Smith Voc sends 122 grads out into world

  • Lisa Perry, left, who is the adjustment counselor at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, hands out yellow roses to the girls, including Nyisha Saltis, right, prior to graduation, at John M. Greene Hall. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School Class of 2019 Salutatorian Marissa Mayhew speaks during commencement, Thursday, May 30, 2019 at John M. Greene Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School graduate Troy Barayon smiles while talking with Lindsey Bak during commencement, Thursday, May 30, 2019 at John M. Greene Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School graduate Darrien Treval Anthony Esposito receives his diploma from Joseph Bianca, the school principal, during commencement, Thursday, May 30, 2019 at John M. Greene Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School graduates cheer and applaud other graduates as they receive their diplomas during commencement, Thursday, May 30, 2019 at John M. Greene Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School graduate Lindsey Bak receives her diploma from Joseph Bianca, the school principal, during commencement, Thursday, May 30, 2019 at John M. Greene Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Michael Cahillane, who is the chair of the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School board of trustees, speaks during commencement, Thursday, May 30, 2019 at John M. Greene Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School graduate Connor Pfalzgraf leads other graduates in turning their tassels during commencement, Thursday, May 30, 2019 at John M. Greene Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School graduate Zachary LaChance, front, shares a laugh with Cameron Laprade during commencement, Thursday, May 30, 2019 at John M. Greene Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School graduate Payton Atwell smiles at her family in the balcony at the start of graduation Thursday at John M. Greene Hall. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The graduation cap of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School graduate Sydney Cyr carries a message during commencement, Thursday, May 30, 2019 at John M. Greene Hall. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School Class of 2019 valedictorian Alexandra West speaks during commencement Thursday at John M. Greene Hall. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/31/2019 12:07:59 AM

NORTHAMPTON — “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

These words, originally spoken by the wise and fictional bear Winnie the Pooh, were quoted by Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School valedictorian Alexandra West in her speech to her fellow graduates.

Hundreds of people packed into John M. Greene Hall on the Smith College campus on Thursday to cheer on Smith Vocational’s class of 2019.

The vocational school saw 122 students graduate this year, almost all of whom were present to walk across the stage to applause and the occasional air horn blast. The students honored with their diplomas studied everything from animal science to plumbing, culinary arts to cosmetology.

Michael Cahillane, a graduate of Smith Voc and chairman of the school’s board of trustees, said the students leave not only with a diploma but with “a vocational trade.”

“We are so fortunate to get so much more than a regular high school experience,” said salutatorian Marissa Mayhew. “We get life skills, trades, certifications and opportunities to design our own educational path.”

Mayhew noted that she dual-enrolled and did college coursework along with her health technology coursework at Smith Voc this year.

“The experiences I was able to have academically could not have occurred without Smith Vocational,” she said.

Connor Pfalzgraf, the student government representative at the ceremony, likened the experiences of his class to a series of Instagram posts, and used this metaphor to call up some notable, often humorous memories.

One such reflection was from the class’ sophomore year, and a fateful science MCAS exam.

“How many other students graduating across the state today could say that their science MCAS was miraculously interrupted by a gas leak and a mandatory evacuation to Northampton High School?” asked Pfalzgraf.

He also said that this winter may have demonstrated that “maybe the class of 2019 doesn’t have the best drivers.”

Students waiting in line prior to the ceremony had a number of different things to say about their school experiences.

Nyisha Saltis, who studied culinary arts, said she isn’t a typical student.

“I didn’t like being talked at,” said Saltis. “Having that hands-on learning helped a lot.”

She said she’s looking to work at a day care with children, and if she goes into the restaurant business, she would like to work in customer service or hospitality.

Devin Rodriguez, who studied criminal justice, didn’t get into Smith Voc until his sophomore year, spending his first year of high school at Northampton High School.

“I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” said Rodriguez, who will be going to Holyoke Community College to study criminal justice.

Twins Marissa and Vanessa Rodrigues both studied health technology at Smith Voc and both walked on Thursday. Both will be going to HCC, and while Marissa wants to become a nurse, Vanessa is interested in becoming a radiology technician.

Isaac Nazario studied criminal justice. He’s now going on to study criminal justice at HCC, and will be working at the UMass cadet program. He plans on becoming a state trooper.

“That’s my end goal,” he said.

Autumn Higgins, who studied culinary arts, said she went to Smith Vocational because she wanted to go into the culinary arts discipline. However, she said that she discovered that the culinary arts aren’t for her.

“It wasn’t what I wanted,” said Higgins. “I can’t be in a kitchen much longer.”

Higgins plans on becoming an occupational therapist and on doing her prerequisites at HCC before finishing at Bay Path University.

“I’m glad I tried things out and realized, ‘This isn’t for me,’” she said.

In her speech, valedictorian West noted the leap of faith that was required by many of her fellow students to attend Smith Voc.

“I hope many of you agree that taking this risk to change schools was one of our best choices yet,” said West. “We’ve come from all over the state, our class travels far and wide. Some drive for more than an hour while others just walk down the street.”

West expressed her belief that the class will have a great impact on the future. And she concluded her speech with some more words from the wise bear.

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think,” said West, quoting Winnie the Pooh, before ending with her own thoughts. “You are an amazing person. And you’re a member of the Smith Voc class of 2019.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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