Resilient Class of 2023 graduates from Melrose High School
MELROSE — From Ranya Abidi to Joseph Americo Zarella, 223 seniors said goodbye to Melrose High Friday night, June 2, at a graduation ceremony marked by a most uncooperative Mother Nature.
About 20 minutes into the outdoor ceremony at Fred Green Memorial Field, everyone was sent scrambling as lightning flashed, thunder rumbled and the skies opened up. The remainder of the annual commencement exercise was held inside an electricity-challenged Veterans Memorial Middle School auditorium.
Despite the obstacles, which included audience members using their cell phone flashlights to help keep the indoor ceremony lit, the Class of 2023 was recognized for its continued grace under pressure. This year’s graduates were freshmen when the schools closed and society shut down to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Class President Juliet Moore was one of the featured speakers. She said, “People often say that our real life starts after today, but I disagree. Our journey began a long time ago, today just happens to be the day when the path we have been traveling on together splits into 223 different roads. Up until now, we have been walking as one. Thirteen years, that is how much time most of us have invested in this community, and in ourselves at Melrose. Fall of 2019 we all eagerly jumped into high school with specific dreams and high expectations. After begging all of you to buy Froshmore tickets, promising that it would be worth it, the school shut down on the very date that stopped this event, stopped the rest of our freshman year, and completely altered our lives. We literally did not see each other again until junior year because, coincidentally, everyone’s camera broke during sophomore year Google meets. When we finally returned junior year, no class came back stronger than we did during Spirit Week. The massive spirit spike upset, our hallway decorations, and everyone’s participation in spirit days, ultimately led to a “tie” between the junior and senior classes. Then, suddenly it was the end of junior year, and with only slight constructive criticism from you all, we held prom in the courtyard and had the best grilled cheeses of our lives.
“And then we made it, senior year, no masks, our first normal year of high school, but crazy enough also our last.
“You hear a large range of answers when someone reminisces about their high school days. Some people claim it was the best 4 years of their lives, and others have completely blocked out the misery from their brains. Either way, I am wishing that none of us leave here saying either. MHS has just been preparing us for bigger things. While I hope that most of us were able to enjoy these past 4 years, I can confidently say that we all will have better years ahead, thanks to the lessons and experiences that MHS has given us. We’ve learned the importance of community, and saw it during each packed football game, volleyball set, and the sold-out shows for ‘Mean Girls.’ We’ve learned how to create new communities with how fast friendships formed just by changing up the seating charts. And after losing my father this past December, I learned just how strong this community is with the support me and my family received from everyone in Melrose.”
Class of 2023 Valedictorian Mercera Finger told her peers, “There is no doubt in my mind that the MHS Class of 2023 will do big things. The talent, dedication, and effort of our class is exemplified by all of the successes that got us here – in academics, athletics, the arts, and all of the other endeavors we poured our time into. Our hard work was highlighted by every win on the field, every performance on the stage, and every moment of teamwork that got us one step closer to reaching our goals. I’ll bring us back to statistics for a moment. This year alone, we had 4 teams win the Middlesex League Championships and 2 teams break team records – our robotics team made it to worlds and our math team made it to states. We took 287 AP exams, presented our musical talents in 31 performances, and had so many people audition for the spring musical that it had to be double-casted. 11 of us have completed more than 300 community service hours, and many of us here today will be graduating on the honor roll. Of the 223 people in the class of 2023 – yes, the numbers work out that well – every single one of us has something to be proud of.”
Ian Gauch and Olivia Frakt gave this year’s Farewell Address at the graduation ceremony. Ian, who has a rare autoimmune disease, told the audience, “For the longest time, I never knew how to communicate my experience to others. It took putting myself out there once, making an unexpected connection with a peer, and finding support I didn’t know existed to get me to this stage today. So, to all of our friends in the audience, whatever your next step is, I encourage you to stay open to new experiences and people – be mindful of differences, be tolerant. You don’t know the challenges others are facing or who you might connect with if you open yourself up to meet new people and share your story.”
Olivia, who spoke of having an anxiety disorder, said, “For the longest time, I never knew how to communicate my experience to others. It took putting myself out there once, making an unexpected connection with a peer, and finding support I didn’t know existed to get me to this stage today. So, to all of our friends in the audience, whatever your next step is, I encourage you to stay open to new experiences and people – be mindful of differences, be tolerant. You don’t know the challenges others are facing or who you might connect with if you open yourself up to meet new people and share your story.”
This year’s Metco Address was delivered by Sheyla Jones and Saniyah Watson. Sheyla, who will be heading to college in North Carolina to study law, spoke of the sacrifices she made — like getting up early to get to Melrose from Roxbury — as well as having to deal with the pandemic restrictions during most of much of her high school years.
Saniyah said, “There have been times where people attempt to use the term METCO as a derogatory term, a way to distinguish between those who belong and those who don’t. But METCO denotes strength. METCO denotes courage. METCO denotes a family who supports not only those students who travel the hour or more to Melrose but all students of color. And most importantly, METCO denotes your classmates, your friends, and your fellow Melrose students.”
Melrose High Principal Jason Merrill said, “You will all have opportunities to make a difference in our world, and some of you already have. The time will come for all of you to change something or someone for the better, take advantage of these moments. A difference can be protecting our freedoms or curing a disease but also a timely smile or reaching your hand out to someone who needs care.
Remember, people will make mistakes, it’s okay to forgive them. Give people an opportunity to listen and learn. Grudges will eat at you. You are going to make mistakes too and it’s ok to forgive yourself.
“And remember that everyone has a story. Everyone has been through something. Don’t judge them by the chapter that you happen to walk in on.
“When you are looking for the leader in the room; find the best listener, not the loudest voice. We spend too much energy trying to convince people how to think instead of just listening. Everyone seems to want to be the one to tell everyone what someone is doing wrong and judge. Instead be curious, be patient, listen, and give others some grace.
“At this time of year I’m often asked the question: what do I hope the seniors learned or will remember in 5 years or 10 years.
“Well, I hope that when you see #17 on a wall, you remember where you came from and all the people who came before you. You all have roots here and you always will.
“And I hope that when you see a pineapple, you remember the significance of building a welcome environment for all people. Treat people with kindness and afford people the respect that they all deserve.”