NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—279 high school seniors were honored last night at the New Brunswick High School's 148 Commencement ceremony.

The event was attended by family and friends, school and city officials, and the high school's faculty and staff, marching band, chorus, and Junior Reserve Office Training Corps (JROTC).

The ceremony served also as a farewell to outgoing New Brunswick Superintendent Richard Kaplan, who upon his retirement in July, will be replaced by former Paterson school official Aubrey Johnson. 

"Superintendent Kaplan, after 40 years as an educator: mission accomplished," Mayor James Cahill said to a teary-eyed Kaplan.  

In his farewell address, Kaplan practiced a "graduating tradition" by first asking all students going to two or four year colleges to stand up, followed by students entering the military, and finally those entering the work force.  

Over half the graduating class stood up and indicated they would be going on to higher education, almost a dozen indicated that they would enter the armed forces, and only one stood up and indicated they would be entering the work force after high school.

"This is not good," Kaplan remarked, setting up a joke.  "How I am going to collect social security if nobody goes to work? So I guess our educational system did very well."

Valedictorian Justin Aguado addressed the graduating class, while Kavindi P. Karunaratne addressed the class as the Salutatorian. 

Aguado, who boasted a 4.192 grade point average, has been active with local organizations such as the Rutgers Future Scholars, Peer Leadership, and the National Honor Society, and participated in the NBHS Blood Drive. 

Karunaratne earned a 4.096 GPA, and served as the President of the NBHS National Honor Society Chapter and the student liaison to the New Brunswick Board of Education.  She was also the recipient of scholarships such as the Governor's Urban Scholar's Aid and the Rutgers Early College Humanities Program.

Both will be attending Rutgers New Brunswick in September.

Karunaratne described many of the struggles she faced as a Sri Lankan immigrant in the United States, adding that her father had to work night shifts for many years to support the family. 

"All I wanted was a chance to see my father, so that we could be a happy family once again.  I did not even think I would get into college.  I did not expect to sit on the New Brunswick Board of Education," Karunaratne told the packed gymnasium.

"What I did expect was to fail my very first English placement exam at the Bilingual Placement Center, and be lost among affluent native English speakers."

Valedictorian Justin Aguado then took the floor. 

"I would be honest to admit that I was not all that surprised… I worked fervently all four years for this honor," Aguado told a laughing crowd. 

"But there's a stress… of presenting yourself, and the class, in front of so many people," he added. 

"Stand in my shoes for a second.  I was supposed to write a speech that will impress my peers, their parents, their grandparents, administration, teachers.  That was almost enough to deter me, but I had a great deal of support."

In addition to the 279 graduating seniors from the New Brunswick High School, an additional 43 students from the New Brunswick Health Sciences Technical High School, along with 210 students from the Adult Learning Center, celebrate their graduation this week. 

Reporter at New Brunswick Today

Award-winning, multimedia journalist with experience in digital first and print-media. Daniel has covered local, state and regional issues, and utilized photography, social media and has written in-depth articles to produce high-quality work.