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Troubled Washington Irving HS sends its graduates off in style

The 89-year-old nave of Riverside Church reverberated with Bulldog spirit on Monday, as Manhattan’s Washington Irving High School held its graduation exercises.

The graduates, who filled the vast space with a unified toss of their caps at the ceremony’s conclusion, represented just a fraction of the students who started at Washington Irving four years ago. While graduation data for this year’s class is not yet available, last year Washington Irving’s 4-year graduation rate was just 55 percent, which was an increase from 2009, when its rate was the lowest in the city among traditional high schools. The city has dramatically reduced the school’s size in recent years in an effort to turn performance around.

But the school’s struggles barely registered at graduation, where a handful of top students were recognized for their achievements.

Salutatorian Randy Singh talked about the importance of communication, recounting his own struggles with public speaking. “Look at me now, dad,” he said, to loud applause.

Valedictorian Sobeida Peralta, who came to the United States in 2005 at the age of 15 and learned English with the help of a bilingual dictionary, spoke about the importance of perseverance. Peralta made headlines last year when she was named as one of two city athletes to receive an ESPN Rise Award, for her achievements as a volleyball player. She is heading to Northwestern University, with a scholarship supplied by the Gates Foundation.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott was slated as the opening speaker, but he asked for Peralta and Singh to be allowed to speak first. Then Walcott left the stage to praise them and to walk down toward the graduates, telling them, “You are my bosses.” Principal Bernardo Ascona said students had been accepted at more than 40 colleges and universities and had been offered more than half a million dollars in financial aid.

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