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Editorial: High school graduates urged to embrace diversity, practice compassion

  • Attorney Sunila Thomas George gives the commencement address June 2 during Belchertown High School's graduation ceremony. SARAH CROSBY


Monday, June 12, 2017

High school graduations are bittersweet times of looking back at accomplishments reached and friendships made, while considering the uncertainties of the journey ahead, whether the chosen path is school, the military or employment.

They are also a time for dispensing advice to graduates as they prepare for their next chapter. Common themes this year touched on embracing diversity, practicing compassion and accepting challenges.

Here is a selection of the guidance offered by speakers at local high school graduations this month.

“Go out into the world with an open mind and expose yourself to what the world has to offer. 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.

“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. 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.”

— Sunila Thomas George, 1987 Belchertown High School graduate, now a commissioner for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, June 2

“No matter the person, no matter the situation, I know I have the power to touch them. Let people feel your positivity, your compassion and, most importantly, your love.”

— Vito Perrone, former Easthampton High School principal, June 3

“These are grim times. Grim for the environment. Grim for millions of (the world’s) inhabitants, and grim for this country.

“This is your task: to reach out and build alliances. Help our society and planet heal. You have the tools — now use them.”

— Tony Cape, former Hartsbrook School teacher, June 10

“First, I wish you happiness and success in whatever you do. Second, I wish you a strong mind — a mind that is both critical and analytical, a mind that is flexible and a mind that questions and desires to learn and grow. Lastly, I wish you a strong heart. A heart that instills you with passion, compassion, empathy, kindness and love. I believe that with a strong mind and strong heart, you will be able to face the challenges that await you.”

— Bryan Lombardi, Northampton High School principal, June 11

“Remember to be kind, and, if you can, say ‘good morning’ to everybody. Because it works!”

— Marc Keenan, senior class adviser and campus monitor, Amherst Regional High School, June 9

“Think truly and carefully for yourself … think about others. You pledged yourself to liberty and justice for all over 700 times in the past four years and again tonight. Freedom and fair treatment, equal treatment for all. You have made that pledge, that solemn promise. Keep it, act upon it, live it.”

— Rodney Kleber, former English teacher at Gateway Regional High School, June 2

“This coming of age story has reached its peak, and now it’s time to set sail. Hold on tightly to all who’ve helped you this far.”

— Frontier Regional School senior Ian Newman, June 2

“Let’s talk about the real world coming at you right now. Some of us will go off to college, others will go straight into the workforce and others will join the military.

“No matter which path we take, there are always challenges ahead of us. What I hope for each of you and for myself is that we always try to meet these challenges with our heads held high and our hearts wide open.”

— Tomaz Oliveira, senior class president, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, June 1

No matter the exact words, the message we hope this year’s high school graduates hear is to find fulfillment in enriching their minds and hearts in ways that will make a positive difference not only for themselves but also for others in their communities.