Published June 11, 2021

MELROSE — Forecasted thunderstorms never materialized on Friday, June 4, allowing for an impressive celebration of Melrose High’s Class of 2021 in front of family and friends at Fred Green Memorial Field.

From Ferdinand Eyong Akombi to Marissa Mae Zelten, 232 seniors took one of life’s steps during the annual MHS commencement exercise, which this year was as close to normal as possible. As society emerges from a pandemic, the Class of 2021 seemed happy to be outside and together, finally, for the last time as a group. These past 15 months have been totally unusual and no one knows that better than this year’s graduates.

AS THE SUN began to set, Melrose High’s Class of 2021 graduated last Friday night at Fred Green Memorial Field in front of family and friends. (Photo by [email protected])

2021 Valedictorian Dara Casey told her classmates and gathered family and friends: 

“When the pandemic began last year, we stopped seeing our friends and teachers. We were forced to resort to google meets but it was never the same as the real thing, something was lost between screens. In our virtual weeks we started missing the triangle rooms, even the ones without windows! Being apart helped us realize the importance of being together.

“We had to learn to adjust to our new situation. But going through it with our friends, parents, and teachers made things ten times better. They are the reason we are here today. Always remember, you can never thank the people around you too much for the support they’ve given you. On behalf of our whole class, I would like to thank everyone in the audience for all you have done to support us! Each and everyone of you has been integral to our success — even the bored younger siblings out there.

“Most of all we need to thank our teachers. They’ve dedicated their lives to educating us and molding us into young adults. I’ll always remember one of my first classes at MHS was European History with Mrs. Edsall. Upon entering the room I immediately felt welcomed despite the scary seniors. Mrs. Edsall thought of lessons outside of the box. She had us model tulipmania through trading Hershey kisses and gave me an appreciation for art that no other teacher had before.

“She promised us that we would have a new favorite painting by the end of the year. She didn’t lie. My favorite painting is ‘Rain speed and steam’ and it is hanging on my bedroom wall. It shows a miniscule train powering on through a colossal storm.

“I look at it daily and it reminds me of the uncertainty of life and how we power on through it. We never could have anticipated the pandemic but we are better for it. It is better not to know the future that lies ahead of us but rather live in the present reality. We will learn from the obstacles and hardships in the way and be stronger from it.

“Can we do something here together today, guys? I want you to take a minute to think back to one teacher that changed your life here. Maybe they challenged you to be a better person, maybe they made you laugh, or maybe they fostered your passion for a subject. Regardless, I want you to find them here today and thank them. Tell them what they meant to you during your time here. Tell them how much you appreciated their jokes and their “outside of the box” lessons. Please, find at least one one of these people here today and thank them for what they have done for you.

“After talking to my friends before writing this speech I saw one major theme emerge: the importance of the connections I had made. A quote from The Little Prince – a favorite book of mine – sums this up pretty well: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye.” We are absolutely nothing without the support of those around us. I’m so glad I’ve been able to spend these past 13 years and these unprecedented times with all of you!

In their address welcoming everyone to the graduation ceremony, Ella DeCecca and Daniel Freed took turns speaking.

DeCecca concluded: “It is time to take our first steps across that bridge. Now, this bridge does not go to the same place for all of us. For some of us, it goes far, others will stay close to home. For some this bridge takes us to college, for others it takes us to careers that await upon graduation, and for others it takes you to serve for our country. We truly cannot wait to see where your journey takes you.

“It won’t be easy. But, if I can give you some advice before you go: never embark on a journey alone. As Dan and I can attest, it’s always better to have a friend by your side to bring out the best you can be. I can safely say that I would not have been half the leader to this class if I did not have you by my side to help pull the load. I am lucky that I did not have to walk this road alone. And luckily, none of you have to, either. For the rest of your life you will have the friends, the role models, the peers and the teachers that you met at Melrose high school to help guide you on your way.

“And I know it’s scary. The winds of change blow heavily and the fall is far into the water below. The journey is long, tumultuous, and may have unexpected twists and turns. But trust in the foundation. Trust in what we have all built together. Trust that we have dealt with distance before. And trust that this bridge is going to the right place. But know that no matter where your bridge takes you, you can always turn around and come back home. So find your bridge. It’s time to cross. Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2021!”

