Pittsfield High School Senior Class President Thomas D. Reilly addresses the commencement crowd. More photos here.
LENOX, Mass. — Much was familiar about the 83rd commencement exercises for PHS.
Except what PHS stood for.
"As the graduates know, we have tried to engrain certain expectations about what it means to be a student — what we call PHS," first-year Pittsfield High School Principal Matthew W. Bishop told the crowd at Tanglewood's Koussevitzky Music Shed.
"Class, for the last time, PHS stands for: Personal achievement, Honorable actions and Strength in community."
Bishop was gratified by the number of soon-to-be-grads in the class of 225 who joined him in reciting the three elements of the school's code of behavior.
He was more gratified by the way the members of the class of '14 have lived it.
"They have shown personal achievement with all the academic awards and scholarships earned and by being here today," Bishop said. "They have shown honorable actions through the multitude of volunteer hours — whether it was collecting items for Soldier On or collecting close to 400 signatures at Third Thursday to help stamp out the 'R word.'
"They have demonstrated strength in community by making a commitment to uphold these expectations as a class and by having an outstanding, successful Senior Week. As a group, you have been facilitators of positive change in our school."
The senior class president reminded his classmates that in as they transition away from high school, they will have even more power to affect change.
"It's a major accomplishment for all of us to be here," Thomas D. Reilly said. "Receiving our high school diplomas may not mean we're ready to go out and conquer the entire world, but it gives us a lot of freedom in our lives.
"From now on, we get to choose what we do. We get to choose the paths that we take."
Bishop expressed confidence that the graduates are equipped to choose the right paths.
"Your journey through PHS has presented you with opportunities to fail and opportunities to succeed," he said. "We hope these opportunities have taught you all valuable lessons. These lessons may not have taken place in a classroom or been measured by a test, but they're some of the most important things you could have learned at PHS.
"I hope your time here taught you to be active participants in life. Being active in life is more than just being busy. Being busy is easy. But purposefully seeking opportunities, knowledge and experiences to learn from and better yourself is a challenge. And it is what we mean by being lifelong learners."
Sunday was a day to pause on the road of life and acknowledge how much the graduates have learned in the first 18 or so years of life.
Many will be going on to continue their formal education in colleges and universities.
School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon noted that the class had earned an aggregate of more than $1.7 million in scholarship assistance, including scholarships from schools ranging from American University to Northeastern University.
Nearly 100 members of the class got started on their college educations early by taking at least one Advanced Placement course.
Ten members of the class were recognized on Sunday for outstanding academic achievement at Pittsfield High, finishing in the top 10 of the class by grade-point average: Nina Dallenbach, Yonaton Kaufman, Courtney McMahon, Dimitri Pixley, Rachele Rosiello, Maxwell Spence, Daniel Tagliaferro, Alice Thomasson, Jason Turner and Zachary Williams.
Yon reminded the graduates that not all their lessons were learned in books.
"You knew it wasn't all about yourself," she said. "You decided to join Peace Jam and work for a greater cause. You became a Best Buddy and made a friend for life with a very special person. You supported needy families during the holidays. You even worked together with Mr. Bishop in his first year as principal to try to make Pittsfield High a better place.
"Those are only a few examples that show us the journey wasn't all about reading, writing and arithematic. It was about discovering who you are and what you are capable of. It was about learning the importance of unselfishness, reaching out to others and learning to be responsible to community."
Pittsfield Superintendent of Schools Jason P. McCandless told the graduates that he did not remember any of the speakers from any of the four commencements he has attended as a graduate. But he borrowed a few words from great speakers who he hoped could inspire the PHS graduates. McCandless quoted Maya Angelou, Cicero, Buddha and John F. Kennedy in a speech that focused on gratitude and service.
"In his 1963 Thanksgiving Day proclamation, John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, 'As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them,' " McCandless said. "Graduates, living your gratitude with every thought, every step, every word, every day is the highest form of thanksgiving."