On June 25, Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf held a commencement ceremony for 11 proud graduates, all of whom have bright futures ahead of them. Five will attend college at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), one of several schools available at Rochester Institute of Technology. The others will work in various fields, ready for rewarding experiences after high school. Either way, all are looking forward to unlimited opportunities and new adventures.
Family, friends and staff members, as well as Nassau County Legislator Diane Yatauro, Town of Oyster Bay Councilwoman Elizabeth Faughnan, Mill Neck Mayor Theodore B. Smith, Jr. and New York State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, joined together for the celebration.
The event began with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. After offering an invocation, Dr. Mark R. Prowatzke, Executive Director of the Mill Neck Family of Organizations, greeted guests with a meaningful welcome speech. Remembering all the special people who have helped pave the way to graduation, Dr. Prowatzke said, “This important day is finally here! Just think of all the people who have been with you all these years – mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, teachers, therapists and coaches. As people say/sign congratulations today, be sure to stop and thank them for being with you, and for celebrating with you for many, many days – not just today.”
Next, the Class of 2009 valedictorian, Amanda Sue Geffen, shared her experiences at Mill Neck Manor. “Now is the time for my classmates and me to follow a rainbow and start a new tomorrow and a new chapter of our lives after Mill Neck! Since I was very little, I was looking forward to going to school every morning. I’ve learned to develop leadership, loyalty, and enthusiasm. Mill Neck has provided me with a great education and helped me to prepare to move on and to take on whatever challenge comes next in my life. My classmates and I are proud of our accomplishments, regret our failures and anticipate the future with both fear and hope. Congratulations to the Class of 2009!”
Class of 1980 Alumnus, Clifford W. Geffen, who is the Vice President of the Mill Neck Manor Board of Trustees and Amanda Geffen’s uncle, also spoke to guests. Advising the graduates to accept inevitable change, he said, “Don’t say you can’t or you won’t. Be lifelong learners – never stop your quest for knowledge. Good luck to all of you!”
Several students then received scholarships and awards, presented by various members of the Mill Neck administration. In addition, Melvin W. Luebke Memorial Scholarship renewals were distributed by Assistant Superintendent Francine Atlas Bogdanoff, who said, “I hope you think back on your days at Mill Neck and that you have good memories. Cherish these moments.”
Recipients of the renewal scholarships, offered to students for furthering and continuing their education, were alumni Elizabeth Povilauskas, Rhoxanne Cajuelan, Ashley Ferrante, Frances Sorrentino, Reyna Quijada and David Torrance, who are currently attending NTID; Michael Grey, a student at LaGuardia Community College and Jeong Woo Kim, who attends the School of Visual Arts. In addition, Senator Carl Marcellino’s office also sent citations for all graduates.
“I want to thank all of my teachers, assistants, speech therapists, counselor, coaches and my boss [Chef Amy VanTassell in the school kitchen] for making my years at Mill Neck wonderful,” shared graduate Edward Garcia after the scholarships and awards presentation. “I would also like to thank my mom and dad for their support and love. Good luck to all the graduates. Remember if you always try your best and never give up, you will be successful. Congratulations!”
Following Garcia’s speech, the class of 2009 graduates received their diplomas from Dr. Prowatzke, Principal Kathleen Kerzner and Mill Neck Manor Board of Trustees President Rudolph H. Auslander. The ceremony ended with a motivational parting speech from Kerzner and a benediction from Dr. Prowatzke. Citing remarkable examples of the graduates’ willingness to persevere, Kerzner said, “Thanks to each of you, this school has a new sense of community. You’ve shared with us the joy of winning and the pain and acceptance of losing. You have shown us how to accept life’s most difficult challenges. Congratulations – you made it!”
The 2009 Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf Graduates:
Looking forward to graduation all year long, Teary couldn’t wait to say “I made it!” Her dreams came true on June 25, when she received her diploma along with 10 other classmates. The proud graduate said, “I’ve been trying my best for a long time!” Teary plans to work in retail after high school, and has already sent out resumes to different businesses. In school, she learned a number of noteworthy lessons, but projects promoting support among team members are among the most memorable. An avid photographer, Teary may pursue the field and hopes to continuing photographing her favorite subjects.
Michael Gerard Brotosky
Sports star Michael Brotosky was recently applauded for showing tremendous sportsmanship throughout the 2008/09 school year. Named “Most Valuable Player, he was recognized for his contributions to both the boys’ basketball and soccer teams. An integral member of the broadcasting class, Michael worked diligently to produce a variety of school-based news segments and movies each week. For the past few years, he has also worked as a construction apprentice. As a college-bound student, Michael received the Melvin W. Luebke Memorial Scholarship and will attend NTID in the fall, where he hopes to major in computers and drafting.
Anthony Patrick Cusker
Through Mill Neck Manor’s work-study program, Anthony regularly participated in volunteer opportunities on and off campus. To date, the outgoing graduate has worked at the school store and at the offices of “Ride for Life” at Stony Brook University Health Science Center. It was the skills Anthony mastered at these sites that helped him obtain his most recent job at the Town of Oyster Bay Print Shop, where he collated paper, operated the folding machine and handled administrative tasks. Because of his outstanding work efforts, Anthony received the Mill Neck Services Award for his perseverance, concern for others and determination to succeed, and will soon participate in their adult program.
