Published in the June 14, 2018 edition


NORTH READING — On a picture-perfect evening, the largest graduating class in well over a generation bade farewell to North Reading High School last Friday at Arthur J. Kenney Field.

Well-wishers who had traveled from near and afar packed the bleachers and overflowed onto the sidelines of the field, eagerly cheering on “their graduate” with the enthusiasm typically reserved for a championship athletic contest. One graduate even had her own squad of family and friends who were easy to spot in the bleachers among the sea of nearly 1,000 faces in their matching day-glo yellow t-shirts emblazoned with the message “Bye Felicia!” and accompanied by their equally enthusiastic cheers when she entered Kenney Field with her classmates.

For its part, despite its large size of 214 members, the Class of 2018 demonstrated that it is a close-knit group able to rise above the artificial dividing lines that too often color the high school experience. In word and deed, the accomplishments and character of the members of this class were cited by the essayists and administrators with admiration.

In addition to being the largest class in recent memory, the 61st graduating class of North Reading High School was also the first to have completed all four years of their education in the new state-of-the-art secondary school building that opened in the fall of their freshman year, way back in 2014.

All 214 GRADUATES of North Reading High School’s Class of 2018 celebrate by simultaneously tossing their mortarboards into the air to conclude Friday’s ceremony. (John Friberg Photo)

It was fitting, therefore, that the class members should mark this rite of passage into young adulthood by gathering together one last time inside the Hornet gymnasium where they posed for photos with one another in their green caps and gowns before marching in unison down the long, winding driveway with the school and its impressive multi-story glass atrium as a backdrop, as the NRHS band played Elgar’s traditional “Pomp and Circumstance.”

But not before class advisor Rick Doucette huddled them together and offered one final “rah rah” speech to remind them that today matters, and that this ceremony, in particular, matters because it marks the last time in their lives that this class will ever be together again in the same place. Therefore, he said, while they still have the opportunity to do so, they need to make sure they tell their classmates how much they mean to one another.

To drive this last point home, Doucette singled out Noah Aran, who has accepted an appointment to West Point, and asked him to stand up. When it comes time for their five-year class reunion, Doucette reminded the soon-to-be graduates, Aran’s military responsibilities will likely mean that he won’t be able to join them. And the same will be true for many other classmates whose adventures take them to all corners of the earth as the calendar ticks off the years in between their 10th, 15th and 20th reunions and beyond.

“Go forth from this place today and do something with your life, but don’t forget to do something for somebody else,” Doucette said. “Go forward from this place and be something, but don’t forget to be something for somebody else.”

Principal’s welcome address

“The Class of 2018 typically needs no introduction. This is a talented, intelligent, spirited, at times rambunctious, but always kind and caring group,” noted Principal Anthony J. Loprete in his welcoming address. “As I’m sure you’ve heard, this class is also the largest graduating class we have had at North Reading in a number of years, certainly going back at least 20 by my research. And while the Class of 2018 stands apart because of its sheer numbers, let us be mindful of not only the lesson that lies therein, but also an opportunity as well.

“For sure, the idea that there is strength in numbers is one that can apply to this group. They could easily validate the ominous message that ‘Might makes Right.’ And while that message may be heard more frequently these days than we are typically used to, that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Nobody really wants to see a movie where the bully wins. Nobody wants to have their lunch money stolen on a daily basis. The world of ‘Might makes Right’ can be cruel and unfair and hard.”

“With this group of young men and women however, there is strength beyond the numbers, strength in the bonds that tie these students together. This is a particularly warm group; they play well together, support each other, applaud each other, and are mindful of those around them.” For these and other reasons, Loprete said, it would be more accurate to apply words articulated by Abraham Lincoln to the Class of 2018: “Right makes Might.”

“Members of the Class of 2018, your numbers aside, you have demonstrated by your character and your accomplishments that you have placed Right over Might and that simple tenet has taken you this far along your journey,” Loprete said. As they embark on the next leg of that journey he encouraged each of them to always remember to keep one hand free to help their fellow travelers along the way.

Superintendent’s charge to graduates

Superintendent of Schools Jon C. Bernard recalled fondly that he had enjoyed traveling this journey with them, serving as their principal for the first six weeks of their high school careers before assuming his appointment as superintendent.

Once upon a time, the superintendent’s office was housed at the Middle School in a separate building from the high school, but with the joining of the two buildings for common access, via Main Street, to the gymnasium, the adjoining cafeterias and the Performing Arts Center, Bernard is able to frequently interact with students during lunches and power block and offered his praise for the “lasting impact” they have had in their school and community.

“I have been consistently impressed with your kindness and consideration of others,” Bernard said. “…You have left your school with more than you have taken and you have made our school district and your community better by being good and honorable young people.”

