHESTER-Chester Academy's Class of 2005 set a district record: the highest percentage of graduating students to receive Regents diplomas. Out of 65 graduating seniors, 49 received a Regents diploma, for a district record of 75 percent. Helping the Class celebrate its success was Dr. Paul Quinn, an accomplished graduate of Chester High School's Class of 1992. He was guest speaker at the commencement ceremony last Friday evening. Dr. Quinn is a physics professor at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and a director of the New Jersey Governor's School, affiliated with Drew University, which serves the top 100 senior high school students in New Jersey. He spoke about his love of music, which was nurtured at Chester High School. "I spent countless hours with Mr. Venable in the band room playing various types of music," he said. "Because of Mr. Venable I was able to find my niche playing the tenor saxophone, which I still do today in church or once in a while at open mike night in a club downtown. I also used it in grad school to make money." Dr. Quinn said when he was younger he wanted to get rich. "My goal was to make as much money as possible," he said. But he soon learned there are more important things in life. "As I went through graduate school, my feelings toward money changed, leading me to become a professor," he said. "Money is not as important as your interaction with those around you." And he added, "By the way, a career doesn't always mean college-bound. I have a brother, Joseph, who never completed college, but works as an electrician down in the manholes in the Bronx. His place in life is just as important, if not more so, than mine. I think that there's this stigma in today's society, that college is the only way to be successful and I just don't think that that's true." He compared leaving Chester with being a fish in a little pond to a fish in an ocean, which will seem overwhelming. But he urged graduates not to quit. "You can do it," he said. "Keep that in your minds." He gave recognition to two teachers "who were extremely special to me...Mr. Duval and Mr. Vallet." The Rudolph Vallet Memorial Science Scholarship, a new award, was presented by Vallet's son, John Paul Vallet, to Shaigan Iqbal. The $2,500 scholarship is for a graduate going on to pursue a degree in biology. Vallet taught in Chester for 37 years before retiring in 2000. "When he died of leukemia this past October, I along with my family, decided to establish this scholarship as our way to honor his memory and his many years of dedicated teaching here at Chester High School," John Paul said. "He was a consummate teacher and he loved conveying his knowledge to his students." At the request of students, a new special award, the Chester Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award, recognized 1st Lt. Louis Allen, a 1988 Chester High School graduate who was killed in Iraq on June 8 while on active duty. Board of Education President Michael Monroe and senior class president John Pasichnyk made the presentation. The award was to start next year, but students asked the date to be moved up to honor 1st Lt. Allen. "The award is for Lifetime Achievement, not only in academics, but also in leadership, community service, service to country," Monroe said. "This individual spent his lifetime not only affecting kids in Chester, he went on to teaching other children in the Tuxedo school district. He was a leader of men. He leaves behind a family." There will be a permanent wall in the school district with a biography and photo of each year's recipient. Allen's family was not present at the graduation ceremony but called to express thanks for the award. Valedictorian Ashley Patane's message was about transition — from preschool to the threshold her class is now on. "We really have come a long way," she said. "First, we were learning to read with Ms. Traina and in the blink of an eye we're reading Chaucer with Miss Lange." Salutatorian Shaigan Iqbal spoke on the benefits of growing up in a small town. "We love to live in such a small town to go to such a small school," he said. "In Chester Academy I knew almost every kid in every grade." Superintendent of Schools Judy Waligory noted that two students out of the 49 earning a Regents diploma earned it with honors. Eleven students, or 17 percent, earned an Advanced Regents diploma, and seven more students or 11 percent of the total earned an Advanced Regents Diploma with Honors — she said — "not an easy thing to do."