Moving and Memorable Commencement Exercises at Emerson High School!


Moving and memorable commencement exercises closed the last chapter of Emerson High School last night in Union City. Read full report and watch our photographic essay and video soon in this site!




An exceptional Emersonian, Bianka Vargas became my homeroom secretary. She would remind me if I forgot something, she wouldn’t hesitate in yelling “Don’t start Mr. Martel! It’s too early!” When I started talking about Junior, one of her many admirers, I knew she would jump and say something if I kept on. During Freshman year I had written a dialogue, a short script of sorts, where one of the actors was a ridiculous rapper who yelled incoherences in bad ebonics. For some time I practiced the dialogue using the closing minutes of homeroom. One day I was reading from the text: “Yo, I’m AKA Killa Bulla Ya know whatamsaying!” I kept on reading and when I noticed that there was a deadly silence in the room I looked up, thinking that finally they were paying attention to my masterpiece, only to see the towering figure of Bob Fazio looking at me. Right in front of me. I didn’t know what to say. He didn’t say a word. He just looked at me directly in the eyes and left. As soon as he left, the whole homeroom broke down in laughter. Bianka came up to me very serious and said: “You see, Mr. Fazio didn’t laugh! It’s corny Mr. and one day your jokes will get you in trouble!” In case she forgot I want to remind her that she brought up the incident during the rest of Freshman year and a good part of the Sophomore year. That year, whenever I saw Fazio in the hallways, I said “Sir”, and kept on. I out weighted the consequences and came to the conclusion that explaining my sense of humor to him would not be practical. We had great times at Homeroom 210! Bianka made sure I would never forget. She’s a great student. I had the privilege to meet her parents and tell them what a great kid she is. Bianka goes on to college to study nursing. She’ll be a great nurse but most of all she’s a great person. God Bless you Bianka!








Today much more on the historic graduation of the Emerson High School Class of 2008, including a special video and a slide photo essay!





EHS Class of 2008 Valedictorian, Bryant Yik walks into a bright future. An exceptional student, an athlete, a great young man, it was a privilege to have him in my class for two years.

Good evening graduates, parents, and honored guests. Since the beginning of my education I have been guided by one of the most influential forces—my parents and family. Throughout my former years of education, my family never pushed me to study any specific subject or pressured me to take extracurricular courses. I was encouraged to simply “do well in school because good things will come of that.” In fact, these “good things” did not only come in education, but with the relationships I have made with my peers and teachers.

Let me first thank my teachers for entertaining my endless inquiries and dealing with my stubbornness at times, but—more importantly—for sharing a part of their knowledge and experiences. From long lectures, to college discussions, or a simple debate on politics, I thank you all.

Now it is with great honor that I thank the final graduating class of Emerson High School—the class of 2008. I am proud to be among some of the finest students Union City has to offer. They have helped me grow scholastically, as well as socially these past years. We should also be grateful that we have had such an excellent number of student-leaders like
Adriana Chalas of National Honor Society,
Elyn Urbina of Student Council,
Sherylene Diaz of Emerson’s Newspaper,
and Cynthia Navarrete, our class President.

All of whom have selflessly dedicated their free time in organizing many of our activities and school events.

For the past four years, no one in this graduating class could have predicted that the years would have come and gone so quickly. Tonight, as this chapter of our lives concludes, another one begins. This next phase of our lives comes with an immense amount of freedom. I’m not talking about the same freedom we experienced when we first walked through the doors of Emerson, but the freedom to decide what to do with our own lives. Whether we enter the workforce or enroll in college, we must all take charge of our own lives.

In college, our parents will not be there to heal our wounds or cater to our needs. No one will be looking over our shoulders to complete homework or study for exams. We must be able to stay focused on our education as we are exposed to the many aspects of college life.

Although, this may seem to be a scary path, we must prove to our parents, teachers, and community that as young adults we will make the right decisions because they have provided us with the tools to do so.

Click HERE to read the speech in its entirety.



Freeholder Tilo Rivas and UC Commissioner Chris Irizarry, strong supporters of our school district.

