‘You made it’: Easthampton High hands out diplomas to 100 of the ‘strongest, most resilient’ graduates

  • Easthampton High School Senior Emilio Lazcarro signals to the crowd during commencement exercises held at Daley Field outside the high school, Saturday in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Graduating Easthampton High School Senior Elishama Jean waits along with classmates for the presentation of diplomas during outdoor commencement exercises, Saturday in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Graduating Easthampton High School senior Ashab Mannan lines up with classmates before the procession Saturday during the Easthampton High School commencement exercises. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Easthampton High School seniors walk in procession to begin the commencement exercises at Daley Field outside the high school, Saturday in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Graduating Easthampton High School Senior Diana Velasco Perez’s color graduation cap is on display as she lines up to pick up a diploma during commencement exercises Saturday in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Easthampton High School senior Amelia Joy Wilson gives an elbow bump to Superintendent Allison LeClair during commencement exercises at Daley Field outside the high school, Saturday in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

For the Gazette
Published: 6/6/2021 8:57:00 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Horns blew, crowds cheered and balloons swayed in the wind as 100 of Easthampton High School seniors clad in maroon robes and clutching a single rose, processed two-by-two onto Daley Field for the school’s 2021 graduation ceremony.

For parents, students, teachers and administrators the year had been a tumultuous one as everyone tried to cope with the outfall of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many spoke of the struggle, persistence, and hard work it took for the class of 2021 to be able to receive their diplomas in front of family and friends.

 

“If you feel like you struggled and trudged through this year, the fact is that you made it and that makes you one of the strongest most resilient generations to have ever walk across the commencement stage,” School Board member Marissa Carrere said.

Carrere said that the graduates were among the heroic groups that not only persevered the hardships of the pandemic but protected the community as well, calling this year “a remarkable and heroic exercise in civic responsibility and promotion of the common good.”

“You deserve so many thanks for all of your sacrifices that you have made for the greater good and for the city of Easthampton as you stayed home to protect love ones, teachers and the vulnerable in our city,” she said.

Carrere praised the students for working in grocery stores to keep the community fed, and helping to take care of their families as they faced lost wages all while studying, advocating for themselves at school board meetings and attending civil rights protests.

“Now with your high school diploma in hand you have even more power to keep making this world better, safer, and brighter,” she said through tears. “This is your time, you have earned your degree and nothing can take that away from you, ever.

For parent Gretchen Morse-Dobosz, the response of the school to the pandemic was laudable.

“I think that the principal, administration and teachers here did and amazing job in making the year as normal as possible,” she said as she waited to watch her son, Owen Morse, graduate.

Anthony and Dave Denucce said that the remote education and isolation did not hold back their niece graduate, Kolby Denucce.

“She really did great with remote learning and managed to get straight A’s,” Dave Denucce.

“Regardless of the pandemic, she really applied herself, overcame any trouble, and made it happen,” Anthony Denucce said, noting that she will attend UMass Amherst this fall. “We are very proud of her, she is thriving and excited to be moving on and we are excited for her.”

Graduation speakers at the event also focused on helpful advice and variety of qualities that the graduates should try and embrace.

Principal Bill Evans told the students that gratitude brings restorative joy both to the giver and the receiver.

“Whenever you feel overwhelmed or challenged or sad, call home and thank your mom and your dad, grandparents or any other caregiver who helped you get to that point, say thank you for everything you did,” he said, failing to fight back tears. “They will cry like this dad is doing, and you will feel great, and you can use that feeling to face whatever obstacle lies in front of you with the right mindset because joy puts your mind right.”

Class President Maura Bernier and class secretary Cylie Kirejczyk shared the podium to deliver joint remarks. The pair thanked the teachers and friends who helped them make it through their years at EHS.

While Bernier regaled the students with memories of class antics, citing the time when one unlucky student got his tongue stuck to the flagpole at White Brook Middle School, Kirejczyk took on a more serious tone, with a lesson from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” and a warning not to waste time on the superficial, but to pursue life with meaning and purpose.

“Our life’s meaning is all around us,” she said. “Those we love and love us back are what is truly important, so ground those closest to you with a bond of steel and never let them go.”

Valedictorian Alice Wanamaker thanked her fellow graduates for their friendship and staving off loneliness even during a pandemic.

“Making it to this point took blood sweat and tears in a way that I don’t think anyone expected, and I cannot believe it, but here, in all of its unprecedented glory, is a real ending,” she said. “Class of 2021 thank you for your resilience, kindness and strength, I am so grateful to be one of you.”

Social studies teacher and commencement speaker Kelley Brown used the lessons of three separate stories as backdrops to deliver her parting advice to the students — the pursuit of happiness.

Each story brought forth a lesson in the importance of human connectedness, industriousness, compassion, patience, an openness to adventure and new ideas, and a dedication to hard work, justice and doing the right thing.

“Consider whether embracing any of these virtues could help you to live a happy life,” she said.

“What will lead to your happiness, what will be your next story?”

Brown told the students that they should be fueled by their passions and be tempered by the long game. That they should work every day to like and respect that person in the mirror and to refrain from self-deprecation.

“Find your communities, live your authentic self right now, don’t wait,” she said. “Say yes to things even if you don’t know what will come of it.”

Above all Brown bid them to be kind to one another and to remain in touch.

“I cannot wait to hear what your next story will be, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a part of my story and my pursuit of happiness.”

For graduates Brianna Taylor, 18, and Kellsea Vieu, 17, their story is already in the works and they were exuberant as they described their meticulously planned steps after graduation.

 

“We are best friends and we are going to college together at Siena College in New York,” Taylor said. “We are going to study business and then open a music business in California.”

A smiling Haley Medina, 18, said that she was afraid she was not going to graduate as her grades had suffered during the pandemic.

“I was lucky. They worked with me and gave me a chance, and now I’m here,” she said. “Now I plan to work for a year before going to HCC (Holyoke Community College).”

For other graduates like Sam Ferland, 18, the path forward is a bit more open.

“I feel amazing,” Ferland said. “I have no idea what comes next but I’m super excited to graduate, get out and start making some money.”

A special section with more graduation news about Easthampton High School class of 2021 will be published in the Gazette July 2.

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