South Hadley seniors urged to 'keep coughing' as school graduates 151

Last modified: Tuesday, August 05, 2014
SOUTH HADLEY — As the South Hadley High School class of 2014 stood together at graduation on Sunday, their individual personalities shone through.

Though all dressed in caps and gowns — the boys in black and the girls in white — most of them added their own touch. Many decorated their caps by adding glitter, airbrushed designs, photographs, or even fake fruit. Several graduates wore Hawaiian leis and flowers, with colors varying from lime green to lavender to orange to rainbow.

Still, Principal Diana Bonneville said she could unite the class of 2014 with one word: “compassion.”

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A total of 151 seniors received diplomas at a spirited ceremony in the Richard Glenn Gettell Amphitheater at Mount Holyoke College. In her opening remarks, Bonneville recalled the class members’ good deeds, such as volunteering at local shelters and soup kitchens, participating in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day “Bag the Community” food drive, and going on mission trips.

This dedication to service, she said, is what she believes distinguishes South Hadley High School students from others.

“The world needs more kindhearted and empathetic people like you,” she told the class.

Of the graduates, 28 were members of the National Honor Society, which means they maintained a grade point average of at least 3.5 as well as completing a certain number of community service hours.

Salutatorian Hope Werenski recalled a moment when the class felt particularly united. In her speech, she recollected an instance several grades back when the class was collectively punished by being forced to sit in silence in the cafeteria. She noted that anyone who is familiar with their class knows that “silence is and always has been a virtual impossibility.”

But suddenly, in an act of rebellion, someone coughed, and soon the “infection spread” and the room was full of coughing, she recalled.

“We were all united in a shared but ridiculous cough,” she said.

She encouraged her fellow graduates to continue the spirit of refusing to remain silent through actions such as speaking up against cruelty. “Keep coughing,” she told the class.

Even with the sun beating down on them, the graduates’ spirits remained high. As Superintendent of Schools Nicholas Young addressed the audience, a beach ball appeared among the graduates.

“They’re energetic,” Young remarked with a laugh.

They tossed the beach ball around until it was collected by Assistant Principal Patrick Lemieux. But it reappeared later in the ceremony, along with two more. Several long balloons were sent sailing into the air, making a loud whining sound as they deflated.

Young reminded the class that there are no guarantees in life. He encouraged the graduating seniors to work hard, and to learn from their mistakes and failures, closing his remarks with the Latin proverb, “When there is no wind, row.”

Following the presentation of diplomas, valedictorian Jay Patruno took the front of the stage to lead his classmates in moving their tassels from the right to the left. He wore sunglasses with lime green frames, and atop his cap were a fake apple, banana and cluster of grapes.

In his speech, Patruno said “thank you” to all of the parents on behalf of his peers, and gave a special thank you to his own mother. “I know today is just as much of a success for you as it is for me,” he said. He alluded to the strong motivation of his fellow classmates. “One thing about (the class of) 2014 is that we are fighters,” he said. “We refuse to admit defeat or remain silent.”