‘A place to call home’: 125 South Hadley graduates reflect, move forward

  • South Hadley High School graduates Cristiano Casolari, left, and Michael Zhou wait for commencement to begin Friday at Mount Holyoke College. Zhou delivered the welcome address. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cameron Holmes and Kaitlin Blasko, who are members of the South Hadley High School Concert Band, play “Pomp and Circumstance” during graduation, Friday, June 7, 2019 at Mount Holyoke College. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • South Hadley High School graduates Baylee Cox and Luke Petrosky walk to the stage during graduation. Cox was one of three salutatorians; Petrosky was the valedictorian. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • South Hadley High School graduates Jag Singh, left, and Ethan White meet during the processional as two lines of graduates formed one during graduation Friday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • South Hadley High School graduate Justin Taylor walks to the stage during graduation, Friday, June 7, 2019 at Mount Holyoke College. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Toni Hager, center, holds a picture of her cousin, South Hadley High School graduate Jacob Fournier, while waiting for commencement to begin, Friday, June 7, 2019 at Mount Holyoke College. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • South Hadley High School Class of 2019 Valedictorian Luke Petrosky, at the podium, speaks during graduation, Friday, June 7, 2019 at Mount Holyoke College. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • South Hadley High School Class of 2019 Salutatorian Emma Rahilly, at the podium, speaks during graduation, Friday, June 7, 2019 at Mount Holyoke College. She was one of three salutatorians. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • South Hadley High School graduates applaud after a speech by John Parenteau during graduation, Friday, June 7, 2019 at Mount Holyoke College. He was one of three salutatorians. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • South Hadley High School Class of 2019 Salutatorian John Parenteau, at the podium, speaks during graduation, Friday, June 7, 2019 at Mount Holyoke College. He was one of three salutatorians. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/7/2019 10:48:30 PM
Modified: 6/7/2019 10:48:17 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — When Michael Zhou first came to South Hadley High School two years ago, he said that he initially felt he did not belong and missed his previous home in China.

But the people he met at the school “didn’t take long to convince me that there was no need to be afraid” of his new community, said Zhou, the president of the school’s National Honor Society. Soon, he said, South Hadley became “a place to call home.”

“I have heard a lot of voices telling me how great the world outside this town is,” Zhou said. “But I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, out of all the cities and towns I have moved between, there has been no community as amazing as this one, where we build lifelong relationships and connect like one big family.”

On Friday evening, the school’s 125 graduating seniors received their diplomas at Mount Holyoke College’s Richard Glenn Gettell Amphitheater, where student speakers lauded their peers for fostering a sense of community at the school while also excelling in academics, sports, the arts and vocational programs.

Class President Ethan Ortyn described his peer group as a “small, yet still larger than life” cohort, highlighting the class size as fostering a “luxury of camaraderie.”

“The ability to get to know a bunch of compassionate, intelligent, humorous and driven individuals on a more personal level is one that we are so fortunate to have,” Ortyn said.

Student Council President Hannah Gebhardt said that she asked the class to fill out a survey to contribute to her own speech — or as she called it, “our speech.”

In the survey, Gebhardt said that the word “variation” came up often. The term “describes the diverse group we are and how we contribute to the school in so many ways,” she said.

The ceremony also included speeches by class valedictorian Luke Patrosky and three salutatorians: John Parenteau, Emma Rahilly and Baylee Cox.

Patrosky described the graduation as “a time for us to craft our own narratives and determine how we want to spend the years.”

Through maintaining the values that created a sense of community among the graduates, Patrosky assured his peers that they will persevere as they move on to the next chapters of their lives.

“If we keep an open mind and create a lasting connection with others, we will be able to ride the highs and lows,” he said.

In another recurring theme throughout the night, Patrosky also thanked the teachers and family members who supported the students throughout their academic careers.

“What truly matters it is those that are sitting next to us, behind us, in front of us,” Patrosky said. “It is those that have been by our side throughout it all.”

Gebhardt echoed this appreciation, adding that one student called teachers and administrators the “backbone” of the high school in a survey response.

“I am a strong believer that we are better people because of all of you,” Gebhardt said to an audience composed of family, friends, teachers, school officials and other supporters.

Rahilly, one of the salutatorians, said that students in the Class of 2019 are known for a variety of roles; they are athletes, musicians, leaders, artists, actors, activists and more. But above all, Rahilly said, the class stands out for its commitment to “impeccable character.”

“It’s not having the best grades that defines us,” Rahilly said, “but our willingness to learn from our teachers and our peers.”

“Looking at all of you, the Class of 2019, I see the future,” she said, “and it looks promising.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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