Much more of the Emerson High School Class of 2008 through out the weekend on Rafaelmartel.com as we’ll continue to add images and writing!













Union City Superintendent of Schools, Sandy Sanger, present at the last commencement exercises of Emerson High School, as he always is in community events, especially in educational events. Under his leadership significant progress has taken effect, including three new schools and the upcoming grand opening of the Union City High School. Test scores have improved dramatically and a more efficient and community oriented Board of Education attends to our students needs.





Mrs. Adela Vazquez, Cuban-American teacher with 38 years of service to EHS students. As her former student I love her, as a Cuban-American I am extremely proud of her. Read more about Ms. Vazquez here.


One of the most respected members not only in Emerson High School but in our community, US Marines Gunnery Sergeant Caonabo Reyes, has gone Above and Beyond the call of duty as a war hero and as Emerson High School ROTC Leader. He lives by a strict moral code. He truly leads by example. To have his trust is a privilege, his friendship is invaluable. He is also a careful analyst and his advice carries the weight of his intelligence and his ethics. The young people of Union City are lucky to have him. No one better to teach Civics than this exemplary man.

Union City Board of Education Trustees, José Mejía, Carlos Vallejo, and Kennedy Ng.

Superintendents of Schools Sylvia Abbato and Antonio Perez with Board Trustee, Johnny Garces.

Bianka was in our homeroom 210 for two years, she then moved to Florida and now she lives in Virginia but she came back to Emerson for the 2008 Commencement Exercises to see her friends and her teachers again. That’s typical about this high school, even if you leave the school will always be a part of you. Bianka earned her high school diploma two weeks ago in Virginia. I was very happy to see her again, so were her classmates and friends. She’s going on to get her first professional degree. God Bless you Bianka! You’re the Best!

Sylvia and Chris Abatto, a lifetime dedicated to education. Mrs. Abatto is Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Union City. Mr. Abatto is a happy veteran from the Elizabeth School District Wars, so I’m I. If you teach in the inner city schools of Elizabeth you can teach anywhere, no joke. Chris Abatto was Emerson High School’s Teacher of The Year in 2007. Mrs. Abatto is an asset to Union City students and a proud Cuban-American woman, through hard work and dedication she has been able to reach her position at the Union City Board of Education, and use it to help the students and the teachers of this district. She has earned the respect and love of the community she serves. You couldn’t get two better educators, two better people. I’ll take all challengers!

Master Teacher, Richard Ardito, a 40 year veteran teacher at Emerson and EHS Alumni Class of ’65, delivered a moving and meaning full speech as the guest speaker of the Class of 2008. Ardito was my English Teacher 30 years ago. I’ll always be grateful to him for his words of encouragement and wisdom. Read more about Richard Ardito here.

One of Union City’s Finest and fellow Emersonian Ed Antonmarchi. Officer Antonmarchi is highly respected by all at Emerson, he cares for the young people of Union City. He’s easy going but a true professional and tough as nails; you don’t want to mess with Officer Antommarchi. Thank you, Sir. for keeping us safe.


UCPD Officers Peer and Rodríguez effectively assisted in persuading the crowds to be patient at the door of last night’s historic commencement exercises of Emerson High School’s last graduation. These fine men of the Union City Police Department have the distinction of being the two officers from Union City who volunteered to assist the victims of the New Orleans’s Katrina disaster, which underlines what we write in this site: UCPD Second to None!



The proud Esparza family and a very proud teacher congratulates EHS Graduate, Connie Esparza. I had the privilege of telling them what a great daughter they have. Connie will go on to a very successful life because she’s disciplined, committed and just great. ¡Un abrazo Connie! ¡Qué Dios te Bendiga Siempre!

Two of the Best People you would Ever Want to Meet

Mr. Eliseo Alemán and Ms. Carmen Machado, Vive Principal and Disciplinarian of EHS, Great professionals! Great people!