Bernard continued, “Let us take a brief moment to think about how wonderfully supportive all of North Reading has been. The beautiful North Reading Middle/High School stands as a testament to the hopes and aspirations that those responsible for its creation have for all of you – the Class of 2018 – who will forever hold the distinction of being the first class ever to complete its four years of high school in this wonderful, state-of-the-art institution for learning. Yet as beautiful and contemporary as it is, its symbolism is much deeper and much more impactful, for it is a symbol of the desires of your local community and its residents to provide you with the very best foundation for a life that is filled with great promise.”

After the combined NRHS Chorus and the a cappella group, NOTEorious, were joined by the senior class members for one final rousing rendition of “Can’t Hold On” by Macklemore, the three honor essayists spoke.

Honor essayist Owen DeCleene

Honor essayist Owen DeCleene set the stage with his tales of this class being “the biggest, smartest, most talented, and ‘bestest’ class ever.”

“The Class of 2018 is a team of friends and (if I may…) family. I cannot imagine who we would be if any one person was missing from our lives,” DeCleene said. “Now, for the part where I pretend to have enlightenment and offer my wisdom to the two hundred kids who are sitting over there: I want all of you to think back on the people that shaped your life. Really think. A parent, a sibling, a friend, a teacher, and figure out a way to thank them. Showing your appreciation by saying thank you is more than just common courtesy. It shows your love, your inspiration, and (I think) it is why our teachers do what they do. They teach because they want to see us grow into strong, independent, intelligent, healthy, successful young men and women. They don’t do it for the praise, but I bet it would make them feel pretty good.” he advised.

Honor essayist Alexa Galuppo

At this time of rapid change in their lives, honor essayist Alexa Galuppo advised her classmates not to rush through the familiar and everyday experiences. “Today very well may be the last time you get to see some of your classmates of all these years – take the time to look around you and take it in while you can.

“I can promise you one thing – not everything will go exactly as planned, but that is the beauty in life. You don’t need to have it all planned out yet, it’ll all work out along the way. This doesn’t mean just sit back and hope things will just come together for you, but take each day at a time: do with it what brings you most happiness and personal growth,” Galuppo said. “…Live in the spectacular now, embrace the change – face it with the confidence we’ve built up over these years of sameness, and remember nobody really knows where they’ll be five years from now.”

Honor essayist Caitlyn Galvin

Honor essayist Caitlyn Galvin reminded her classmates that over the course of one’s life “simple kindness makes all the difference in the world.” Even if they hadn’t realized it at the time, the giving and receiving of small kindnesses has contributed immeasurably to their successes. Their legacies will be defined more so by the “personal connections” they impart to others through kindness than a lifetime of accolades and accomplishments.

“Now, after today, we face the real world. So I have to ask, what do you want your greater legacy to be?” Galvin said. “… If there was ever anyone in your life who was there for you, remember that. With graduation comes our chance to pay that forward, to demonstrate simple kindness, and to make the world a better place just by helping those around us grow. So, as you enter the next phase in your life, be that person, that friend who you could always turn to or the coach who inspired you.

“But there is one more thing we can do, and I wouldn’t be giving the speech I wanted to give if I didn’t say it. Beyond simply being a good person, we can also do more to leave a greater legacy. Our world is ever-changing and may seem to be more and more chaotic every day. I bet all of you have seen something you find concerning on the news recently,” Galvin said. “… As high school students, we were fairly passive; change just was not on our minds. But after today you have a decision to make. To maintain the status quo or to become something bigger. Because there is absolutely nothing guaranteeing how much time we have on this earth. Each second we are granted is given to us for a purpose. It is up to us to fulfill that purpose and to make our lives mean something.”

The senior members of the concert band then joined with retiring Band Director Eric Forman for one final performance together, a lively number entitled “An Irish Rhapsody.”

Class essayist Jerlin Kaithamattam

Class essayist Jerlin Kaithamattam, who earned the honor to address her classmates in a writing contest, asked her classmates: “If you could go back in time and give your freshman self some advice, what would you say?” Having polled her own friends their advice was topped by “acceptance” followed by being “realistic,” “not to take things for granted” and to “find what makes you happy.” Each of these traits can be applied to their next venture, she said.

“In a few months, we are back to square one. We are freshmen once again. Whether that means we are beginning college, beginning a career serving our country, beginning our lives in the workforce, or anything in between; the point is – we are beginning. We have our whole lives ahead of us,” Kaithamattam said.

“I urge you to go into the next chapter of your lives with acceptance. Understand that the world is filled with so many different types of people, all with their own stories, struggles, and uniqueness. Go into this next chapter with no predispositions. Open yourselves up to new people, ideas, cultures. Learn all there is to learn about this great big world, and then some,” she said.

After Principal Loprete announced the impressive lists of scholarships awarded to the class members, School Committee Chairwoman Janene Imbriano conferred diplomas on each of the graduates.

Class gift

The class gift of an electronic sign for the school was then announced by the class officers, President Jerlin Kaithamattam, Vice President Nicholas Carpenter, Treasurer Justin Hong and Secretary Abigail Paine before giving the word for their classmates to toss their mortarboards into the air as their final unifying act as members of the North Reading High School Class of 2018.