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Amherst Regional graduates 272 seniors who are lauded for compassion, confidence

  • Emma Laquanna Andrews-Sevene, center, listens to the commencement address by Amherst Regional High School English teacher Chris Herland during the school's graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center Friday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Emma Laquanna Andrews-Sevene, center, listens to the commencement address by Amherst Regional High School English teacher Chris Herland during the school's graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center Friday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jaimon Henry Olmsted, second from left, solos with the Hurricane Singers & Chorale, conducted by Anita Cooper, left, as they perform "Gloria from Missa Kenya" by Paul Basle during Amherst Regional High School graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center last June.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Jaimon Henry Olmsted, second from left, solos with the Hurricane Singers & Chorale, conducted by Anita Cooper, left, as they perform "Gloria from Missa Kenya" by Paul Basle during Amherst Regional High School graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center last June.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • The four Amherst Regional High School valedictorians, from left, Angela Zhu, Aliyah Sarro-Schwartz, Dominik Domer and Kyra Wolf, each took a turn in delivering their remarks during graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    The four Amherst Regional High School valedictorians, from left, Angela Zhu, Aliyah Sarro-Schwartz, Dominik Domer and Kyra Wolf, each took a turn in delivering their remarks during graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst Regional High School English teacher Chris Herland delivers a present to an A.R.H.S. senior during the school's graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center Friday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Amherst Regional High School English teacher Chris Herland delivers a present to an A.R.H.S. senior during the school's graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center Friday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Emma Laquanna Andrews-Sevene, center, listens to the commencement address by Amherst Regional High School English teacher Chris Herland during the school's graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center Friday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Jaimon Henry Olmsted, second from left, solos with the Hurricane Singers & Chorale, conducted by Anita Cooper, left, as they perform "Gloria from Missa Kenya" by Paul Basle during Amherst Regional High School graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center last June.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • The four Amherst Regional High School valedictorians, from left, Angela Zhu, Aliyah Sarro-Schwartz, Dominik Domer and Kyra Wolf, each took a turn in delivering their remarks during graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Amherst Regional High School English teacher Chris Herland delivers a present to an A.R.H.S. senior during the school's graduation exercises held at the University of Massachusetts Mullins Center Friday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

But during the school’s 149th commencement at the Mullins Center, most of the emphasis was on the virtues of compassion and confidence shown by the class of 2013.

In his opening remarks, Principal Mark Jackson recalled the actions of a group of students who on Nov. 30, stood on top of the cafeteria tables during all four of the school’s lunch periods and loudly made statements against racism, against using the word “gay” as a derogatory remark and against saying “it’s OK” when it is not.

He commended the students for having the bravery to take action.

“The class of 2013 was represented well that day,” Jackson said, and told the seniors, “On that day, you inspired me.”

Jackson referred to the coming out this year of gay NBA player Jason Collins, and how he was inspired after hearing that his college roommate, Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy III had marched in the Boston Pride Parade in 2012.

“I think had Jason Collins been in the cafeteria on Nov. 30, he might not have needed Joe Kennedy,” Jackson said. “The class would have brought him along.”

As the ceremony went on, the sense of community among the graduates became increasingly evident, especially when a beach ball suddenly appeared which the seniors tossed around to keep from hitting the ground.

When valedictorians Kyra Wolf, Dominik Dömer, Aliyah Sarro-Schwartz and Angela Zhu took the stage together, they took turns at the podium. Wolf, who will attend Colorado College, started off by jokingly reciting a series of graduation clichés, such as, “Reach for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” She worked to suppress her own laughter as the audience laughed along.

Dömer, who will attend Tufts University, gave a “shout out” to all students who learned English as a second language, as he did after coming here from Germany seven years ago.

Sarro-Schwartz, who will attend Stanford University, reminisced about what the graduates would miss, such as intercom announcements by Jackson, which she said are part of what “makes Amherst, Amherst.”

She also recalled what the students “might not miss,” such as the school bathrooms.

“One door really does open when another closes,” she said, drawing laughs from the crowd.

Zhu, who will attend Dartmouth College, closed out the joint speech by saying that she felt too young to give advice, so she quoted the words of Marina Keegan, a journalist and playwright who died in a car crash in Dennis last June shortly after graduating from Yale University. “What we have to remember is that we can still do anything,” Zhu related.

The student-chosen speaker, Chris Herland, an English teacher at Amherst Regional, delayed the start of his speech by running below the stage and silently tossing flowers and Hershey kisses at the graduates.

In his speech, Herland referred to an article by New York Times columnist David Brooks. “This is how strange the world is getting. I’m quoting David Brooks,” Herland said.

Brooks’ column made the point that in books published during the 20th century, the usage of words such as “self” and “unique” increased while the frequency of words like “patience” and “compassion” decreased, reflecting what this might say about society.

“I don’t want you to let that continue,” Herland said to the class.

And he also spoke about the positive changes that society has seen in recent years, such as the movement for same-sex marriage and the election of a black man as president. Herland added that he would not be surprised if a woman is soon elected president.

“You are actually moving into a world more tolerant, equitable and more inclusive than I would have imagined,” Herland said.

At the end of his speech, he asked the graduates to stand and give a round of applause to themselves and to their supporters in the auditorium, before he insisted that class members and the audience hug the person next to them.

Herland, who earned a standing ovation, high-fived the graduates sitting in the front row after exiting the stage.

Senior class officer James Kirwan commended his classmates for not only being nice people, but having a sense of confidence. He reminded his peers to hold onto their sense of confidence after leaving Amherst Regional.

“If you do not look forward to each day in front of you, you are forced to spend each moment of your life with someone you don’t like,” Kirwan said.

Related

Amherst graduates

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Amherst graduates *Jessica Laura Abdow, *Christine Ma Zihui Adams, Dalton Gregory Adams, Luke Angelo Allen, *Leah Hannah Alper, Emma Laquanna Andrews-Sevene, Alejandro Arean-Raines, Katherine Lian Armentano, Daniel Martin Asselin, *Madeline Jane Auerbach, *Elihu Bellamy Botelho Ayres, Cody Joshua Baglow, Julia Rose Barber, Curtis Evan Barnes, Will Emmons Barstow, Kyle Alexander Bartos, Gabrielle Nazira Bashour, Isaac Liam O’Brien Bass, Rachael Catherine …

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