For the many Cubans who read this blog daily if we talk Cuban these two are Tremenda gente. Good hearted, extremely professional, loyal friends, they take care of business, you know mejor ni mandado a hacer. I am very proud to work with them. Mr. Eliseo Alemán was responsible for organizing the Commencement Exercises that took place on June 19, 2008, as an administrator he’s second to none, the same could be said about Ms. Carmen Machado.


EHS, June 18, 2008. Angela Mayo poses with her students, she has dedicated more than three decades of her ilfe to education. She was also my teacher. She earned the love and respect of a whole generation of Cuban-Americans, as well as legions of Latin Americans and students who immigrated to Union City from different parts of the world. Ms. Mayo holds two Master Degrees, her daughter Elizabeth will soon graduate from a Phd program at NJIT. One more time I thank her for helping me pass that nightmarish Geometry class thirty years ago. Needless to say I never became a scientist nor a mathematician. Along with Adela Vazquez, Angela Mayo was one of the pioneers in the Cuban-American community who inspired and opened the door for the rest of us to become teachers.

EHS, June 19, 2008. Ms. Mayo and her student Rafael Martel, never taking themselves too seriously, and if we can’t find someone to make fun of, we’ll definitely make fun of ourselves! I have great respect for this lady. God Bless!



Vanessa Barcacel, Class of ’07

Marcelo Castro gets ready for graduation, as his teacher I’m extremely proud of Marcelo. You just can’t find a better young man, an athlete, a great student, a respectful human being. I wonder what garbage can is The Bergen Record investigating when they miss reporting on the good people of Union City. Why don’t they write about the contributions of our young people? Then they have the nerve to criticize our school system, quoting some of their lollypop politicians. Please. Marcelo is another example of the many young man and women in our school system that will go on to very successful. It was privilege having you in my class for two tears Marcelo! God Bless!

I’m so proud of Elyn it’s not even funny. She sat next to me in our homeroom 210 for four years. I saw her grow into a mature, extremely responsible and great young lady. Looking back I don’t know how she and Bianka Vargas endured my corny morning jokes, including my imitation of Fifty Cent. Poor kids, sometimes they couldn’t take it anymore and they would scream “OK Martel Stop it! Now!” She will be continue to be a very successful and productive member of society. The BEST to you always Elyn, God Bless!

Dr. Peter Lynch and Chris Abatto; can’t find more committed teachers, more decent and better human beings. I’ll take all challengers!

Last Teachers Breakfast at Emerson High School




Standing to the left of the picture is Dennis McMullen. A college professor who also taught at Emerson for years, McMullen’s uncommon knowledge and sharp mind makes him a considerable asset to the Union City School District. Every time you talk with this man you learn something. He’s the consummate teacher. A talented singer, he’ll sing anywhere and at any time of the day. My daughter always recalls how Mr. McMullen sang operas aloud and with intense feeling in the streets of Rome and Athens, in an Emerson trip organized by another master teacher, Mr. Vassili Brembos. In fact, McMullen is a professional singer. During the last year at Emerson, I had the privilege of sharing a prep period at the same time that McMullen and Richard Ardito had their prep. They were usually found in the teacher’s room. If you were smart you just sat there and watch them perform, take as much as you can from their knowledge, both avid readers and always ready to lecture.

A couple of years ago, McMullen stopped me in the hall and asked me where I got a cross that I carried in my lapel. “It’s a gift from my mother,” I said. McMullen went on to give a comprehensive lecture on that particular cross, its peculiarities, history and distinction from other crosses in about ten minutes. That’s Dennis McMullen. His knowledge will take over in seconds.

He has no tolerance for mediocrity just as mediocrity has none for him. Pseudo-intellectuals and dilettantes, and there are more than some in our profession, could never understand him simply because they could never reach him. I am sure he makes fun of them with extreme generosity and wit.

Students love this great teacher. You’ll often see him talking, advising, teaching them in the hallways. He uses his talent to organize plays and musicals so that students could display their talent and learn. He also organized two cultural events this year. Humor is a big part of his life. He would provoke anyone for a laugh. I think that’s only one side of him. No one with his wisdom takes everything that light- or maybe he does- only Mr. Mac knows that.

