Published June 9, 2021
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — In the aftermath of an incredibly challenging and daunting senior year, the Lynnfield High School Class of 2021 was able to celebrate its impressive accomplishments during commencement exercises on Friday, June 4.
While the COVID-19 pandemic forced Lynnfield High to hold drive-up graduation and socially distant graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020 last spring and summer respectively, the high school was able to hold a mostly traditional ceremony last Friday. Similar to prior years, the 171 graduates sat on the field of Pioneer Stadium together for one last time. The stands and sidelines were full of proud family members, friends and town officials, who frequently cheered the graduates during the hour-long ceremony.
The high school’s 62nd commencement ceremony began with class advisors Jodie Leibowitz and Joey Puleo leading the 171 graduates onto the football field while “Pomp and Circumstance” was played over the PA system. Afterwards, the Senior Chorus performed the “National Anthem” under the direction of High School Choral Director Doug Hodgkins.
A bright future awaits
Student Council President Ava O’Brien welcomed the 171 graduates, their families and local officials to the ceremony.
“As I stand here today in front of my peers, friends, family, teachers and everyone who made our high school experience possible, I think of the bright future we have ahead of us,” said O’Brien. “It is no longer a distant reality that we often dream about. It starts today. I wish that I listened to the seniors when I was a freshman when they told me high school flies by, or when my parents told me to stop growing up. They were right. It all happens so fast.”
O’Brien recalled that the 171 graduates entered LHS as “timid 14-year-olds wondering what the next four years would bring us and if there was actually a pool on the roof.”
After a normal sophomore year that was highlighted by the graduates attending championship parades for the Red Sox and Patriots, O’Brien said the graduates “grew closer as a class” after the pandemic shut the world down during junior year.
“Senior year, we applied to colleges all while attending class over Zoom, something we never thought would happen,” said O’Brien. “Despite that, our senior class managed to get into amazing universities and programs all over the country. We truly overcame all that we were faced with in high school with persistence and determination. And that is how I know that the Class of 2021 will succeed tremendously in life.”
O’Brien said the Class of 2021 is incredibly appreciative of the support their parents, families, friends, teachers, coaches and school officials have provided them over the years, particularly this past one.
“Now before I sign off as Student Council president, I will leave you with a lesson that we all learned in kindergarten: The Golden Rule,” said O’Brien. “Treat people the way you want to be treated. Follow that rule, and you will achieve great things in your life.”
After O’Brien concluded her speech, she was given a round of applause.
A lasting legacy
Principal Bob Cleary said he never imagined Lynnfield High School would have been able to hold “close to a normal ceremony” at Pioneer Stadium a few months ago.
“Much has been made of the loss that the Class of 2021 has endured,” said Cleary. “Not just here at LHS, but all over. But I actually think they gained more than they have lost. These students have faced many challenges over the past 15 months. We completely shut down school and life last spring. We came back last fall in a remote setting, moved to hybrid, moved back to remote, moved back to hybrid and then finished the year with mostly everyone in the building. The energy that came back was great.”
Despite the past year’s challenges, Cleary said the Class of 2021 “took everything in stride.”
“They stayed focused on what needed to get done and they did it,” said Cleary. “They worked hard and persevered. They were resilient. These are the life lessons that matter far more than anything they learned in a textbook. These are the skills that will separate them from those who graduated before them. The Class of 2021 should be very proud of their accomplishments and they should know that if they can succeed under these conditions, everything else will seem easy by comparison. This class has shown the underclassmen how to handle adversity. They have been great role models, and they have left their mark on Lynnfield High School.”
Cleary also thanked the graduates’ parents, educators, local officials, various nonprofit organizations and the entire community for “enriching the lives of this class.”
“Without your help and support, our students would not have been able to reach their potential as scholars, performers, athletes and citizens,” said Cleary. “I would especially like to thank all of the parents and volunteers who worked so hard to celebrate this class. I would like to say a collective thank you to the entire community for your support of these students. It truly took a village.”
