Amid glances back on the past four years and glimpses of future goals, the 272 members of the Whitman-Hanson Regional High School Class of 2017 graduated Friday, June 2 with tears, cheers and laughter.
“As we leave here today, remember that we have all been blessed with enormous opportunities, and it is our responsibility to take each door that is opened to us and use it to make a contribution,” said Valedictorian Olivia Morse. “With the strife and conflict that is plaguing the world today, our courage, compassion, and determination is needed now more than ever.”
It was a night to celebrate great academic and extra-curricular achievement, but Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak also recognized graduates who had more pressing challenges to overcome on their way to a diploma.
Honor Society graduates, 12 military-bound seniors, band, chorus and show choir members, 81 Adams Scholarship winners, athletics participants and sportsmanship award winners, championship teams, Superfans, academic competition award winners, art students who participated in the Memory Project for orphan paintings and various art competitions, Mock Trial competition participants and seniors who have worked to support fundraisers for several local nonprofits were among the students recognized by Szymaniak for a round of applause from the audience.
“Today is about academic achievement,” Szymaniak said. “However, there’s some of you … that should be commended for actions that aren’t on any traditional awards list.”
He referred to “The Missing Awards List,” which he ran across on a blog that recognized students “brave enough to come to school the day after a bad day.”
“I wish I could give an award for those sitting here who did homework and studied while juggling a job, had to take care of siblings or a sick family member, to help pay the bills,” he quoted. “I wish I could give an award to those of you who cope with surgeries, allergies, medications, conditions, tests, procedures, doctors appointments, measured diets … as part of your normal.”
He also saluted the parents who take care of the students who don’t get the awards, applauding the award-winners while thinking “my kid, too.”
Student speakers also saluted the hard work all their classmates have done toward this day.
“Whether you believe it or not, each and every one of you seniors out there has become more mature and grown tremendously, not just in your education, but as a person over these four short years at Whitman- Hanson,” agreed Class President Lily Spicer in her welcoming remarks. “We’re not freshmen anymore and soon we won’t even be seniors. Together it is time to say goodbye. Enjoy this summer and within the next few months, we will all begin a new and exciting chapter of our lives.”
“Our time here has emphasized that life isn’t meant to be easy, and that the greatest things we could ever hope for arrive only with work and determination,” Salutatorian Emily Cook said. “Dreams and aspirations are what motivate us to act, to pursue success; but never let your dreams remain just that – figments and reminders of what could have been.”
Graduation night awards [below] were presented to: Emily Cook, Zara Rabinovitz, Madison Jolliemore, Emily Gonzalez, Michael Gorman, Jessica Gaudreau, Devyn Smith, Patrick Brown, Owen Lydon, Taylor McVeigh, Luke Tamulevich, Morse, Robert Caliri, Hannah MacDonald, Mikayla White and Spicer.
“Each graduating class is unique in its accomplishments,” School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes said. “Since their arrival as freshmen in 2013, they have participated in academic and athletic programs in a building that supports 21st-Century teaching and learning. … Now it’s up to the graduates to shape their future and, as you just heard, they have a future and it’s a great one.”
Hayes said the class has the keys to their own future success, but offered some advice.
“Confront challenges,” he said. “Learn to use your time wisely. Put down that cell phone and socialize with your friends and family. Look to the future with hope, embrace the world we live in and leave it better that you found it.”
Both Hayes and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner encouraged the graduates to return often to touch base with the school because they will always be W-H Panthers.
“This is the best day ever,” Gilbert-Whitner said, quoting her grand daughter’s approach to life. “You’re just the best ever and it’s just so exciting to be here and feel the energy here this evening.”
In her prepared remarks, Gilbert-Whitner reflected on the meaning of success.
“Now, at this very moment in time, each one of you is a success, having completed all of the requirements to attain a high school diploma,” she said. “In earning your diploma this evening, you have accomplished a tremendous amount from the beginning of your public school journey in kindergarten to the stage this evening.”
She also quoted the poem “Success,” attributed to both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bessie Anderson Stanley:
“To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Senior Sophie O’Brien, the class speaker, noted the obstacles that had to be overcome on the way to successfully completing high school.
“And along the way, many of us can agree in saying we got lost, or in other words, felt like we got defeated, or that we just wanted to give up,” she said. “But clearly, we got out of bed, and we didn’t let those late nights, bad grades, or tough losses, stop us because look where we are. We have made it to the biggest stage of our lives so far and made the journey worthwhile.”