Female student in white cap and gown receiving diploma on a stage with a Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center banner as a backdrop. Several adults in black graduation gowns are behind and next to her.The Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center held a commencement ceremony for the 2023 graduating class on June 22. Excitement filled the air as this year’s graduates entered the gym in a sea of royal blue and white caps and gowns representing the Henry Viscardi School (HVS) colors. Among the many guests who attended were public officials and longtime supporters of The Viscardi Center, New York State Senators Jack Martins and Monica Martinez, New York State Assembly Member Gina Sillitti, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, and Town of North Hempstead Councilman Peter Zuckerman.

The Viscardi Center’s President & CEO, Dr. Chris Rosa addressed the graduates, “You have distinguished yourselves through your scholarship, your service to our community, your leadership, and your love of your school and each other.” Dr. Rosa noted that some will be matriculating toward associates or baccalaureate degrees at colleges and universities in the region, while others will participate in inclusive higher education through Viscardi’s partnerships with Nassau and Suffolk Community Colleges, continue their education and independently living skill develop through HVS’s RAMP program or pursue employment. “Whatever is next, you’re ready! You’ve developed the academic foundation; the independent living; the self-advocacy skills to excel at whatever comes next.”

Valedictorian Hana Music shared how supportive her classmates and the HVS faculty had been and how she found true friendships. After pointing out a strength of each of her fellow graduates, Hana defined her meaning of friendship, “Friendship is the ability to learn and grow from one another, surrounding yourself with people who make you better, people you want to emulate, and people that leave an impression on your life moving forward.” Hana is attending Stonybrook University in the fall.

Salutatorian Angela Yan will be attending Queens College to study psychology and shared, “Sometimes having a disability is like riding a rollercoaster, lots of ups, downs, twists, and turns … I have Spastic Cerebral Palsy which has impacted my life and function in many ways … Although my disability affects me a lot physically, I do not let my disability, or those physical limitations, define who I am. I use them as lessons to overcome and tap into my strengths.” Angela also recalled the impact the COVID pandemic had on their academic and social emotional learning. “We learned about our strengths and weaknesses. I discovered that I am good with technology, that I will persevere, and in the end that I am worthy of going to college.”

This year’s commencement speaker was Alex Elegudin, an accessibility professional, attorney, disability advocate and co-founder of Wheeling Forward, an organization which helps persons with disabilities like himself get the necessary support and resources they need to lead active lives. A former Accessibility Program Manager at the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, he was responsible for a variety of path-breaking initiatives to increase the accessibility of New York’s taxi industry. Alex imparted a poignant message to the graduating class and audience about seizing opportunities as they are presented throughout life.

HVS graduates will also be making their mark this upcoming fall on the campuses of LaGuardia Community College, New York Institute of Technology, Hostos Community College, and Hofstra University.

The Viscardi Center, a network of non-profit organizations based in Albertson, NY, provides a lifespan of services that educate, employ, and empower people with disabilities. Its programs and services include Pre-K through High School education (to age 21), school-to-work transition services, vocational training and job placement, digital accessibility services, entrepreneurship, veteran employment, and workforce diversification assistance to children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities and businesses.