CLASS MARSHALS Mia Benecke and James Dillon and their classmates search the bleachers for family members and friends as they enter the Arthur J. Kenney Athletic Field for Friday’s 67th Commencement Exercises. (Maureen Doherty Photo)




NORTH READING — North Reading High School’s 67th graduating class and their guests enjoyed a grand night at their outdoor Commencement Exercises Friday night.

The Class of 2024 emerged from Jon Bernard Way and stepped onto the Arthur J. Kenney Athletic Field led by Class Marshals Mia Benecke and James Dillon while the band enthusiastically played the traditional graduation march, “Pomp and Circumstance.”

It was a hot, sunny day but there was a threat of scattered showers in the early evening. The sky darkened at the outset of the ceremony though no raindrops onto the field. Then, midway through the ceremony, the dark skies parted and a beautiful rainbow emerged behind the 125 graduates in full view of the guests cheering them on in the packed bleacher seats.

The symbolism was fitting for a class that endured the interruption of their eighth-grade year together with remote learning due to Covid-19 and spent their freshman year split into two cohorts of hybrid remote and in-person schooling before being reunited as sophomores.

They endured, they persevered, and in the end, even though many of their Middle School classmates chose other paths for their high school years, these members of Hornet Nation achieved great accomplishments together.

NRHS Principal Anthony J. Loprete III noted the significance of this commencement marking the 10th anniversary of the inaugural graduation ceremony of the “new” high school.

Loprete encouraged the students to actively use their collective voices for good. “You have a voice, how are you using it? I ask the 2024 graduates of North Reading High School, as this is truly a commencement, a beginning, on the ten year anniversary of the new school building, use your voice to build up, not to tear down. Use your voice to promote growth, not to foster stagnation, use your voice to provide refuge, not to engage in attack. Use your voice to celebrate similarities, not to exploit differences. Use your voice to celebrate someone’s gifts, not to demean or diminish another’s existence,” he said.

“As you sit here this evening, take a moment to ask yourself, ‘How have I used my voice?’ Maybe you are thinking that you haven’t really had a chance yet. Understandable, as so many in the class of 2024 have let their actions do the talking. League and state championships, individual awards, and not just this year. Yours has been a record not simply of success but of sustained success. It is no easy task, sustained success; I’ve got to think it is the result of a commitment to an approach, a methodology,” Loprete said.

In his address to the graduates, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patrick C. Daly noted just a “handful” of the accomplishments by members of the Class of 2024. “…The success of our track teams (back-to-back state champions), with record-setting individual performances for both the school and state level, the success of our softball team, a state champion for golf, titles for Cheerleading, NOTEorious semi-finalists, concert band silver medal at the MICCA festival and second place in the Florida competition, Winter Percussion with a first place finish in their division, Chorus first overall in Florida competition, Masquers winning back-to-back national awards, and so many other individual and team accomplishments and achievements. There is so much for you to be proud of and to cherish in your memories.”

But for Daly, the defining moment of senior year for the Class of 2024 occurred on April 8 in one shared experience: “It was a Monday like many others, and we were about a week away from April vacation. But there was something special about that day that brought us together in a way that was unlike many others in my lifetime.”

“Now what happened that day did not change the world,” Daly recalled, “We still had bills to pay and homework and tests that Friday. But it was a shared experience, one that you could reminisce about with your parents or neighbors, and even your children, for years to come. If you recall, at around 3:30 p.m. the simplest thing happened. The sun slipped behind the moon. It was a natural occurrence, the first in this area since 2017. Totality lasted less than four minutes. But for that brief moment in time everything slowed down. We put on glasses and walked in near silence to grassy spots with a great view. We stood with friends and neighbors, quietly, sharing this moment together.” As they prepared to go their separate ways in life, he urged the graduates to “take every opportunity to celebrate, not only your graduation, but all of those moments along the way.”

In her address to her classmates, honor essayist Isabelle Kim reflected on the brevity of their time together, in relation to the “many more milestones” they will experience throughout their lives.

“The memories we have of high school really only make up a tiny fraction of our lives. However, it is still for certain that this short part of our lives have greatly influenced us and shaped us into the people we are today. I can easily say that if it weren’t for the people surrounding me throughout the past four years, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today,” Kim said. “Being able to speak in front of you all this evening definitely isn’t because of anything that I have done by myself, but instead it is because of the people who have been there for me and supported me along the way.”

Honor essayist Bhagyavi Bandara reminisced about how welcomed she was made to feel when she arrived at the Batchelder School just eight years ago by then-principal Sean Killeen and her teacher, Tina Borek. It was two days before her birthday and her new classmates “made a big happy birthday sign for me, which I was really so surprised to receive and really appreciative of. Thank you all, along with the rest of my classmates and teachers, for creating such a strong sense of community within just a couple of days,” she said.

“As we prepare for the next steps in our lives, I think it’s important that we recognize the power of community, building each other up, and coming together,” Bandara said. “So, I’d like to share a quote by Mother Teresa that I believe really embodies these ideas: ‘I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can change the world.’ We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, but it is in recognizing and embracing these differences that we can truly unlock our potential for greatness.”

Honor essayist Drew Mountain encouraged his classmates to always remain curious. “When we were younger, I bet a lot of us asked questions. We were constantly asking why. Why is the grass green, why is the snow cold, or even why do we have to come to school? However, as we aged, we began to lose this sense of inquisitive thought. Answers were given to us, and they were right because someone said they were. As we begin a new chapter in our lives, I urge all of you to bring that curiosity back—the desire to explore, to learn new things, to ask many questions,” Mountain said. “…Curiosity will allow us to innovate and explore new fields. It encourages us to see obstacles and overcome them. As we go our separate ways, I hope that we all create a space that nurtures curiosity in ourselves and in others.”

Class essayist Cassandra Fitts encouraged her classmates to fully embrace all of the experiences of their lives. “Nothing exceptional ever blossoms from security. Avoiding the difficulties that life may bring you eliminates opportunities to learn, and also blocks you from experiencing the beauty. You will make mistakes and you will struggle. But in the moments where you feel like it is time to give up and you choose to continue anyway, that is where you will build character and learn to appreciate the good, and see the value in the bad,” Fitts said. “…Take in everything. Find courage in your vulnerabilities, strength in your challenges, and happiness and beauty in your life. Most of all, continue to push through everything and pave your own way. No struggle, no challenge, no fear, and no feeling, is ever final.”

After the numerous scholarships and awards were announced by Loprete, Assistant Principal BarriAnn Alonzo announced the names of each graduate as they accepted their diplomas from School Committee Chairman Scott Buckley and were congratulated by Daly and Loprete.

The class officers, President Kristen Galvin, Vice President Keely Hannon, Secretary Bella Fischer and Treasurer Julia DeAngelis went to the podium together to offer their thanks to the community that mentored and supported them throughout their lives. Treasurer Julia DeAngelis announced several class gifts to include “customized tents featuring North Reading branding to be used at outdoor events” for the high school and donating all of their remaining funds to the middle school and the three elementary schools “for the specific use of extracurriculars and enrichments. We hope this donation will provide new opportunities and experiences for students at all North Reading Public Schools.”

The class officers then asked their classmates to move the tassels on their caps signifying their transition from high school before everyone tossed their caps into the air in unison to celebrate their graduation.