The Class of 2022 has some big challenges ahead of them, and their send-off from Whitman-Hanson Regional High School on Friday, June 3, provided some sound advice for meeting those challenges.
And, as the messages of optimism, confidence and that advice hung in the springtime air, nature seemed to have the last word – hurry up – as a warm afternoon took a sudden, chilly, turn just as the 269 seniors were called to receive their diplomas.
The day’s strong sun had disappeared behind heavy, low clouds as humidity spiked and the temperature took a nose-dive, perhaps hastening the process.
But this was a class that had persevered through two years of Covid-19 and its effects on what once passed for a normal high school experience, and learned to meet that challenge with humor.
“In our four years in high school, we’ve had to overcome unthinkable obstacles never before seen by anyone” Class speaker Aidan Hickey said. “We were forced to make adjustments, live in a way that was far from normal, and deal with our fears on a daily basis. But in the process we also learned real world lessons about how one’s actions can impact others, and we developed an appreciation for being together in person, even for the mundane things in life.”
One could hear it in the words they spoke and feel it in the adults they have become.
“It seems surreal that we are actually graduating now and our time in high school has come to an end, but I am confident that the best is to come,” Valedictorian April Keyes said. “As a side note, for those of you who may not already know, I do have a speech impediment, in particular a stutter, which is something to keep in mind during this and also a good reason to get comfortable.”
While how she said some phrases made it noticeable, what she said spoke louder and inspired a standing ovation before she was through.
“I used to be caught up in this idea of never speaking, believing that because I had a stutter, I automatically was meant to be quiet. Even two to three years ago, I think if someone had told me I would be giving a speech right now, I would have passed out, and I say that with very little exaggeration,” Keyes recalled. “But over time I got sick of missing out on conversations and potential new friends, avoiding clubs, and making strange promises to myself to not raise my hand in class. I eventually reached the truth about myself and every single person here: like everything else in the physical world around us, we, as people, are also complex and nuanced.”
The Harvard College-bound member of the school’s English, history, math and science honor societies assessed how her classmates will use their experience with Covid in approaching the problems of the world they now enter and will one day lead.
“As we move on into the diverse and confusing world, do not be afraid to match that diversity as well,” she said. “Whether you are going into the workforce, enrolling in college, joining the military, taking a gap year, or doing whatever you have decided best for yourself, know that your potential, as well as your options, are unlimited. Celebrate who you are in this very instant and all that you have achieved, but also look forward to all that you will be and do in the future.”
Salutatorian Mary Kate Ryan also touched on that theme.
“We are living as a generation caught in the middle of history. Between a dying planet, a never ending pandemic, countless social movements, and more there is so much that seems so far out of our control,” she said. “We’re told that we’re too young to do anything. Too inexperienced. Too ignorant. Except we aren’t. We are entering the adult world and we have the capacity to change it. With bounds of knowledge and the means to spread it at our fingertips, we have an immense power to create a world we want to live in. … Take the passion and drive within each of you and use it. It’s not about changing the entire world, but rather changing the world around you.”
School officials speaking at commencement also had these thoughts in mind as they offered their own advice to the Class of 2022.
School Committee Chairman Christopher Howard noted his remarks would brief, as he never could remember what had been said at his own high school graduation, but added he did have a point for the seniors to consider.
“Just be you,” he said. “It took me a while, but over time, I realized I just needed to be me, and more importantly, I needed to try as best as I could to let others be themselves.”
He was not alone in hitting on that theme.
“There’s way too much negativity in this world,” Superintendent Jeff Szymaniak said. “Don’t be that person. Be alive. …Be thoughtful and kind, because why not? There’s no reason not to be.”
While standing up for your principles, Szymaniak advised the class to be the person who makes everyone feel like somebody.
“Be respectful,” he said. “Believe it or not, not many people may believe what you believe. Don’t make fun or disregard their feelings because you don’t have the same points of view.”
Principal Dr. Christopher Jones took that advice a bit further as he admonished students to advocate honestly, practice positivity and treat everyone as a fellow human being.
“I encourage you to keep an open mind,” he said. “Examine other viewpoints, hold onto your beliefs and then stand up for what you believe in in an honest, open way.”
Jones summed up that it doesn’t matter what race, color, gender, sexual orientation a person is, whether they are rich or poor, or what faith a person ascribes to.
“We’re all human beings, with thoughts, dreams, goals, families, experiences and stories,” he said. “Take the time to realize that in everyone and you will begin to see the value everyone, especially those who are different, have to add to your life.”
He said the current world is in dire need of leaders who exhibit those traits.
“Be those leaders,” Jones said. “We will all be forever grateful.”