'The hardest time to appreciate something is when you are surrounded by it' Northampton High School graduates 220

Last modified: Tuesday, August 05, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — When Northampton High School senior Sarah Dobrow was asked to be one of the student speakers at her graduation earlier this year, she found herself at a loss for a topic.

Initially, she tried to crowd-source ideas from her fellow students, but kept hitting dead ends.

That’s when she decided to try another method: Instead of asking them directly, she merely observed her friends and classmates, drawing inspiration from their various achievements through the years of school they had all spent together. That approach, she said, was a gold mine.

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“I witnessed achievement in even the most trivial tasks, dedication in even in the most menial activities,” Dobrow said to a packed crowd in Smith College’s John M. Greene Hall Sunday afternoon. “Northampton High School imparts a passion upon its students that is hard to avoid. There’s an atmosphere where working hard is expected, where people who achieve even the tiniest of goals are rewarded.”

“In my life, I’ve found that the hardest time to appreciate something is when you are surrounded by it,” she continued. “I also found that the best time to learn from something is when you’re right there and you think of it. It’s easy to look back on our time here and rattle off the things we’ve learned, but it’s hard to see what we’re learning now in the grand scheme of things.”

Dobrow said the “big picture life lessons” that she and her classmates have learned during their time at Northampton High School are among the most important lessons of all, because “they have shaped them into the people that they are today, and whether they know it or not, will shape them into the people they will become in the future.”

“There’s great importance in learning from your peers,” she said. “The people sitting around you right now have taught you things that you didn’t even know that you needed to know.”

Others who spoke during the ceremony described watching the members of the graduating class grow and change as students and friends.

“It is with great honor and pride that I address you today,” Principal Bryan Lombardi told the audience. “Honor to be an educational leader of such an amazing school with a caring and dedicated staff and supportive community. My pride is in the students that sit before us today.”

Lombardi, who just finished his first year as principal after several years as assistant principal, went on to describe how the members of the graduating class came into the school on their first day as freshmen full of anxiety and worried about how they would perform, socially, academically and athletically. He reflected on how those same students slowly made their mark on the school, discovering their interests and passions and assuming various leadership roles, such as a starting athlete and presidents of different clubs or groups with the school.

“When role models and volunteers were needed, you stepped up and stepped in,” said Lombardi. “You made this school yours. I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished over these four years, and I’m convinced that you will leave your mark on your future endeavors.”

Second student speaker Byron Poplawski spoke of the importance of having values such as confidence, humility and respect.

“You must have confidence to share your thoughts and opinions and ideas, because in the real world, there are no teachers who will ask you to raise your hand. Your ideas are what make each and every one of you an individual,” Poplawski said. “Humility is about being proud of your accomplishments, but not giving way to arrogance and continually recognizing the contributions of others. Confidence and humility are the foundations of great leaders.”

Sandra Kielbasa, a 28-year veteran of the school’s world languages department, urged the 220 students of the class of 2014 to follow their passions during her acceptance speech as this year’s Mary Gray Teacher of the Year.

“If you have passion, then you have drive, and if you have drive, you have ambition, and if you have ambition, you have a mission” said Kielbasa. “If you have a mission, then you’re going to have somewhere to go, and, right now, the only place for you to go is up, up and away!”

Class presidents Emma Tacy and Samuel Walker followed Lombardi’s address with a reflections speech, in which they recounted watching their classmates thrive over four short years, while also noting how the equally rapid pace of technological change in the world has provided the graduates with both the ability to change the world and a mandate to do so responsibly.

“Our world has changed, so quickly. Not only the students, but the environment surrounding us,” said Walker. “The evolution of technology during our adolescence has been unlike anything the world has ever seen.”

“It has changed the way we travel, it has changed the way we learn, and it has changed the way we play,” added Tacy. “Technology has changed the world, and our generation is the first to grow up with it. The potential for its use is in our hands, and we must be responsible with the power of it.”

A number of musical performances were also featured during the ceremony. The school’s resident a capella group, The Northamptones, performed the national anthem and Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.” Other songs included Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game,” performed by the school’s chamber choir, Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” and “Wake Me Up” by Tim Bergling, sung back to back by the school chorus, and a performance by the school band.

A general feeling of excitement and amazement permeated the crowd of black-gowned seniors as they stood gathered outside the building prior to the ceremony. Many wore light blue “honor society” sashes.

Aidan Winn, 18, said he is excited to be moving on to “the next chapter of his education — college.”

“In high school, it’s the same thing for four years. Graduation leads to something new and unknown, and that’s what really exciting about it for me,” Winn said.

Lily Lashway, 18, said it is nice to see the results of all her efforts in school.

“I’m really excited because of all the work I’ve done these past four years, it’s nice to finally see it pay off,” said Lashway, who will attend Greenfield Community College to study environmental science in the fall.

Jackie Flynn, 17, said she was excited to finally graduate from high school and to be able to spend the day looking back on the past four years with her friends and family.

“I’m really excited, I feel like I’m on top of the world,” said graduating senior Nick Cocco, 18, who plans to attend Holyoke Community College in the fall. “I also want to give a shout-out to Bryan Lombardi, our principal. We’re very appreciative of what he’s done for us, and he really improved the creativity of our class.”