Once every June for the better part of the last century, hundreds of seniors have crowded the front lawn of John Adams High School, dressed in gowns with mortarboards atop their heads. Each one left grasping a diploma — the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication.
This year, however, graduation had a much different tone. Never again would students sit on the lawn in blue and white gowns and receive diplomas from John Adams High School. When the class of 2012 walked out onto Rockaway Boulevard on Tuesday morning, the 75-year-old high school vanished into history.
John Adams was one of seven borough high schools closed by the city this year as part of a restructuring program. Next year, the school will reopen as “Future Leaders High School at John Adams Campus.” The school joins other former high schools such as Jamaica and Beach Channel in being closed and restructured under the Bloomberg administration with new names and largely new staff.
But the faces of the more than 500 graduates who walked across the makeshift stage on the school’s front steps did not read like those of a school’s last graduating class. With beaming smiles, this year’s valedictorian, Vhy Shelta Kewalder, and salutatorian Wynton Lewis addressed their fellow students to cheers and applause. Celebratory fists in the air were met with applause as the students lined up one by one to accept their diplomas, and exuberant cheers echoed through the crowd as fellow students accepted the many awards handed out to the graduates.
And for the third year, and the first under a new name, the Queens Chronicle Excellence in Journalism Award was presented by Queens Chronicle Publisher Mark Weidler. This year’s award was given to the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, Symone Simon.
Despite the celebratory atmosphere, the school’s closing was not far from the minds of those on stage on Tuesday. Principal Grace Zwillenberg, in her last year as principal, fought back tears as she officially declared John Adams seniors to have graduated and hugged a few of her students as they walked across the stage after being handed their diplomas.
She received accolades from Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway), the keynote speaker, who also told the graduating class to focus on what they love going forward.
“Do what you love,” he said. “Because when you love what you do, you’re going to be great at it.”
See separate graduation stories on the other high schools in Queens that are closing in their respective geographic divisions, here at qchron.com.