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Belchertown grads told of a ‘dazzling and difficult’ life

  • Graduate Kristen McNamara hugs superintendent Karol Coffin before Belchertown High School's commencement ceremony on Friday. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Belchertown High School graduates process in for their commencement ceremony on June 2, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Graduates including Sharyden Spears, center, process in for Belchertown High School’s commencement ceremony Friday evening. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Belchertown High School graduates process in for their commencement ceremony on Friday. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Graduate Matthew Davidsohn gives the salutatory address during Belchertown High School's commencement ceremony. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Graduate Haili Giglietti plays flute with the commencement band during Belchertown High School's graduation ceremony. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Attorney Sunila Thomas George gives the commencement address during Belchertown High School's graduation ceremony. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Elizabeth Teixeira, department chair of Fine and Applied Arts, left, is honored by graduates Mi Choi and Abeiku Yankson during Belchertown High School's commencement ceremony. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Graduates including Ethan Sousa sing "The Climb," which they named as the graduating class song, during Belchertown High School's commencement ceremony. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Graduate Cameron Wright gives the valedictory address during Belchertown High School's commencement ceremony. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Superintendent Karol Coffin, left, congratulates graduate Maelia Lip on receiving her diploma during Belchertown High School’s commencement ceremony. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Graduate Wesley Lupa waves to the crowd as he walks to receive his diploma during Belchertown High School's commencement ceremony. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Belchertown High School graduates receive their diplomas Friday during the school's commencement ceremony. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Phoebe Yankson, a 2013 Belchertown High School graduate, cheers for new graduates June 2, 2017 during the school's commencement ceremony. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Graduate Christopher Hibbard celebrates on Friday, as he processes out of Belchertown High School's commencement ceremony. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@ecutts_HG
Saturday, June 03, 2017

BELCHERTOWN — “Go out into the world with an open mind and expose yourself to what the world has to offer,” encouraged attorney Sunila Thomas George in her commencement address to the 165 graduating seniors of Belchertown High School.

As their proud families and friends watched in the high school’s gym on Friday night, Thomas George urged them on.

“Remember that by seeking out different people and their different opinions, you open up your mind, and by opening your mind, you will undoubtedly open up your heart.”

A 1987 Belchertown High School graduate, Thomas George now serves as a commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Detailing her life as a young woman of color growing up in Belchertown, she told the students she was very self-conscious because she was the only person in school with a darker complexion and a “funny name.”

“I was well into adulthood before I realized how enriched my life had been because of my cultural heritage and because I was able to speak another language,” she said. “It took me years to understand being an ‘other’ was an asset … that checking off that ‘other’ box was part of me I needed to embrace. We should all be checking off that ‘other’ box, because everybody here is different.”

Differences and diversity provoke thoughtful discussion, enhance creativity and allow us to consider more alternatives. It leads to break-through innovations, Thomas George said.

Recalling her start as a high school history teacher, Principal Christine Vigneux took a historical perspective, noting that Friday was the 50th anniversary of the U.S. release of the Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and one of its best-known songs, “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

“Life can and will be both terrific and tumultuous, dazzling and difficult,” she said. “Through it all, you will rely on and revel in the love and support of those closest to you.”

Cementing their status as digital natives, both valedictorian Cameron Wright and salutatorian Matthew Davidsohn told the crowd that they turned to the internet for advice on their speeches.

Finding no inspiration online, Davidsohn turned to letters between family members during World War II, translated from the original German to English by his grandfather. The past, Davidsohn said, contains lessons for the present.

“Though today we focus on our future, these letters reminded me of the importance of reflecting on the past, especially given our moment in history,” he said. “We, as both a graduating class and a generation, are entering a world of uneasiness and uncertainty, polarizing politics and untenable inequalities.”

Wright started with graduation favorite Dr. Seuss, citing a lesser known piece of advice from the 1981 work “The Tooth Book.”

“Teeth are always in style,” Wright said to laughter and applause. “I would say that maintaining your personal hygiene is just as important as anything I could tell you about spreading your metaphorical wings.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.