“We are all Pioneers”
Valedictorian Anthony Zhang recalled that the Class of 2021 has been incredibly “resilient,” which is why he was not going to offer his classmates any inspirational advice that was “cliché.”
“As we sit here together for the last time as a class, it’s ironic how although we each have a different background, a different story, and a different future, we are all here, with the same caps, the same gowns, the same diplomas,” said Zhang. “All of our journeys have been unique, yet the symbol of our accomplishment is the same. But that’s the beauty of this. Today is a celebration of both unity and uniqueness. Whether your passion is in the classroom, or on the stage, or on this very field, we are all here in one place. We are all Pioneers.”
Zhang said each member of the Class of 2021 has overcome their own “bumps and roadblocks” while trying to forge their own paths.
“It’s easy for us to look back at the past year-and-a-half and be discouraged over all that has changed for the worse and all that we have lost,” said Zhang. “The sports seasons, the tournaments, the Friday Night Lights, the traditions, but rather than think about what could have been, let’s take the moments we did have. The ones with teammates, with friends, with family and keep them with us as we go our separate ways. And let’s appreciate the opportunities that lie ahead.”
As the Class of 2021 moves forward in their lives, Zhang encouraged the graduates to “recognize that no success is important unless you share it with the people that helped get you there.”
“I’d add that success is defined differently for each of us, and it can’t be measured by something as tangible as a school or a job or even a diploma,” said Zhang. “A new chapter begins soon. But it was on us before, and we succeeded. So let’s go out into the world and do it again.”
After Zhang concluded his remarks, he was given a round of applause.
A kind and compassionate class
Senior Class President Kiera Burns said it was difficult to imagine how soon 2021 would arrive when she first entered LHS during her freshman year.
“With that same excitement and uncertainty, we stand here today taking an even bigger step into this unfamiliar road of our lives,” said Burns. “But this is a huge step that we won’t take alone. Today, we are surrounded not only by our families and teachers, but by the other 171 people in our class who we have spent the majority of our lives with up to this point.”
Burns said each member of the Class of 2021 should be proud of their individual and collective accomplishments.
“We are part of something bigger,” said Burns. “The Class of 2021, the class who graduated and made post-grad plans despite a pandemic, the class that was resilient. But through that all, the people that we are now are just a fraction of the people we are yet to be.”
Burns said the Class of 2021 has left a positive legacy at LHS.
“We often think of a legacy as something huge we must leave behind in order to have ‘mattered’ or to have proven we were there,” said Burns. “But for most of us, our legacies won’t be anything huge. Our legacies will reflect the kind of people we are and how just one single action could have made an impact on someone and we don’t even know it.”
Burns thanked high school officials and educators as well as the Class of 2021’s parents, family and friends for the support they have provided the graduates over the years. After Burns concluded her remarks, she was given a round of applause.
“Find your mountain”
Superintendent Kristen Vogel used mountain climbing as a metaphor for the challenges the Class of 2021 has overcome, particularly this year.
“You have all that you need to tackle any challenge or mountain in life,” said Vogel. “You have sharpened pencils, developed independence, patience, flexibility and grit in your education and now you will sharpen your senses — use your good judgment when facing mountains in your life. Remember as you leave Lynnfield High School to explore and experience the world outside of Lynnfield, Massachusetts, find your mountain, use your courage, strength and knowledge to overcome the challenges. The journey is what is most important and the challenges are opportunities for your continued growth. The world welcomes you and I challenge you to lace up, grab a map and find your mountain.”
End of an era
School Committee Chairman Rich Sjoberg presented diplomas to the 171 graduates with the assistance of Vogel, Cleary, Leibowitz and Puleo.
After the graduates received their diplomas and Cleary wished the graduates well as they begin the next chapter of their lives, the Class of 2021 threw their mortarboards in the air, officially marking the end of their Lynnfield High School careers.