By Beth David, Editor
After last year’s drive-through ceremony to hand out diplomas to seniors, this year’s traditional ceremony was a welcome return, albeit with a couple of changes. The ceremony took place on the traditional first Sunday in June, 6/6, but at 11 a.m. instead of 2 p.m.
School officials did not exactly give a reason for the change, but since the weather was forecast to be close to 90 degrees, no one complained about the earlier time slot. It was still extremely hot out on the field, but another change also shortened the ceremony: The reading of individual scholarships was done at an earlier date and recorded, instead of being done at the ceremony.
This year, 186 seniors graduated, and the theme of the day was the challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruptions to the school year.
Last year, school buildings shut down in March, forcing seniors to lose the last couple of months of their final year, the prom and the traditional ceremony.
This year, school was mostly remote, with hybrid models, and students finally getting back into the classroom in April.
Sports also took a hit, with the seasons at all different times, abbreviated, and COVID protocols in place.
Through it all, the students continued on.
“We are thankful for your class, grace, resilience and we are beyond proud of you,” reads a statement in the program book. “What you have endured in the last year and a half and how you have handled adversity has allowed your character to shine. Your fortitude has proven that you can achieve your goals in the most challenging of times. It is our hope that this year has taught you that you can endure anything, that you are resilient. You are inspirational. We are so proud of all of you. Congratulations and best of luck in your future endeavors!”
In his speech to his classmates, Salutatorian Chase Pinette said he never could have imagined making a speech in front of such a large crowd.
“Time is a living thing, yet very abstract,” said Mr. Pinette. “It’s an inanimate object that animates our lives into motion. As time progresses, we progress. We learn. We create. We make memories.”
He quoted a “wise man” he knows, Herbert Botelho, who said “The body ages, not time. All that matters is what you do with the time.”
And that means spending time doing what makes you happy, and doing what you love in life. He wished for his fellow graduates that they end up doing something they love, even if they do not know what that is yet.
“But all that matters is that you spend your time doing what you love, and I believe to the fullest extent that you will be happy with the end result if you choose the right path,” said Mr. Pinette. “And of course, having lots of fun along the way.”
He said he believed he spent his time well in high school, despite embarrassing moments.
He invited the class to reflect on their time at FHS.
“Did you make mistakes, but learn and grow from them,” he asked. “And most importantly, did you spend your time wisely?”
He ended by thanking those who helped him along the way.
Valedictorian Sean Brown told his fellow graduates that he researched some speeches and found one by a valedictorian who regretted stressing out over all his difficult classes. Mr. Brown, however, said he was proud of standing in front of them because he did not regret any of the work he put in over the last four years. He said he would not change anything.
He quoted Albert Einstein saying that life is like riding a bicycle: “To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
“During high school, my life was always moving between school, sports, having a job, and creating countless memories with my friends, and I don’t regret any of it,” said Mr. Brown. “My lesson for you all is to balance your life with things that make you happy and to always keep moving forward.”
He said most of them are ready to move on, but he could not help looking back at all the memories they have made. Freshman year it seemed that graduation would never come, and now, “high school has flown by.”
Mr. Brown said being from Acushnet he had many high schools to choose from, and he will always look back at his decision to choose FHS as one of the best he ever made.
“I think we will all remember Fairhaven for the crazy spirit weeks, homecomings, sporting events, and our prom that we were finally able to have, but most importantly, I’ll remember Fairhaven for the amazing teachers and great friendships that I have made over the years,” said Mr. Brown, and he launched into a list of events from various clubs. “It’s sad to me to think that making memories with this class could all end today, but I am glad that I made the most of it while I had the chance.”
He told them he had faith that they would “do great in life” because of community support, and told them to use the strengths they have to be successful in life.
Mr. Brown wished them luck as they go off to college and living on their own for the first time, but told them not to be afraid to ask for help and not to forget the people who helped them along the way.
Superintendent Robert N. Baldwin told the graduates that he had a saying on his wall: Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday and all is well.
“All is really well for each and every one one of you,” he said. “And we deserve this day.”
He told them they learned to adapt during the pandemic and “roll with the issues.”
