Newburgh Free Academy honors the Class of 2024

By Alberto Gilman
Posted 7/3/24

The 159th Newburgh Free Academy Commencement ceremony celebrated more than 600 graduates on Tuesday, June 25. The event included words of reflection, a special presentation by paratroopers from West …

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Newburgh Free Academy honors the Class of 2024


The 159th Newburgh Free Academy Commencement ceremony celebrated more than 600 graduates on Tuesday, June 25. The event included words of reflection, a special presentation by paratroopers from West Point, and the conferring of diplomas.

Family, friends, and supporters gathered at NFA’s Academy Field, setting up seating areas and waiting patiently. Around 5 p.m., cadets from the NFA Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps led the procession, followed by drummers from the school to South Street.

Graduates, board of education members, faculty, and staff marched from Newburgh Free Academy to South Street, entering Academy Field to applause and cheers. The NFA Madrigals performed the National Anthem and the alma mater song, “Yellow and the Blue,” led by Director TJ Swetz.

NFA Co-Principal Susan Valentino was the first speaker, reflecting on her time as a student and encouraging the graduates. “Today, we celebrate a momentous occasion. As co-principal and a proud alumna of Newburgh Free Academy, it fills my heart with immense joy to stand here before you,” Valentino said. “Today marks a significant milestone in your lives, a day of celebration and reflection, acknowledging your 13 years of hard work, dedication, and resilience.”

NFA Co-Principal Matteo Doddo followed with his own comments. “At every graduation, we gather as a community to celebrate our students. We are filled with excitement, happiness, pride, and hope,” Doddo said. “You, the Class of 2024, have created many memories for all of us.”

A special surprise followed Doddo’s comments: a demonstration of parachute operations over NFA by the 2nd Aviation Detachment and West Point Parachute Team. A helicopter flew overhead, and one by one, paratroopers descended onto the field. The team captain handed Superintendent Jackielyn Manning Campbell an official envelope with the graduation confirmation she would later read.

“Each year, we try to add a memorable element to the commencement ceremony as a gift to the graduating class and their families from our high school community,” Doddo said. “This year’s gift honors the core value of service and reminds us how we can serve each other and our communities.”

The senior NFA Madrigals performed “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, followed by words from Salutatorian Anakin Landolfa. He reflected on his accomplishments made possible by his supporters and encouraged graduates to take risks and not doubt themselves. “Our first high school years were abnormal, but during the pandemic, I discovered a quote by the late Stephen Hawking: ‘Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious,’” Landolfa said.

Valedictorian Sarah Hyun thanked her parents, sisters, family, friends, and teachers. She mentioned Landolfa as both a friend and academic rival and took a selfie with her classmates. “As we gather here, it may be difficult to comprehend that this is the last moment we’ll all be together. Although we are eager to graduate and embark on the next chapters of our lives, I’m sure the day will come when we look back fondly on our school years,” Hyun said. “As Taylor Swift once said, ‘You’re on your own, kid.’”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jackielyn Manning Campbell recognized guest Assemblyman Chris Eachus, Mayor Torrance Harvey, and extended congratulations from other elected officials. “This celebratory event is one of my favorite nights of the year. Our stands are filled with students, families, friends, faculty, staff, and alumni here to celebrate our graduates,” Manning Campbell said. “We know our scholars rely on your support to reach this pivotal moment.”

“To our graduates, I know how hard you’ve worked to get here. The hard work never really stops. It is important to appreciate times like these,” Manning Campbell continued. “You join our extended Goldback nation filled with successful alumni. When you receive congratulations on your latest achievement, proudly tell people you are a Newburgh Free Academy Goldback.”

Manning Campbell then took the envelope and conferred the official certification of the graduates, allowing them to receive their diplomas. Graduates made their way to the stage, received their diplomas, and posed for photos. Once all diplomas were distributed, tassels were turned, caps flew, and cheers erupted. Graduates collected their belongings and processed through a final line of teachers and staff, dispersing onto South Street under the late afternoon sunset.