Published June 13, 2019
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — The Class of 2019 was granted a golden, sun-splashed evening to celebrate the biggest moment of their young lives with friends and family last Friday — their graduation from North Reading High School.
They entered Arthur J. Kenney Field as a unified group of 182 members clad in matching green gowns with gold accents one last time. As the band played “Pomp and Circumstance,” they were greeted by 1,500 well-wishers who packed the bleachers and the sidelines of the field where so many of their milestones as Hornets were experienced.
It was a well-deserved reward for the water-logged spring this class endured that left many of us wandering if we had been annexed by the Pacific Northwest.
As the members of the 62nd high school graduating class in the town’s history, they are only the second class to have completed all four of their high school years in the state-of-the-art secondary school building that opened in the fall of 2014 when they were just eighth-graders. Now, this chapter in their lives is ending as they commence the next chapter, and stretched out before them is the vast unknown called the rest of their lives.
“Members of the Class of 2019, you have distinguished yourselves as a group of graduates who have created, collaborated, explored, and excelled. You have also maintained a tradition of senior leadership that has long characterized this high school,” noted Principal Anthony J. Loprete in his welcoming address. “I am proud to have served as your principal and am grateful that you have embraced the core values of this school as you begin the next step in your journey.”
Loprete advised them to prepare for the next leg of their journey carrying just three bags: “I am hopeful that as graduates you can move forward with a dedicated philosophy that allows you to commit one bag to what you have always known, to that which you hold dear, that which is sown into your character; a second bag in which you keep the capacity to recall easily what you have newly learned, this will keep you active in your work; and in a third bag I ask you to store the awareness to acknowledge those things you do not know.”
“Having the wherewithal and sense to know what you don’t know will allow you to grow, to improve and to gain access to more options. The lifelong learner is on a journey, and all of us in attendance here want you to be ready for yours,” Loprete said.
He advised them to embrace the unexpected, such as the moment he experienced when traveling with a guide in Budapest on a school trip with 42 students and chaperones this past spring and they were given a chance to step inside a private atrium of a “typical downtown Budapest apartment building” by chance, just as a woman opened a door beside the sidewalk in front of them. In that uncharted moment, they were no longer the outsiders looking in; they were allowed inside a new culture for a fleeting moment.
“It seemed to give us permission to explore and learn more freely; to be more open for new information. We had a perspective we hadn’t anticipated. We came away with knowledge we may never have otherwise gained,” he said.
Loprete also had the bittersweet task of introducing Superintendent Jon C. Bernard to offer his last “charge to the graduates” as Bernard will be retiring next January.
“As his professional record indicates, Jon Bernard is a true educator. It is his life’s work. His experiences are as vast as his capacity to remember students and their names…He is thoughtful, he is committed, he is caring, he is tireless, he is fair, he is honest. His level of personal investment is unmatched,” Loprete said.
Bernard told those gathered that graduation “is the school district’s reward for countless hours of work by students and adults over many years to help each student acquire the knowledge and skills needed to advance to the next grade and ultimately to graduate from high school well-prepared for the future.” He added that he shares “the personal joy and deep sense of accomplishment” that everyone was feeling on this night. He thanked the graduates for their “individual and collective achievements” which give “great meaning to my work.”
Bernard also commended the citizens of North Reading for their immense generosity to provide the students with the monetary resources that are “necessary to offer a first-rate educational experience.” But he also acknowledged the community’s “generosity of spirit and support” provided for each member of this class throughout their lives to reach this moment. He added that it is satisfying to everyone who works with young people on a daily basis to know that there is a “wonderfully supportive parent network” in this town that enables them to help their children “navigate their most formative years.”
Delving into his vast library of quotable quotes from past charges to graduates — Emerson, Frost, Gretzky, Fulghum, Covey and others, Bernard said his goal has always been to “draw a connection between words and actions of others and my hopes for the students.” Over his 30-plus year career, Bernard said he has been inspired by thousands of young people, but the young people of today possess something extra special in an age “where it is easy to be cynical, and negative, and even hopeless…you are shining examples of so much that is good.”
“This is my charge to you – create great moments — seize this opportunity. There is so much out there for you to take advantage of. We are truly in an age of global awareness, more than we ever have been, and there is so much out there for you to take part in leading the change that needs to take place for all of us,” Bernard said.