None of it happens without the faculty, staff and friends who had a “mindset for growth.”
Dr. Baldwin said the school community worked to put students first, and that the seniors led that.
He gave them three messages: one from a coach, one from a comedian, and one from his mom.
The coach said “do right,” and everything will fall into place.
His mom says, “Be nice, be kind. Just be nice.”
Being nice works, doing the right thing works, said Dr. Baldwin.
And comedian Jerry Seinfeld explained his success by saying, “Just work. Just do the hard work.”
“Do right, be nice, and just work,” said Dr. Baldwin. “And everything will fall into place for you.”
He also quoted from a Dan Fogelberg song, “Part of the Plan.” When things seem not to be going right, when life is difficult, it’s all part of the plan.
“Love when you can; Cry when you have to; Be who you must; That’s a part of the plan,” read Dr. Baldwin. “Await your arrival; With simple survival; And one day we’ll all understand.”
He read off the last phone message, telling them they did not have to arrive at school anymore.
“Be nice, do right, just work, and be well,” said Dr. Baldwin.
In the closing remarks, Principal Andy Kulak told graduates they were now alumni of “this remarkable high school.”
He said he did not want to talk about COVID 19 because they are all ready to move past it, but it goes with the point he wanted to make. He said 15 months ago they learned that life can change in a day. COVID, with all its new terminology, became part of everyday life.
“As students, some of you struggled at times through all this, and some of you flourished, but all of you sitting on this field were resilient and persevered through it all to make it to this point,” said Mr. Kulak.
He said everyone can agree that education over that time was hard for everyone. Everything was different.
“But Education is not always about the details you learn in class. Honestly, a lot of those details you’re not going to remember,” said Mr. Kulak. “The function of education and the process of learning is much more than the details.”
He quoted Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“So, what I ask you to take away as graduates is that not only were you able to adjust and adapt to a world that can change in a day, you have proved, through the collective sum of your education, that you have learned what it takes to change the world. That’s what you are now equipped to do. Be proud of that amazing achievement,” said Mr. Kulak. “So, as you move on to whatever path you take, remember to be well, be safe, and know that you already have what it takes to change the world.”
The program also included “The Halls of Ivy” by the FHS Concert Choir; The class song, “Lean On Me,” by Bill Withers; and the presentation of the class gifts, which were all monetary donations this year.
In her vespers message, given at Fort Phoenix the morning of graduation (and provided to the Neighb News in writing), class president Nina Medeiros told her classmates not to let fear stop them from doing what they want to do. They have shown what it is to be resilient and persistent, she said.
“Being able to graduate during times like these shows what kind of person you are and how much you truly care about your future. This year, we truly faced what it means to be an adult,” said Ms. Medeiros, noting that many of them had jobs in addition to school.
The year taught them they could face the unexpected and not let it push them back.
“In this time before we graduate, let’s not think about what we are leaving behind but rather what is ahead of us. Do not think of this as an ending, but rather the beginning of a new chapter,” she said, but also remember the good memories.
“I want you to always remember that it is okay to be afraid of what is ahead and of the unknowns. It’s human to not want to dare put yourselves in a position to be heartbroken or face failure,” said Ms. Medeiros, but said failures teach them lessons to “make us who we are.”
She implored them not to let fear set them back, but “push you to take action towards achieving your goals.”
There will be bumps along the journey, she said, but they will get to their destination. And the bumps will leave them with the knowledge of how to go about achieving their goals.
“And just like Main Street in Acushnet, these bumps and potholes teach you how to go about the street smoother the second time around,” said Ms. Medeiros. “These bumps along your journey will stick with you and help you make better choices whether it be in that goal or a different goal. So don’t let fear dictate your path, let your desire to achieve your goals decide your end results.”
“Class of 2021, it is now our time to show the world what it means to be a Blue Devil; to be resilient and relentless in achieving our goals. I cannot wait to see what you all achieve in the future; I know you will all do great things,” said Ms. Medeiros. “Thank you all for making these past four years ones to remember. I am proud to have been a member of the Class of 2021.”
Click here to download the entire 6/10/21 issue: 06-10-21 Graduation
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