UNION, NJ — Under a clear summer sky, hundreds of family members and friends lined up to enter the athletic field at Union High School on June 20, ready to cheer on the graduating Class of 2023.
Prior to the ceremony, Oluwadarasimi Ajisafe, 17, shared, “I’m very happy, excited and can’t wait to start a new chapter.” The student will be attending St. Peter’s University and aspires to have a career in nursing. Benjamin Duveleson, 18, will be attending Princeton to study economics and political science.
Oluwadarasimi and Duveleson are just two of the 537 students who participated in the 2023 graduation ceremony, which began with an opening song, “Pomp and Circumstance” followed by a salute to the flag, then the Union High School choir singing the national anthem.
Grace Nigro, Class of 2023 salutatorian, said she was glad her senior year ended with “some normalcy,” following the pandemic.
Valedictorian Misael Rosero began his speech with, “What a journey. What a roller coaster.” He continued to speak about encouragement he received from his family and friends, and how appreciative he is for everyone to be together. “I stand here, not because of my talents, but my determination. What’s stopping me from achieving my dreams? What is your dream?”
Marissa McKenzie, president of the Board of Education, congratulated the students on a “future filled with possibilities.”
Althea Bossard, interim principal, proudly announced, “Congratulations Class of 2023. Clap for yourselves, please!”
After a round of applause, she continued, “You are definitely one of a kind. I wish you the best of luck in everything you set out to do. You have the choice to do great and wonderful things. You’re all capable.”
The keynote speaker of the evening was Nija Charles, a 2015 graduate of Union High School. The 25-year-old is an American singer-songwriter and record producer. She has written songs for Ariana Grande, Cardi B, Chris Brown and Beyonce. She was nominated for the first-ever Grammy Award for Songwriter of the Year at the 65th annual Grammy Awards for her work on releases by Beyonce, Summer Walker, City Girls, Lil Durk, Anitta, Meek Mill, Megan Thee Stallion and Kehlani. She was also on Forbes 30 Under 30.
Charles told the crowd, “I am filled with joy and pride. You’re having one great graduation. I was sitting in that same seat, surrounded by friends and family. You all follow your own path with no limits to what you can do. You have the world in the palm of your hands. It’s time to spread your wings. I urge you to embrace the unknown, embrace the diversity, embrace failures and setbacks. Carve your own path. Chase your dreams relentlessly. Leave a lasting legacy. Uplift others. Become a beacon of hope. Union will always be a part of you. Spread your wings. Chase your dreams. Congratulations, Class of 2023!”
Before the awarding of the diplomas, Superintendent Scott Taylor said, “This class is, now and forever, graduates of Union High School.”
To learn more about Union High School, visit: https://uhs.twpunionschools.org/.
Photos by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta