Class of 2023 goes out with a bang
By JENNIFER GENTILE
MELROSE— “They’ll remember this forever” – every 2023 MHS graduation attendee.
To be fair, it was probably the right call. We all had been glued to our phones, peering at the radar at a glob of red and yellow storms projected to stay left of the 128 belt until about 8 pm. At least that was the verdict from my deck at 5:15 p.m. when I remarked, “I think it’s brightening up a bit.”
The 2023 Melrose High School grad ceremony took place last Friday, June 2 at 6:00 p.m. with threatening skies looming. And for the first 20 minutes it felt like the right call. I went as a parent, not reporter, with a Birdseye view of the commencement ceremony, close to the press box that I usually report in. As the valedictorian’s speech was read, fork lighting flashed behind the stage, drawing gasps from the standing room only crowd, as people opened umbrellas that they were asked not to bring. In seconds, the skies opened up and the seventh circle erupted. “Folks we’re going to have the graduating students go to the Marcoux gym as we deal with severe weather,” they said.
It felt like a half hour to get out of those metal bleachers, the perfect place to be in a lightning storm. There was some mild panic, but cooler heads prevailed when one mom, holding a baby, looked up and serenely smiled. “Crazy right?”
Personally, walking across Fred Green Field in calf-high water was the most excruciating walk since I waddled for post-game interviews while pregnant with my third born. The other lone stragglers were a cop and some poor graduate who was running back to his seat for something he forgot (phone?) Open toe shoes were a regrettable choice. So were straight hair blowouts. Inside we all went, a thinned-out crowd, families separated, stuffed through side entrances like pairs of animals entering Noah’s Ark. After an understandable delay, there were loud cheers as the graduating kids re-marched in, Plan B in full affect, with their waterlogged caps, soaked white dresses, sopping hair, broken high heels and smudged mascara.
It would be fine. Yes, many in the crowd had split. And Grandma was last spotted in a rowboat under the Melrose Street train bridge, but the spirit was uncontainable. There would be no post-grad cigars to be smoked. No family photos or large friend group shots with a sunset backdrop on the football field. Parents were forced to lean against walls to watch their kids get their diplomas because hanger-on’ers took up valuable seat space (you know who you are). Sometimes you couldn’t tell where the lightening started, and the flash photography ended. Nothing, not anything, had gone to plan. Drowned flowers, discarded umbrellas, drenched ceremony programs and strewn rain ponchos would later haunt the custodians of MHS, no doubt.
The walls still seemed to shake from thunder, but the crowd adjusted.
Until the lights went out, and that’s when disaster was afoot.
It was pitch black before a generator sputtered to life and overhead lights came on. But microphones were out. Speeches and grad announcements seemed impossible. Then, graduate Anna Spinale found what looked like a battery-operated Karaoke machine—the ultimate savior to get these poor souls graduated (go MHS band!) One was uniquely thankful to the calm minds of Mr. Beaver, Mr. Corrigan, Mr. DiBenedetto, and Mr. Merrill, who had to improvise a lot. Plus, the Melrose DPW, who had set up over 200 chairs on the stage just in case. But it was the chorus and the crowd that rescued the night. As officials scrambled, the MHS Chorus sang “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson. And in the dark, phones lit up, swaying to the music and it kind of felt like a Taylor Swift concert if you could afford a ticket.
I’d later tell a family member that it was the music that kept things afloat.
“Sort of like the Titanic?” they asked.
“Exactly like the Titanic,” I replied.
Of course, there were questions that lingered as MHS pieced together a full ceremony in a power outage. (“Where is my family? What about my dinner reservations? Is Grad Night happening?”– it did) Some students weren’t thinking that at all, instead saying, “That was awesome when the lights went out. So cool.” Because graduations are boring and this one sure wasn’t. They probably felt like they were living in a movie and how nice is that?
A lot of things have gone wrong for high school kids the last few years. This was par for the course, and their thick skin talking. Also, being indoors made the cheers louder, air horns more startling, and the visuals better. I saw flags representing native countries for students with large supporting families. A lot of “Amens!” shouted when Mr. Merrill gave his always-moving speech. A small child behind me said, “This is a really weird night, Dad,” and yes it was. But the MHS grads soldiered on, bringing tears to the eye, as young dreamers always do.
The class of 2023 started this school not allowed to do much. “Out of an abundance of caution,” they stayed behind screens a little longer than others, saw lots of things canceled. Productions, concerts and tournaments never had. Abroad trips never taken. Had too much cafeteria time and uncontrollable acne from extended mask use. But they were kept safe. They were in our control.
So, maybe it’s fitting that these students were the ones to have had their graduation in a microburst.
I wish more wild days for this class. And the best of summers.
Congratulations to the MHS class of 2023!