Ayanna Powell delivered this year’s METCO address. She said, “The METCO program gave my METCO kids and I an escape from all of the trauma in Boston, while also making a difference in racial justice in education. My METCO peers and I did this. We have done an amazing job and it wasn’t easy. Waking up at the crack of dawn EVERYDAY. We not only made it an everyday journey to travel from one city to another but we also changed people’s hearts and mindsets about race and equality.

“Melrose alone has become one of our homes; I know many can say the same and it saddens me to be leaving. Melrose taught me to seek to understand and not to always want to be understood, to give myself certain thoughts and not believe them, to walk humbly and with gratitude, always be kind. We never know what people go through. We will miss Linda yelling at us to get back to class, etc. I personally will miss falling asleep in Mr. Corrigan’s office every morning. We have made memories that will never be forgotten and they will follow us in the life we choose to live. Class of 2021 has some crazy stories to tell our children in the future. It’s been a huge honor to be a part of this graduating class and a crazy ride. I can’t thank my teachers enough and glad I got to bond with the ones I did, you are the reason I’m here today. I know you will miss me but always remember me!

“Next year I plan on.. Joining the service, then later on starting my career in criminal injustice.

“Before I leave today, I’d like to leave this with my Class of 2021 today. Be yourself, stay humble, never give up. We are running our own marathon and it will continue. Speak into the Universe and manifest. Desire is life, life is change and change is progress; it’s more about courage than it is about strength. Knowledge is power; use your power and be whoever you want to be! Progress is not achieved by luck or accident but by working on yourself daily, we’ve worked on ourselves daily to become thus far; we must keep working! Our success is symbolic; we glo’d up out of the darkness & we’re still glowing. I wish you all the best & My blessings truly Ayanna Powell!”

Melrose High Principal Jason Merrill, who graduated 25 years ago from the same school, said, “You will all have opportunities to make a difference in our world with your actions and by listening to those who have not been heard. Take advantage of these moments. One of last year’s graduates said, ‘Don’t be the person who brings people down…Be the person who raises people up.’

“Remember, people will make mistakes, it’s okay to forgive them. And remember people can change.

“Live life like everyone is watching you, Remember that someone is always looking up to you.

“Remember that you all have roots here at Melrose…. And you can always come home to Melrose High School. Don’t forget those places that you call home.

“Be a good friend. Be a good partner. Be a good son or daughter and if you have the chance be a great mom or dad.

“Grow good corn.

“Don’t be afraid to Be different and stand out and stand for something. Meet lots of people and create great relationships with all different folks Be quick to listen and slow to judge.

“Treat people the way that you want to be treated. Say thank you…appreciate the people around you.

“Be brave, work hard, treat yourself and others with respect, and always be kind.

“Class of 2021…

“Keep each other well

“Good Luck, I love you, Congratulations, And thank you. Go Melrose!”

Hooper Ward gave this year’s farewell address. He said, in part:

“This senior year has taught us, more than anything… DO NOT take a single thing for granted. We tend to realize how important something is to us, once it has been taken away.

“On this day we celebrate our 4 years of high school completed. An honest accomplishment. On this day we also celebrate the memories forged throughout the process of receiving our education. The memories that we hope to share with each other at a reunion one day, or even to our children, and maybe even to their children. On this day we celebrate our strong and adaptable teachers, staff, and parents who have been working very hard right beside us every step of the way.

“On this beautiful day, we celebrate us. As we sit here today, there is plenty more work to do in this world, but for this moment, right now, right here, take it in. In the following days, weeks, months and years let’s find our passions and listen to our spidey senses. Follow your instincts. Be flexible and prepared for whatever opportunity arises. Make as many connections as possible because sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know. Let’s have some fun and do what we want, as long as it’s legal. If you want to create a shoe brand, become a deep sea diver, or even just ask that girl or guy at the gym for their number, JUST DO IT.

“Every single one of us has a story to tell. So let’s do ourselves a favor and make the rest of our stories best-sellers, Pulitzer Prize winning stories. Time is a constant changing force that you can either embrace, or waste. We must refuse to sit with regret when we are older. Live for the now, so the then, is more enjoyable.

“Let’s go be who we are supposed to be. It’s HOOP. Thank You.”