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Amherst Regional graduates 220, including 11 valedictorians

  • Amherst Regional High School graduates walk in the procession during commencement Friday, June 8, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Clayton Fosterweber, who is the senior class president, speaks during the Amherst Regional High School commencement, Friday, June 8, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFFJERREY ROBERTS

  • Stanley Robert Grayson Cliche, one of eleven Amherst Regional High School valedictorians, speaks during commencement Friday, June 8, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Members of the Amherst Regional High School Dance Theater Ensemble perform during commencement. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Members of the Amherst Regional High School Chorale and Hurricane Singers sing during commencement. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Neosha Gupta Narayanan, at microphone, one of eleven Amherst Regional High School valedictorians, speaks during commencement Friday at the Mullins Center. Others are, from left, Clayton Fosterweber, Liza Wallace Dubinsky, Mengyao Yang, Sophia Yanghua Fang, Stanley Robert Grayson Cliche, Michayla Robertson-Pine, Nathaniel Bevan Roth, Piper Dorothy Mikulecky Lacy, Leija Annukka Hallonblad Helling and Tessa Grace Gentzler Levenstein. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jonathan Lazaro Omar Cruz-Rodriguez blows a kiss after receiving his diploma during the Amherst Regional High School commencement, Friday, June 8, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Peroum Chham celebrates during the Amherst Regional High School commencement, Friday at the Mullins Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Congressman James McGovern delivers the commencement address during the Amherst Regional High School graduation, Friday, June 8, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mortar board worn by Mengyao Yang during the Amherst Regiobnal High School commencement Friday, June 8, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Linette Marie Rosado Ayala displays the flag of Puerto Rico during the Amherst Regional High School commencement, Friday, June 8, 2018 at the Mullins Center.

  • Denzel Dontay Shular waves to the audience after receiving his diploma during the Amherst Regional High School commencement, Friday at the Mullins Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Saturday, June 09, 2018

AMHERST — Eleven valedictorians delivered a joint speech at Amherst Regional High School’s graduation ceremony Friday night, planned the night before and delivered in the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Through the special education program my transition into high school became more manageable and my ability for self advocacy was encouraged in and outside of classes,” said Stanley Cliche, one valedictorian who will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the fall. “With its help I have had the chance to succeed.”

Cliche has both autistic spectrum disorder and central auditory processing disorder. Fighting the stigma and undue shame about conditions like his is one reason he chose to talk about his disability in his speech.

“After he had won valedictorian he said, ‘No, I want to present myself this way,’” said his mother, Victoria Cliche. “He wanted people to know that and be able to say ‘This is what I’ve achieved.’”

Joining Cliche on stage were fellow valedictorians Liza Dubinsky, Sophia Fang, Leija Helling, Piper Lacy, Tessa Levenstein, Neosha Narayanan, Michayla Robertson-Pine, Nathaniel Roth and Mengyao Yan.

Class President Clayton Fosterweber was also among the valedictorians, and afterward delivered his own speech emphasizing student achievements and their resilience in the face of disturbing news headlines, existential crises and an unpredictable world.

“I know that we are never backing down and never giving up. The school and Class of 2018 is made up of fighters,” Fosterweber said. “I saw this school’s budget slashed and population drop but we still get up and give our best effort to this school and this community.”

Foster said 93 percent of the senior class is college-bound, with four graduates who will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before, a moment of silence was held for one classmate, Charles Read, who died the summer before their junior year.

Principal Mark Jackson encouraged the 220 graduating seniors to “fend off reflexive disdain and dismissiveness” of those they disagree with, and take lessons from the residents of Leverett and Kentucky who met for the Hands Across the Hills event last year to bridge political divides

“None of them wallpapered over or surrendered their political convictions, but all of them worked to find within themselves the ability to manage the dissonance that comes with having to maintain a healthy regard for those on the other side of a political divide,” Jackson said.

Congressman Jim McGovern delivered a politically charged commencement speech, eliciting cheers from hundreds in the crowd when he talked about the accessibility of higher education, food insecurity and gun violence.

“Food ought to be a fundamental right for every single person on this planet,” McGovern said. “Sometimes I worry we’re losing our humanity.”

He referenced the power of the Civil Rights movement, saying that change is possible, comes slowly, and requires persistence.

“People power, especially young people power, has ended wars, has protected our environment, has expanded human rights and civil rights for people,” McGovern said. “It has made a difference time and time again and I just want you to understand you should never ever take the power you have for granted because you do have power, you just have to use it.”

McGovern said he struggled in high school, and found his voice in college at American University by getting involved with multiple clubs, listening and learning whatever he could from others. He strongly expressed a need for political change, and urged the graduates to be vehicles for that change, even offering to bail them out if they get arrested for civil disobedience.

“Never stop learning,” Fosterweber said in his closing remarks. “Fight to be better because we have to.”

During their speeches, the valedictorians expressed their gratitude for the opportunities and resources offered to them through the school.

Cliche’s growth is a testament to those resources and the quality of education offered in the regional school system. From being placed in a classroom with nonverbal students as a young child, to seeing speech pathologists to staying after school to make sure he understood certain concepts, his mother considers him lucky. Specifically, she credits Leverett Elementary School’s small classroom size, paraprofessional staff, and a strong commitment to education in their small community.

“We are so lucky as a community to have the level of education we do in the Pioneer Valley,” Victoria Cliche said.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.