This past year I took one of my classes to listen to McMullen lecture about Christmas. It was quite a lesson. No book, no references, just his mind. I really don’t know how religious or not he is but I have no doubts that God has blessed this man big time. In the picture he is with his friend Bob Fazio, who received an standing ovation on June 4, 2008 for his support of the EHS JROTC Program.


Ms. Domínguez introduced her son Isaías at the teacher’s breakfast on June 20, 2008


Exactly, two great teachers who are always outside in the morning and dismissal time as part of Fazio’s support team. Mr. Hanack and Mr. Prusko. You can’t separate the person from the teacher; Good people: Good teachers. Believe me these guys are the best. Read a bit more about Mr. Hanack and Mr. Prusko here. This picture was taken during the JROTC ceremonies on June 4, 2008.

Emerson High School’s Athletic Director, Lenny Introna.

More than 30 years of service at Emerson High School, Mr. Bruce Paoloni, was recognized by the school’s principal and the administration at the commencement exercises. Paoloni, Bob Fazio said, is an example of the tradition of Emerson High School. He is not only a master teacher, but a real gentleman. Congratulations Mr. Paoloni!



Daniel Frezzo, in his last year as Vice Principal at Emerson High School


You wanna know who the real tough guys are? They get up at six every morning and go to work for 35 years. Not only that, for some of them work is a new challenge every single day. You see they built the foundation of this country by helping our youth. The man you see in the picture is one the tough guys. A teacher who has spent his life sharing his knowledge and his love with the young people of Union City, New Jersey. Mr. Daniel Frezzo taught a whole generation of Cuban-Americans who found at Emerson High School a new beginning. Today, as an administrator, Mr. Frezzo, works every day to keep our young in the right track, encouraging them to stay in school, going our of his way, giving his best. He’s a gentleman and an exemplary man.

That’s nothing new. As a newly arrival to this country and a student at Union City’s Emerson High School, I met Mr. Frezzo. My schedule from 1974 shows that I was assigned to his History I class. The schedule was changed because I didn’t know a potato (ni una papa) in English. The fact that we weren’t in his class didn’t stop Daniel Frezzo from talking with us, teach us how to pronounce correctly, guiding us to a better future. Twenty eight years after I graduated from Emerson and teaching in the Elizabeth School District, I’ve had the privilege to converse with Mr. Frezzo. One day I started one of my philosophical harangues about our profession, Frezzo cut me short: “You have to love this”, he said “This is what I wanted to do since I was a kid. This is what I’ll do forever.” He’s just a master teacher.

Mr. Frezzo as he appeared in the 1978 Emerson High School Yearbook. Those were the days between Simon and Garfunfel and Disco. Thirty years later, in 2008, one of our young teachers, Mr. Danny Prusko, appeared with a similar mustache in the 2008 Yearbook. When I asked Mr. Prusko why was he growing the 70’s mustache he answered: “In honor of the old timers, the great Emerson High School teachers”. That’s how much respect teachers like Mr. Frezzo inspired in a new generation of educators from Union City, New Jersey.

In 1974, as weird as this sounds to young people, there were no digital watches. I never forget, and I have pestered him with this reminder, the day that Mr. Frezzo brought the first digital watch we had ever seen to Emerson High School. It was a real sensation. Dozens of students, at that time mostly Cubans, asked him to show the golden digital watch again and again. Mr. Frezzo, with the patience of a saint, showed the watch again and again at least for two weeks, until it wasn’t a novelty anymore.

Kind and patient, he surrounded himself with great people: great teachers. Agnes Colaneri and Louis Decongelio were some of them. They represent the best of The Great American Teachers. God Bless!




One Response to “Moving and Memorable Commencement Exercises at Emerson High School!”

  1. i miss my high school i can believe is gone!!! i miss mr fazio mr ardito great teacher and mr potter lol tough teacher that taught me so much and more thank you all!!!! i miss all my friends corin, xiomary , marilyn

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