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101 ‘champions’ at Easthampton High School embark on next adventure

  • Easthampton High School Class of 2018 Valedictorian Dillan Wilson speaks during commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduate Chantel Duda, right, hugs Rose Guerra, a class advisor, after receiving her diploma at commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joan Bonsignore, at podium, delivers the commencement address during the Easthampton High School graduation, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduate Emma Blomstrom, right, shakes hands with Susan Mason after receiving her diploma at commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The Easthampton High School Class of 2018 applauds after a speech by their valedictorian, Dillan Wilson, during commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Members of the Easthampton High School Class of 2018 react as Joan Bonsignore begins her commencement address, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduate Bristol Sternfield, right, hugs Rose Guerra, a class advisor, after receiving her diploma during commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduate Courtney Rose Cowen waves to the audience after receiving her diploma during commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduate Pektra Boy Nhem, right, hugs Joan Bonsignore after receiving his diploma during commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduate Matthew Todd Zuzula displays his diploma to the audience during commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduate Devon Malik Owens-Heywood displays his diploma to the audience during commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduate Katarina Dawn Lusnia, front, celebrates at the close of commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduate Ambera Mutevelic, front, celebrates at the close of commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. She is the class president. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The Easthampton High School Class of 2018 turns their tassels at the close of commencement, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@mjtidwell781
Friday, June 01, 2018

EASTHAMPTON — Easthampton High School graduated 101 “champions” on Friday evening, who were praised not just for their talent, wits and accomplishments, but also for their youthful activism.

After a warm welcome from Principal Kevin Burke, EHS English teacher Joan Bonsignore delivered the commencement address to the students she has taught and watched grow over the years.

“I have seen a phenomenal amount of talent from such a small school,” Bonsignore said. “I’ve also seen something else: activism.”

Bonsignore referenced a March walkout, when over a hundred Easthampton High School students walked out of school to honor victims of gun violence in Parkland, Florida. At the end of March, 28 students traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in the National March for Our Lives with Assistant Principal Susan Welson, while many others participated in local marches.

“There is power in peaceful protest,” Bonsignore said. “Change is happening so rapidly and all of you must be prepared to greet it. Knowing you all so well, I think you are.”

Dillan Wilson, class valedictorian, spoke about the supportive environment he experienced at EHS, with special mention of teacher Kelley Brown and the “We the People” constitutional law class and competition that 21 Easthampton students participated in, won at the state level and, this spring, traveled to Washington D.C. to compete in the national finals competition.

Wilson spoke of the hard work put in by the students for the competition and tough lessons learned, but also about the teamwork and camaraderie they built with each other.

“Being kind is just as important as working hard,” Wilson said. “I encourage you to be kind to those who are vulnerable.”

Class salutatorian Carly Detmers encouraged her fellow graduates to stray from the expected roads and highways, to “forget the expectations, be strong, be brave, and take whatever road you want.” She said that “life does not have to be a simple highway,” quoting lyrics by the Grateful Dead.

“We’ve been influenced by what society wants for us,” Detmers said. “Now, you have a choice.”

School Committee Chairwoman Cynthia Kwiecinski addressed not just the graduates, but the gathered family and community as well, saying that education is a “three-pronged partnership” between family, educators and students.

“You have funded our schools and impressed upon your children the importance of education,” Kwiecinski said. “Thank you.”

Easthampton voted just last week to build a $109 million dollar new consolidated school to replace four existing elementary and middle schools, one of which was built in the 19th century. The vote drew discussion and debate among the community and the outcome at the ballots was far from certain.

Chantel Duda, vice president of the Class of 2018, spoke about growing up in a small town and of surprises she found while getting to know some of her classmates better.

“Day by day, school can feel like forever, but it’s funny how fast forever cam come to an end,” Duda said. “The lesson I’ve learned is that people can and will surprise you, no matter the duration of time you’ve known them or how well you think you know them.”

The ceremony capped off with a bittersweet farewell address from Easthampton Schools Superintendent Nancy Follansbee, who is retiring at the end of June after more than 25 years working with Easthampton schools. Lauding the accomplishments of the graduates in everything from fashion technology to horticulture, Follansbee said the graduates had made special contributions during their time at EHS.

“As it is a graduation for you, it is also a kind of graduation for me,” Follansbee said. “Class of 2018, you are truly a special class, a class of champions. Now, go out and take advantage of all that awaits you.”

M.J. Tidwell can be reached at mjtidwell@gazettenet.com.