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Hampshire Regional valedictorian: ‘Live before you die’

  • Brittany E. Dalton, right, trades high fives with Hampshire Regional High School valedictorian Else Schlerman after receiving her diploma during Hampshire Regional High School's graduation exercises held at Smith College John M. Greene Hall earlier this month.<br/>Celebration time<br/><br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Brittany E. Dalton, right, trades high fives with Hampshire Regional High School valedictorian Else Schlerman after receiving her diploma during Hampshire Regional High School's graduation exercises held at Smith College John M. Greene Hall earlier this month.
    Celebration time

    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Senior class president Tanner Bzdel, right, the first to toss his cap into the air, looks up as his classmates follow suit at the conclusion of graduation.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Senior class president Tanner Bzdel, right, the first to toss his cap into the air, looks up as his classmates follow suit at the conclusion of graduation.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Hampshire Regional High School Chamber Singers perform "Con te partiro" during graduation exercises held at Smith College John M. Greene Hall on Friday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    The Hampshire Regional High School Chamber Singers perform "Con te partiro" during graduation exercises held at Smith College John M. Greene Hall on Friday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chuck Andrews of Blandford records the Hampshire Regional High School Chamber Singers performing "Con te partiro" during graduation exercises held at Smith College John M. Greene Hall on Friday. Andrews' son, Shane Andrews, was one of the graduates also watching the performance.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Chuck Andrews of Blandford records the Hampshire Regional High School Chamber Singers performing "Con te partiro" during graduation exercises held at Smith College John M. Greene Hall on Friday. Andrews' son, Shane Andrews, was one of the graduates also watching the performance.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Senior class president Tanner Bzdel, right, the first to toss his cap into the air, looks up as his classmates follow suit at the conclusion of graduation.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Senior class president Tanner Bzdel, right, the first to toss his cap into the air, looks up as his classmates follow suit at the conclusion of graduation.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Senior class president Tanner Bzdel, right, the first to toss his cap into the air, looks up as his classmates follow suit at the conclusion of graduation.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Senior class president Tanner Bzdel, right, the first to toss his cap into the air, looks up as his classmates follow suit at the conclusion of graduation.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Brittany E. Dalton, right, trades high fives with Hampshire Regional High School valedictorian Else Schlerman after receiving her diploma during Hampshire Regional High School's graduation exercises held at Smith College John M. Greene Hall earlier this month.<br/>Celebration time<br/><br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Senior class president Tanner Bzdel, right, the first to toss his cap into the air, looks up as his classmates follow suit at the conclusion of graduation.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • The Hampshire Regional High School Chamber Singers perform "Con te partiro" during graduation exercises held at Smith College John M. Greene Hall on Friday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Chuck Andrews of Blandford records the Hampshire Regional High School Chamber Singers performing "Con te partiro" during graduation exercises held at Smith College John M. Greene Hall on Friday. Andrews' son, Shane Andrews, was one of the graduates also watching the performance.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Senior class president Tanner Bzdel, right, the first to toss his cap into the air, looks up as his classmates follow suit at the conclusion of graduation.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Senior class president Tanner Bzdel, right, the first to toss his cap into the air, looks up as his classmates follow suit at the conclusion of graduation.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “You don’t often think a day like this will come.”

Torrey said her daughter, Patricia Torrey, 17, who has autism, has had as complete and enriching a high school experience as any of her classmates.

“The school has been amazing, better than I could have ever imagined,” Kelly Torrey said.

Patricia Torrey and her classmates said a collective goodbye at J.M. Greene Hall on the Smith College campus Friday evening.

Class salutatorian Megan Thompson-Munson acknowledged the surface differences among her classmates, including the fact that they come from different hometowns and went to different elementary schools. However, in the six years of being Hampshire Regional students, “We came together like no other.”

Thompson-Munson said the most potent lesson she took from her time at Hampshire Regional came after a particularly dismal performance on an exam, when she was reassured by her teacher that one exam was relatively insignificant when placed in the context of an entire life.

“We realized we could move on, we could persevere,” she said. “Don’t let one mistake define you.”

The mood downstairs as the students prepared — boys donning red graduation gowns, girls donning white — was sometimes more like a pep rally than a commencement.

Shouts of “We all did this together!” and “2013!” echoed throughout the basement of the hall as the students lined up for their last march as high school students.

Rob Carmel, 18, of Easthampton said he plans to attend college at University of Massachusetts Boston in the fall, studying information technology and hasn’t let the sometimes dire predictions of student debt and a rocky job market dissuade him.

“It’s worth it,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll find a job doing what I like.”

Frederickie Rizos, 18, of Southampton, who plans to studying sports management at Western New England University in the fall, said she will miss the camaraderie of her high school but looks forward to redefining herself in college and beyond.

“It’s a fresh start,” she said. “It’s a whole new environment. I could be somebody totally different.”

Class of 2013 vice president Cameron Cote reminded his classmates of all the recent “lasts” they’d experienced including their final exams and how, “All of these lasts have led to this moment.”

As a parting gift to those remaining behind, the Class of 2013 left a group of fiberboard canvasses that will be used to create permanent murals to be displayed in the halls of the school.

Valedictorian Else Schlerman observed that as high school comes to a close, graduating seniors face a multitude of opportunities and choices. And she left her classmates with some advice.

“Observe, experience, take in everything,” she said. “Live before you die,”

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.

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