Erin Miguel Fernandez
Notorious for his commendable performance as Barack Obama in a mock debate at school, Erin has a celebrated flair for drama on campus. This school year, he participated in the Academic Bowl, a sought-after educational competition for Deaf and hard of hearing students. Encouraged by staff to join because of his exceptional academic skills, the popular student was also a key member of the boys’ varsity basketball team and an officer of the Jr. National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Erin received the Melvin W. Luebke Memorial Scholarship and will attend NTID in the fall, where he plans to major in art. He also received the Nassau Educators Federal Credit Union Scholarship for his dedication to the community and academic excellence.
Carla Betsy Garcia
Teacher, and President of the Mill Neck Manor Education Association (MNMEA) Gabrielle Barry, recalls how Carla was once an extremely bashful student, but the lively graduate overcame her shyness to become a leader in a number of areas. The hardworking graduate recently worked in a salon, where she discovered a love for cosmetology, a field she plans to begin pursuing in a BOCES program. Through the years at Mill Neck, Carla was a member of the cheerleading and basketball teams and participated in drama and cooking classes. Carla received the MNMEA scholarship for her admirable leadership skills.
Edward Hernan Garcia
An accomplished chef-in-training, Edward graduated from an integrated Culinary Arts program offered at Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf last year, where he learned about the rules of the kitchen, discipline, kitchen sanitation and skill training, and mastered diverse recipes and baking techniques. At the culinary graduation, Edward was named the “Most Professional Chef” of the group. Since then, he has worked in the school kitchen, where he assisted Chef Amy VanTassell with food preparation and deliveries. Before discovering a love of cooking, Edward worked in various employment opportunities off campus, experiences that gave him the confidence to pursue a future job at a favorite restaurant. Because of his accomplishments, Edward received the Brian Sosnowski Memorial Award, traditionally given to the most responsible worker.
Amanda Sue Geffen
Full of school spirit, the valedictorian participated in the Academic Bowl for three years in a row, helping her team this past April to place fifth out of 16 teams. Through the years at Mill Neck Manor, Amanda was an award winning member of the girls’ varsity basketball and volleyball teams and was an officer of the Jr. NAD. She also attended a Youth Leadership Camp over the past two summers. Amanda will attend NTID in the fall, where she plans to major in drafting and design, and hopes to one day have a leadership role in the Deaf community. She received the Mill Neck Manor Alumni Association Eunice P. Weidner Memorial Scholarship for academic skills; the Nassau Educators Federal Credit Union Scholarship for service to the community through fundraising, pride and diversity-based activities; the Maryse Chrispin Scholarship offered through Friends of Montfort, Inc. for her leadership skills; the Empire State Association of the Deaf award for her advocacy efforts; the Melvin W. Luebke Memorial Scholarship for continuing her education and a local high school award.
Mohammad Yahya Hussam
A gifted artist, Yahya counts lessons in the Mill Neck Manor Fine Arts class and years on the school basketball team as his favorite activities. The hardworking graduate plans to major in art at NTID this fall, where he says he hopes to “focus on schoolwork, increase my knowledge and develop more skills.” At the commencement ceremony, Yahya received the Melvin W. Luebke Memorial Scholarship for continuing his education.
Jeffrey Antonio McGregor
Known for his amusing antics in the Mill Neck Manor broadcasting class, Jeffrey recently won a “Favorite Performer” award for his hysterical weekly weather reports. A sports enthusiast, he was also named “Most Outstanding Athlete 2008/09.” Attending Mill Neck Manor since he was five years old, Jeffrey has fond memories of lasting friendships, learning leadership skills and becoming independent. With plans to pursue a degree in engineering at NTID, Jeffrey received the Melvin W. Luebke Memorial Scholarship, as well as the New York State Lottery Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship. “Jeffrey was once a quiet boy who kept to himself, but he has since morphed into an enthusiastic young man who became an active member of our leadership class,” shared Counselor Noelle Skidmore. “We’re so proud to say he’s come a long way!”
The “fashionista” knows a thing or two about the latest styles, always sporting a well-planned, beautifully accessorized outfit. Vannina plans to work in a related industry in the near future, but says she will keep her options open for now. “I want to get a good job, explore life after high school with new experiences, be more independent and travel,” she said. Involved in sports, multiple fundraisers and other activities through the years, Vannina received the James McCarthy Memorial Award for outstanding community service and educating the public about empathy, diversity and pride.
Judith Mercedes Rodriguez
A caring student with a big heart, Judith hopes to pursue a career in assisting the elderly. “I spend a lot of time with my grandmother, so I realized I want to help people. I will do that this year and then I plan to attend Nassau Community College,” she explained. Although Judith is a loving mother of a one year old son, she is proud that she didn’t give up on her education while caring for him. “I want to do what’s best, because I want him to have a good life,” she said. A sports fan and member of the girls’ basketball team, Judith has swum competitively since she was 12 years old and once hoped to become an Olympian. Excited to now fulfill other goals, Judith received the Marcia Lynn Petering Award, typically given for school spirit and pursuing one’s dreams.
Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf is part of the Mill Neck Family of Organizations, a not-for-profit group dedicated to serving Deaf and hard of hearing individuals through educational, vocational and spiritual programs and services. For more information about any of its programs, please call 516-922-4100 or visit http://www.millneck.org.