On the 50th anniversary of the Class of 1968, the news has been ticking off that milestone in national and world events — the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, student strikes in Paris and Prague, assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during his presidential campaign and the riots at the Chicago Democratic National Convention.
But for many young people who graduated high school in that tumultuous year, it was the beginning of a life dedicated to improving the lives of others.
The 275 members of the Class of 2018 have that in common with their predecessors.
It is a class that has been — and plans to continue to be — dedicated to public service as 15 members will join the military after high school or college, several have charted majors geared toward education, medicine or other related pursuits and at least one plans to join the Peace Corps.
“We have such an awesome class, one comprised of driven athletes, talented musicians and performers, brilliant artists, leaders, and humanitarians,” said Salutatorian Cameron Rogers in his address. “Thank you for being such a great group of friends to go to school with every day.”
He noted that the people they were as freshmen may have been far different than the seniors they have become — or the adults they can be.
“If you wished your journey through high school went differently, I encourage you to be active and involved wherever the next step in your life takes you,” he challenged. “That is the best way to discover yourself and what you love to do. Once you realize what you love to do, take it and run with it.”
One student, Hanson’s Aubrie Galinis will be studying bioinformatics aiming to get her bachelor’s degree and pursue a career in medical research. Galinis, who uses a wheelchair, said she was looking forward to graduating prior to the Friday, June 1 ceremony to “move on to the next chapter” of her life. The national Honor Society member and recipient of the Class of 1968 Scholarship will attend Wheaton College in Norton this fall.
Principal Jeffrey Szymniak reviewed some of the class’ accomplishments in service to others during his remarks during Friday’s ceremony before awarding 50th anniversary diplomas to members of the Class of 1968 present — and of an honorary 50th anniversary diploma from WHRHS to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner. She was traveling the next morning to celebrate her 50th reunion with classmates in Mercersburg, Pa.
She advised the graduates to recognize now, what she learned long after her own high school graduation — “As I sat through speeches like this one, it is now evident that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know,” she said. That included not knowing, as she began her college years majoring in biology, that she would retire 50 years later as a school superintendent or that a woman could ever hold that position.
By using their head to ask questions, think things through and keep learning; their heart to show empathy and seek understanding; their heads to do the hard work required and their gut to trust their instincts and believe in themselves.
“Whether you are graduating from high school today or walked across the stage 50 years ago, a balance of head, heart, hands, and gut will ensure that as the world changes, you will also grow, prosper, and change with it,” she said.
In addition to those planning to serve in uniform, Szymaniak lauded the 81 John and Abigail Adams Scholars in the class; 53 who participated in the Experiential Learning & Leadership internship program; honor society members who worked on projects to support food pantries, Habitat for Humanity, cancer fundraisers, the Brockton VA Hospital, hurricane relief in Puerto Rico and Texas and area homeless shelters as well as the school’s SADD chapter, which worked on the biannual pre-prom mock car crash.
Student speakers also alluded to the past dedication and future aims of their classmates.
“I am excited for everything that the future holds for every one of us,” said class President Kristina Woodward. “We all have the ability to change the world in our own way, despite time continuously working against us, and I am eager to see where everyone’s hands end up.
“Maybe I’ll run into Lexi Grazioso at 5 o’clock on some remote island in the tropics nursing a sea turtle back to health, or I’ll call up David Murphy around 3 p.m. to have him help me with my finances, or I’ll hear someone singing on the radio on my way to work at 6 and immediately know that its Grayce Brown’s new single …” Woodward said, comparing their school lives and future to a clock.
Valedictorian Kaitlyn Morrison said that, while educational lessons, friendships and athletic achievements of the class are memorable; the Class of 2018 has done much to improve their world already.
“We have participated in multiple Shanty Town fundraisers for Habitat for Humanity,” she said. “We have been a part of and organized a school walkout for the victims of the Parkland school shooting. These are just some of the incredible accomplishments and memories we have made here at Whitman-Hanson. Whitman-Hanson’s Class of 2018 has become a family whose home is this school.”
She also urged classmates to cherish the memories they have made.
“Maybe this was the place that you fell in love. Maybe this is where you lost someone. Maybe this was the place you met your best friend. Maybe it was a place where you went through hardship. Or maybe it was the place where you discovered your true self,” Morrison said. “Whatever your experience maybe, cherish these years. Don’t look back with despair or regret of the things that you didn’t do. Look back at the accomplishments you’ve made.”
Speaking for the Class of 2018, senior Riley MacDonald reminded her classmates that they were much more than their grade point average.
“I have a challenge for you,” she said. “I challenge you to strive for greatness and achieve all of your goals. For a chapter of our lives is coming to an end today but another one is waiting to be started.”
School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes suggested a good place to start is to take it easy on social media and strive to interact more with people face-to-face.
“Cell phones are great but they do have a place and it’s not at the dinner table,” he said to cheers and applause from parents in the audience. “Our future is together.”
(Stephanie Spyropoulos contributed to this report.)