|'Change' the Theme at the 2021 Lee High Graduation|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
11:57PM / Saturday, June 05, 2021
|The 60 members of the class of 2021 toss their caps on Saturday after graduation exercises at Lee High School. |
LEE, Mass. — A class that's had to adapt to live this past year is finally breaking free of a virus that's turned their world upside down.
So, asked Asa Stone, salutatorian of the Lee High School class of 2021, what's next?
"We can never be certain of the answer but we can have hope that we will learn and we will grow, we will come out of the other side stronger," she told her 59 classmates, friends and family gathered on the high school's field on a hot Saturday afternoon.
The last day for the seniors at the school felt a lot like that fateful March 13, 2020, she said, "the day that our lives changed forever. The day that we no longer were living in normal systems but were instead stuck in this purgatory wondering what's next?"
"Right now we are at a crossroads, we are at an intersection in our lives, and we are in the driver's seat this time," Stone said. "Now we're not stuck inside, stuck with our families. This time we have the power to change for the better. Not change because we have to, because we have to stay alive. But because we want to. We can because we are young adults in control of our lives."
She said their generation is facing other plagues, like school shootings, racism and gender and economic inequality. It's being "stifled by these oppressive traditions."
"We are also the generation of serious change, of the ambition and resourcefulness we have all exhibited over this past year, which we can use to free ourselves of social viruses — and we will overcome them," said Stone. "We will break free and we will change just like we did this past year."
Valedictorian Cindy Ni cautioned them not to get hung up on perfection as they write the next chapter of their story. She told how as a child she'd written her first novel — 50 pages — and then moved onto her first trilogy. But as she got older and her vocabulary expanded, her focus was less on the story and more on tweaking elements to make it perfect.
"I had spent too much time worrying about all the little things, and in the end, I had accomplished nothing," she said. "I feared delivering anything less than perfection and at the end, I delivered a blank notebook, or No. 2 pencil with a non-existent eraser, and a trash bag filled with crumpled pieces of paper."
She said she learned some of the most valuable lessons in high school: that doing everything perfect for the first time is impossible.
"We can purposely choose to only do the things we know we will excel at but then we never learn and never grow in life," Ni said. "And is that not the point of high school, college of life in general? To learn from our past mistakes, our struggle, the very thing that have challenged us to grow?"
The class would be walking up to get their diplomas and it didn't matter if their ties were askew or their hair not perfect or their clothes wrinkled, she said.
"We stick out one hand for the diploma, the other for a handshake, and then walk toward the future. Either way, our end goal is to move forward. And we must look to the future. ... Because no matter what obstacles may be scattered along our path, we know not to count the failures, but instead, cherish the times we stumbled, but got up again with our heads held high. ...
"I encourage you to greet whatever challenges you might face in the next chapter of your life with a humble heart, a steadfast spirit and the utmost confidence moving forward in your story."
As class president, Ni also gave Ivy Oration, the passing of a symbolic ivy plant to the president of the next class, Emma Puntin.
Nicholas Langley led the Pledge of Allegiance and Madailien Demler and Teresa Navin performed "The Star-Spangled Banner." A recording of the high school chorus singing "I Lived" by One Direction was broadcast because of pandemic restriction.
Superintendent Michael Richard of the Lee and Tyringham superintendency union used the theme of change and adaptation in his address and, bringing in his passion for much, suggested the graduates take a listen to Jimmy Buffett's "Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes."
He encouraged the class to embrace this most difficult year, not just for the adversity they had adapted to but for the dedication of their teachers who taught them the best way they could, providing them with an education and skills so that they can be the change in their community.
"You are equipped to handle anything and everything world throws your way," Richard said. "There is a lot that is in front of you so be prepared to embrace change. Sometimes it'll be a latitude. Other times it'll be an attitude. But don't forget about the gratitude. Be thankful for what you have and what you've earned."
Principal Gregg Brighenti said he'd had trouble coming up with some words of wisdom to pass on and inspired by Friday night's sunset.
"Sunsets are reminders that everything around us and even within us is always changing. And then it's not worth trying to stop those changes," he said. After a year in which the students had proven themselves beyond any expectations, he offered wishes — that they find joy and peace, compassion, and patience to work through the bumpy parts of the road ahead.
"And I wish that you find the time to watch the sunsets. Always remember that a little ways to the east that same son is starting to rise again as a new day and a new adventure begins. Now go out there and make us proud."
Teresa M. Navin, selected to speak by the class, recalled inside jokes and events that many of her classmates had shared since entering Lee Elementary School, situated on the hill above them. Moving to the middle and high school was "going downhill," she said to chuckles from the graduates.
"Growing up with you all it's been a pleasure, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for you, all of you," she said. "Spread love and tolerance, and most importantly, stay frosty my friends."
Cindy Ni, president ＊＋
Colin Patrick Durken,vice president ＊
Makenna Lauren Albee, Steering Committee
Erin Minahan Brisebois, Steering Committee ＊
Asa Frances Stone, Steering Committee ＊
Nayiyn Elizabeth Retzel, Steering Committee
Anna-Belle Rose Beckwith＊
Zachary James Bianco
Lucas James Bombardier
Makayla Maria Bona
Dylan John Boomsma
Robet Quinn Burnell
Owen Michael Bush
Ashley Mary Carrasquillo
Katelyn Marie Clark
Ashley Rose Cloutier
Megan Elizabeth Consolati＊
Matheus Oliveira Cunha
Sarah Ann Marie D'Ambrosi
Anthony Michael DelSoldato
Madailein Rebecca Demler＊
Lauren Emily Durken＊
Maeve Erin Finnegan
Hanna Rae Hall
Evan Donovan Heath＊
Hannah McKenzie Heath
Peyton Nicole Heath
Charlotte Rosemary Hughes
Olivia Gabrielle Keiderling
Gabriel Michael Kelley
Cameron Khristopher Kickery
Sean David Koperek
Nicolas Sheldon Langley
Bryan Christopher-Michael Laughlin
Evelyn Ryanne Layden
Molly Catherine Macchi
Alison Leigha MacDowell
Amber Cadance MacDowell＊
Mateo Raymond Vincent Machado
Annie Louise Maloney＊
Carly Sophia McElroy
Ellie Lynn Miller ＊
Elijah Max Mertinooke
Robynn Lucile Miller
Akash Plavila Gopinathan Nair
Teresa Marie Navin
Cole Ivan Nazor
Rubielle Leigh Nejaime
Christopher Paul Petrescu
James Patrick Purcell＊
Camden Augustino Redstone
Garrett Angelo Roche＊
Lena Marie Simone＊
Lydia Kathryn Simone
Daniel Paul Snow＊
Amber Grace Stearns
Amarie Sarah Victor＊＋
Dominic Joseph Williams
Gavin Michael Withers
＊National Honor Society member ＋Seal of Biliteracy recipient
Class Marshal: Emma Puleri, class of 2022