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Williston Northampton graduates told ‘respect ... comes from within’

  • 20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)

    20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)

  • 20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)

    20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)

  • 20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)

    20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)

  • 20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)

    20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)

  • 20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)
  • 20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)
  • 20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)
  • 20130526: Williston's commencement (Photos: Shana Sureck)

EASTHAMPTON — The 172nd commencement of the Williston Northampton School opened Sunday with the sound of bagpipes and a drum as faculty, underclassmen and the graduating class of 2013 filed into the large white tent on the lawn in front of the Reed Campus Center.

Instead of traditional caps and gowns, the senior girls wore white dresses, while the boys wore black suits. The girls each carried a red rose; the boys wore white boutonnières. When the seniors entered, the waiting crowd burst into applause.

“I want you to think of this diploma as the first page of the next chapter of your story,” said Elizabeth D’Amour, board of trustees president, before presenting the graduates with their diplomas. “I hope you will always remember the Williston Northampton School and keep it close to your heart.”

The sense of loyalty and community among the 112 graduates was evident as the energy stayed high and the show of support remained constant through the morning ceremony.

After opening remarks from head of the school Robert W. Hill III, the ceremony began with the commencement address by award-winning author and journalist John Katzenbach — who decided to put his own spin on conventional graduation advice, such as “Never stop learning,” “You are the future,” and even “Always respect your parents.”

Katzenbach, an author of many crime novels, remarked that while he may be able to offer advice to someone being stalked or recently “kidnapped by Internet-savvy psychopaths,” he’s not sure about his effectiveness as an inspirational speaker.

So Katzenbach “did what any writer would do,” and used Google to inform his speech. Using the search engine, he found several common themes of graduations, including, “Never stop learning.” To this, Katzenbach rebutted that if you’ve stopped learning, you’ve either one — “died,” or two — “been elected to public office.”

To the statement, “You are the future,” Katzenbach responded, “Well, what about last year’s class?” He apologized that future generations have to fix the mistakes of past generations and concluded that, “it seems to me we will all have to get together on this future thing.”

To the advice, “Always respect your parents,” Katzenbach did not object to respecting one’s parents, but to the notion of being told who to respect.

“Respect is something that comes from within,” Katzenbach said. It is easier to start off respecting everyone, then decide who loses your respect, he added.

During the presentation of diplomas, the crowd gave enthusiastic applause from the first of the 112 names called to the last. Many names were echoed and chanted by their fellow graduates. Some graduates who lively locally had their diplomas presented to them by a parent, resulting in a particularly emotional reception.

After the last graduate’s name was called, the senior class erupted into a school song in unison, with a fist shake at the end.

Following was a speech by the senior class speaker, Miranda Gohh, of Providence, R.I. When Hill introduced her, he said that Gohh had given him her speech to hold onto until the ceremony, and that he saw this as a “sign of trust.” He pulled her speech out of his sleeve, “like a magician,” he noted, and handed it to her as she took the podium.

Gohh drew laughs from the crowd when she remarked that to keep her nerves in check, she would forgo picturing the audience in their underwear, and instead, opted not to put in her contacts that day. She then delved into more serious topics, such as her apprehension about growing older and her sadness in leaving the school, where she was a boarder.

“Take a second and look at your parents (and) teachers,” Gohh said. “Imagine yourself being them in a few years.” She added, “This is life — it happens.”

Gohh ended her speech with an expression of pride for her time at the school.

“We are Williston. We make this place a community,” Gohh said. “Good luck you guys. Peace and blessings in everything you do.”

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