Editorial: Graduation celebration commences in Valley

  • Mount Tom Academy graduates David Pantoja, from left, Autumn Fallon and Chloe Roux turn their tassels during graduation, Tuesday, at Holyoke Community College. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 5/30/2019 7:00:22 PM

One of our favorite graduations to cover each year is at Mount Tom Academy. The ceremony on the Holyoke Community College campus is always intimate because class sizes are small and graduates are excited and open about how overcoming struggles led them to this defining moment of their young lives.

There’s something special about hearing from students who were on the brink of not making it to graduation before they enrolled at Mount Tom, an alternative educational program for high school students at risk of dropping out of school.

The academy happily said goodbye to seven more graduates on Tuesday. Graduates this year said the academy boosted their confidence, introduced new friends and gave them the opportunity to accomplish something many didn’t see happening a short time ago — moving the tassels on their graduation caps from the right side to the left after receiving their diplomas.

Whether it’s seven or 207, graduation season is here. And we at the Gazette celebrate new graduates no matter the color of their gowns. Over a several-week span that started May 10, the Gazette will cover with photos and words more than 25 college and high school graduations.

All of the four-year institutions of higher learning in our area have hosted their ceremonies. Holyoke and Greenfield community colleges will hold ceremonies on Saturday.

Then it’s time for the wave of high school graduations, two of which occurred last weekend. Another five graduations will take place this weekend, starting with Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School (see page A1) and culminating on Sunday with Northampton High School. Another round of 11 graduations sweep in during the weekend of June 7.

It’s something the paper has done for years because it’s important. This crowning achievement is exciting for students, a time to reflect on the 12 years it took to earn that diploma and a chance to embark on future opportunities. The next step can be intimidating, both because of what they are leaving behind and what they are about to face.

As has been the case for the last several graduating classes, the outside world is pushing its way inside schools walls — or maybe its the students inside who are pushing their way out.

Mass school shootings in Florida in early 2018 ignited a national debate over gun violence and school safety that was led by students themselves. Many of this year’s graduates walked out of class over the issue.

A year later, students were again making their voices heard, skipping class to urge leaders to do more to fight climate change and to speak out about other movements, including #MeToo.

Closer to home, they’ve led political rallies, hosted forums with Beacon Hill legislators, and connected with the outside world in ways past generations have not.

This kind of activism is encouraging and gives us hope for the future. While graduations are a chance to celebrate completion of a facet of their formal schooling, the ceremonies students and their families attend are as much about starting the next stage of life.

Most graduation speakers try their best to impart some words of wisdom to the graduates.

Yes, there will be cliches about bright futures, hard work, hopes and dreams. But if graduation isn’t a time for cliches, when is? It is a tough challenge to send graduates forth without asking them to make a difference, to learn from their failures, to become leaders, to care about the less fortunate, or to live life to the fullest. In fact, graduates in this area and around the state heard all those themes in ceremonies already completed, and more of the same is sure to come as we head into the heart of graduation season.

Graduating from high school is a great personal accomplishment. It’s also a time of thanks, which is why we encourage those graduates to thank your support staff of parents, siblings, grandparents, and others, including teachers and other mentors.

Given where we live, so close to the hometown of one of the first series of books young children still read, it seems fitting to quote Dr. Seuss this time of year. “Don’t cry because it’s  over. Smile because it happened.”

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