As the last class to graduate from historic Flushing High School made its way up the aisles to the strains of the school’s decades-old song at the conclusion of the final commencement exercises, one teacher turned to another and sighed, “That’s it. That’s the end of Flushing.”
And just like that, it was over.
The school, which opened its doors in 1875, was destined for closure when the Panel for Educational Policy approved a proposal in April that would see a new school replace the old one in the same building on Northern Boulevard and Union Street that appears on the National Register of Historic Places. From here on, the institution will be known as the Rupert B. Thomas Academy at the Flushing Campus.
Throughout the two-hour evening ceremony, held on June 27 at Queens College, speakers made reference to the school’s closing while trying to maintain an upbeat attitude.
“Perhaps it is more an occasion of pride than sorrow,” Vacharaporn Jaroenkom said in her salutatory address, expressing her wish that as one door closes another would open. She described the school as an “entity that carries with it a spirit that can never be locked up or buried.”
She called on her fellow graduates to “live up to the expectations” of those who helped them on their journey.
Guest speaker Pedro Noguera, an urban sociologist and professor at New York University, bemoaned the school’s closing, but reminded the students that it is “not at all a reflection on you. You have not failed. The system has failed.”
Valedictorian Sun Lin called the commencement “a day of an end ... a day of a new beginning,” adding that it was “unfortunate to say this may be the last” graduating class for Flushing High School.
Lin told the audience that during his first few weeks in the school he thought of transferring elsewhere, but remaining was “one of the best decisions I made.We have truly saved the best for last,” he said, extending his arms in the direction of the class of 2012. “Flushing High School is our home. If we believe in it, it will live forever. Flushing High School — 1875 to infinity.”
Many of the teachers who attended the ceremony, which took place after the school year had officially come to an end earlier that day, will not be returning to the school in September, the result of the shakeup that required all faculty members to reapply for their existing positions.
One of them, Nicole Prusher, a social studies teacher who has spent her whole 9 1/2-year career at the school, said of the closing, “It’s devastating,” but vowed, “I’ll find another job and continue to enlighten the youth of today. I will survive this.”
Colleague Julia Tzortzatos, who has also taught social studies at the school for the past nine years, couldn’t understand how the selection process worked.
“When you find out, let me know,” she said. “I can’t believe all the people who got let go did badly on their interviews. I don’t think any of this is right to any of the teachers in any of the schools.”
Altogether, seven high schools in the borough faced similar fates.
Even the teachers who will be returning seemed dissatisfied with the turn of events. Dr. Robert Pomeranz, 63, was a gynecologist for 25 years before joining the Flushing faculty as a biology teacher in 2007. He hopes to spend the rest of his teaching career at the school, where he said only two members of his department were re-hired.
“If someone described this in a book, they’d say it’s impossible,” he said of the situation. “It’s crazy. It’s all political.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Marie Iachetta, student organization president and the graduation’s mistress of ceremonies, said, “My emotions are filled with happiness and sadness,” as the last student to receive a diploma from the fabled institution exited the stage.