Easthampton grads advised, ‘Get up and do something’

  • Easthampton High School graduates applaud during congratulatory remarks by Allison LeClair, the school superintendent. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School Class of 2019 Vice President Sam Colenback walks to the podium to give closing remarks Friday at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School Class of 2019 Vice President Sam Colenback speaks at the close of graduation, Friday, June 7, 2019 at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduates turn their tassels at the close of graduation. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduate Trevor Waldron gets a fist bump from Dan Adams, his friend’s father, at the close of graduation Friday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduates David Brakey, right, and Michael Straw hug after graduation, Friday, at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton High School graduates Jack Bacis, right, and Michael Straw share the moment Friday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/7/2019 10:44:26 PM

EASTHAMPTON — To the 119 Easthampton High School graduates receiving their diplomas on Friday evening, class of 2019 valedictorian Shane Gravel shared some parting advice for his fellow classmates.

“Don’t follow your dreams,” Gravel said, striking a practical yet humorous note. “If you are dreaming, you are probably sleeping, and if you are sleeping, you are probably not doing anything that’s getting you closer to achieving your goals … Rather, get up and do something – whether it’s simply making an action plan or doing something small, everything counts.”

Graduates marched in front of the school clad in maroon caps and gowns, with honors students donning golden stoles, as the school band performed “Pomp and Circumstance,” prior to Gravel’s speech. Parents, guardians and relatives sat in chairs by the front entrance and attempted to stay cool in the hot sun by fanning themselves with the ceremony’s program.

Gravel recounted many of his classmate’s accomplishments and encouraged students to focus on the attainable instead of “shooting for the stars.”

Easthampton High School placed first at the “We the People: The Citizen and The Constitution” state competition for the second year in a row; the high school’s soccer, swim and track teams sent several athletes to western Massachusetts championships this year; and the drama club put on two productions this year.

“It’s true that we must be primed for what’s ahead of us with goals and preparation, and it’s safe to say that our high school experience has done that well,” Gravel said. “But we also must be open and adapt to the things we can’t plan as many of us will be venturing out to new and unfamiliar environments this fall.”

Principal Kevin Burke asked the graduates to consider the message in the song, “What a Wonderful World,” and began his speech by describing some crucial events in the 1960s, the decade when Louis Armstrong released a recoding of the song.

Even in an era that saw the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Vietnam War, Burke said that a song that celebrated the “wonders of nature, friends, happiness and joy.”

“He sent a message that even though there is hatred and violence throughout our world, it is still beautiful,” Burke said. “I believe the song’s message is timeless and is necessary today as it was in the 1960s.”

“Go through life and marvel at all the incredible things around you,” Burke told graduates. He stood in front of a crowd of a few hundred gathered in front of the high school for the commencement ceremony. “Remember Louis Armstrong’s words before you act: It ain’t the world that’s so bad, but what we are doing to it.”

“Embrace the good and project it to those around you,” he said. “Be like Louis Armstrong.”

Nicolas Soucy, class treasurer, and Fernando Tenesaca, class secretary, presented the class gift: a sculpture of an eagle that is yet to be built in front of the school.

Tenasaca said the idea came from the school spirit throughout the year at sporting events.

“Over the past four years, sports teams at EHS have won nine league championships and three western Mass championships, including our basketball team’s trip to the state final and the hockey team making back-to-back trips to the state finals,” Soucy said.

Class of 2019 co-president Jaquelline Perez encouraged graduates to not be afraid to fail and to learn from failures.

“Do not be afraid of change,” Perez said. “Tonight, we are teetering on the precipice of change and many of us have fear and apprehension of the future.”

Her advice in for students feeling apprehension: “You need to fail before you succeed.”

Perez then performed an experiment on her fellow classmates to prove a point. She asked graduates to raise their hand as high as they could, which they did.

“Now raise it two inches higher,” she said, to which her classmates obliged. “See, you did it. When you are feeling angry, sad, perhaps failed and are struggling to get yourself back up, remember you are capable of reaching further than you ever thought. We all witnessed you do it today.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.
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