ARHS grads urged to ‘change the world’

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  • Isael Colon, who moved from Puerto Rico in 2015, texts a childhood friend in the audience at the Mullins Center as he and his Amherst Regional High School classmates wait to begin the school's 155th graduation on Friday, June 7, 2019. Colon invited the friend, who now lives in Florida, to come up for his graduation and he obliged. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Regional High School recognized nine valedictorians, including Leif Maynard, left, Amy Benedetto and Caleb Ireland, during the school’s 155th graduation, held Friday at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Regional High School graduates, in front row, Spencer Cliche, Emilio Page, Morgan Miller and Ezekiel Ash watch conductor Todd Fruth, left, as they sing "The Road Home" with the Chorale and Hurricane Singers for the last time during the school's 155th graduation, held at the Mullins Center on Friday, June 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mina Stern-Wenk waits for the Amherst Regional High School Class of 2019 to process into the Mullins Center for the school’s 155th graduation Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A soon-to-be Amherst Regional High School graduate who adorned her cap with the title character Dory from the 2016 film “Finding Dory” listens to interim Principal Miki Gromacki’s opening remarks Friday. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Aiman Shahzad chats with her Amherst Regional High School classmates just before the start of the school's 155th graduation, held at the Mullins Center on Friday, June 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/8/2019 12:28:28 AM

AMHERST — Bob Keiter vividly remembers taking his granddaughter, Malina Kern, to Rhode Island’s Block Island when she was little. He said that he used to take Malina out into the water and the two would watch as the waves came crashing in — some big and some small.

“I’d say, ‘Over or under, and she’d have to decide,’” Keiter said, recalling how his granddaughter succeeded in dealing with the challenge each approaching wave presented.

Keiter was walking into the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Friday to watch his granddaughter celebrate another success: graduating high school. And for Keiter, there was no question what direction his granddaughter was headed that day.

“Over for sure,” he said with a laugh.

Kern was one of the 209 students from the Class of 2019 to graduate Friday from Amherst Regional High School. Interim Principal Miki Gromacki described the class as one full of students willing to make their voices heard on issues ranging from climate change to the school’s dress code. Talib Sadiq, the school’s assistant principal, spoke about that same quality, saying that the class was now going into the world as thoughtful, passionate young adults. 

“Please change the world!” he said to laughter.

In typical ARHS fashion, the graduating class had a total of nine valedictorians; last year, the graduating class had 11. 

All of this year’s valedictorians were introduced before giving personal anecdotes from their time as students in the district. From tales of getting lost as a new student on the way to class, to lessons learned from Senegalese and Gambian exchange students, the speeches drew plenty of applause.

Elizabeth Huang, one of those valedictorians, said her parents are immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and that in elementary school she felt lost and unsure of who she was. Her quest at ARHS, she said, was to discover who she really was.

“I feel comfortable as an American-born Chinese at ARHS, and I feel like I belong,” she said.

Caleb Ireland, another valedictorian, described how he was born prematurely, and as a result has had to overcome many challenges over the years, including difficulties with the connection between his brain and body. He specifically thanked the special education teachers who helped him and others along the way.

Without those teachers, Ireland said, “I would definitely not be standing here today having learned violin and taking calculus classes.”

Also typical of ARHS was the diverse range of talented student performers who took center stage throughout the program — from the school’s chorale to its smaller group of singers, drummers and dancers performing bomba, a traditional dance and music from Puerto Rico.

This year’s commencement speaker was Brittni Upchurch, a teacher at the school and the class adviser. Her message largely focused on being thankful.

“Sometimes we have to be grateful that we have challenges to learn from,” she said.

Upchurch then listed the things about the Class of 2019 she’s thankful for: the new slang they taught her; not being too cool to have a one-on-one conversation; and the four gray hairs she now has — one for each year the class was at ARHS, she joked.

“Thank you for sharing your many accomplishments and milestones with me, and for allowing me to do the same,” she said.

As the class prepared to walk across the stage, School Committee member Anastasia Ordonez gave some parting advice. She encouraged the class to get active politically and to run against the odds for local office.

“The world does not move without deep effort,” she said. “Be audacious, be bold, and now that you’ve been unleashed on the world, show up to that School Committee meeting … and if we don’t listen, work with others and get loud.”

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