After the combined the a cappella group, NOTEorious, was joined by the senior choral members for one final rousing rendition of “Legends/Just Like Fire” the three honor essayists spoke.
Honor essayist Samantha Martel compared their four years of high school to all the ups and downs that come with running a cross country race.
“To begin, we all started this race together, but each runner has a strategy and pace that is right for them, and it’s not always right for the runner standing next to them. Some may have started the race too fast, taking classes we thought would challenge us just the right amount, but needing to adjust and recover as the expectations grew, while others may have begun slowly, unsure of our training, before realizing that we had the ability to take on more extracurriculars or challenging courses,” she said.
“We soon broke into the groups we thought would help pace us best during our race, surrounding ourselves with positive friends determined to see us reach our own goals,” she said, and they soon learned to adapt their goals to the factors and setbacks that are out of their control as well.
“And finally, today, we are all going through the same finish of the race, with family, friends, and faculty cheering us on from the sidelines, happy to congratulate us for what we’ve accomplished and eager to see what we may do next, with the training and practice we now have,” she said.
Honor essayist Molly Feffer told her classmates: “…my advice to you on this important day isn’t profound, it isn’t complicated, it isn’t confusing—unlike most of high school. It’s simple. When life presents you with the choice between taking the elevator or the stairs, I encourage you to walk up the stairs.”
“…Along the path to today, there have been days, for all of us, where the idea of taking the stairs has seemed pointless. Whether we have been busy, tired, or simply too lazy, the elevator has admittedly been tempting,” Feffer said. She asked her classmates to look all around them.
“…There are faces here in this crowd that we won’t be seeing every day again, and that is why it’s important that we take the stairs, that we enjoy the journey and do not become blinded by our destination,” Feffer said.
Honor essayist Michael Tyrrell urged his classmates to work to find, or create their passion, by applying the same passion to their life’s work as they had to activities such as the elaborately strategic and competitive water gun game he and his friends dubbed “assassins.” Quoting philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel, he said, “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion. Then the question is: how can we harness this passion? There are three ways: get inspired by others, have genuine passion, or create passion yourself.”
Tyrrell advised his classmates to “find the people in your life who give and share your drives. Keep them close.”
“So often we hear our parents, our mentors, our teachers, our idols, say ‘find your passion.’ The cliche never dies because it’s true; finding genuine passion is one way to succeed. However, not everyone finds their passion until much later in life. Wallace Stevens, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, didn’t publish his first collection until his 40s. Thank you, Mr. Putnam, for teaching me that what everyone wants in the middle of a long speech is a random poetry fact,” Tyrrell joked.
He added, “How many of you have been told by parents and teachers to find your passion, when the chance is, they likely haven’t even found it themselves? I know my dad probably isn’t passionate about taking conference calls at 3 a.m. in the basement. In most cases, you’re going to need to drum up drive and motivation to do something that you have no passion at all for…Class of 2019, Giacomo Casanova said ‘Be the flame, not the moth.’ I’d add, ‘But, light the flame yourself.’”
The senior members of the concert band then joined with Band Director Ben Owens for one final performance together, a lively number entitled “Among the Clouds.” It was followed by the final essayist.
“From our freshman year public speaking seminar, we learned how to speak loudly for what we believe in, even if our voices shake. Our words can help, heal, and humble, as long as we speak with honesty and conviction,” remarked Class Essayist Abigail Griffin, “We’ve learned that there is value in sticking our neck out for somebody or something just because we know it’s the right thing to do.”
Griffin added it is important that each of them thank all those people in their community “who have had a hand in raising us. We thank you for teaching us what home feels like. Wherever we are to go in this life, wherever we are to create a new ‘nest,’ it won’t change our roots. Make no mistake – we have these memories and these new lives to embark on because of you – thanks to you. Thank you for teaching us what home feels like.”
After Principal Loprete announced the impressive lists of scholarships awarded to the class members, School Committee Chairman Scott Buckley conferred diplomas on each of the graduates.
The class gift of a monetary contribution toward a digital sign board for the school was then announced by the class officers, President Michael Mikula, Vice President James Schille, Treasurer Trevor R. Wilson and Secretary Kaitlyn Shevlin, before giving the word for their classmates to toss their mortarboards high into the air as their final unifying act as members of the North Reading High School Class of 2019.