Throughout the ceremony, beach balls were being batted around. More photos of the ceremony are available here.
LENOX, Mass. — For half a century students were asked to leave their mark on Monument Mountain High School.
Salutatorian Emily Martsen remembers clearly the day she was asked the consider the same questions, "How will I leave your mark on the world? and How will I leave my mark on Monument?"
It was freshman orientation. She remembers the prior year's graduation video playing. She remembers names being mispronounced. She remembers being greeted by Assistant Principal Scott Annand. And she remembers those questions.
"By now, many of you can pinpoint exactly how you left your mark on Monument. Years of dedication and achievement in arts, sports, academics, and the like have guaranteed this. However, a larger number, of which I am included, have yet to find a clear answer. It is difficult to feel that anything we have accomplished is significant when standing in a building that seen so many extraordinary students and achievements over its many years," Martsen said.
Martsen came into that year a stranger. She had been homeschooled. She was nervous, didn't know anybody, and had never experienced a public education. As she addressed her fellow classmates from the Shed's stage at Tanglewood just before the Great Barrington high school's 51st graduating class rose to receive their diplomas, Martsen found the answer she had been asked to consider over the last four years.
"But it is important to remember that Monument is not just a school or a building or a history. It is a community. When you think of how we left our marks on our community, it becomes a little easier. Our community shapes us," she said.
"The community you've created here at Monument took a shy freshman who spoke to no one, gave her a voice and a place to belong and made her into the girl standing in front of you today."
Martsen told her classmates that they left a mark on her, and she left a mark on them. That is what molded the students into the adults they are now and the adults they will become. In the future, she hopes the graduates remain open to continuous changes, just like the one that led her to Monument and to the podium.
"The world is both infinitely large and impossibly small, filled with thousands of possibilities and just as many inevitabilities. Sometimes the path you had been planning to take your whole life is one you ultimately never step foot on. While the path you have never even considered before turns out to be unavoidable. If the plans we set in our youth never changed, I would never have set foot in Monument," Martsen said.
"As we move into the next phase of our lives, I advise you to embrace the changes that face you, embrace the opportunities presented to you, embrace the world outside of your comfort zone."
Valedictorian Benjamin Zoeller said his last years he had a lot of "suffering." And he knows that will continue. But, those moments have given him a sincere sense of gratitude.
"Life has handed me my fair share of suffering over the past three years. Most of you don't know my story and I don't know most of yours. But we all have one of our own. We all deal with the obstacles life creates to knock us down. I've dealt with a quite few of them in recent years but when I look back on them, my memories are colored with happiness. Because as those years went on, I learned more and more on how to focus and give thanks to the blessings hiding in plain sight," Zoeller said.
Those blessings are people and moments. Zoeller said it was just last weekend when he went to visit his kindergarten friend who has been at boarding school. It was the first time in years. That is a regret he has. He always had something to do every weekend he was invited to visit.
"High school has been and college will be important pieces of our lives. But they are only pieces," Zoeller said.
Valedictorian Benjamin Zoeller spoke of graditude.
He told his classmates that "the path does not define the pilgrim" and encouraged them to prioritize the important things in life.
"Life will knock us down. It has already and it will again. There will be times when people tell us we have no worth and there will be times when we tell that to ourselves. In those moments, remember that beneath all our other layers there is kindness and therefore there is an unimaginable value within each of us. I know this because I can see it in you," Zoeller said.
Superintendent Peter Dillon asked the students to build on what they learned at Monument — specifically how to be a socially responsible adult.
"Wherever life takes you, get involved in local, national, and international projects to help preserve, protect, and improve your community and the world. Today, more than ever, you should make a difference. Do not sit quietly, letting others speak. Make sure you are also heard. Those who sit on the sidelines while others take action forfeit their rights as responsible citizens," Bannon said.
"There are many areas, even in these beautiful Berkshire Hills, which need your support. There is homelessness, hunger, poverty, and unemployment. We have taught you to be responsible citizens and responsive to the needs of others. Do not ignore those in need but befriend and assist them instead."
The commencement of 122 students also included the Spartones signing "Run To You" by the Pentatonix, the school band playing "Pomp and Circumstance" for the processional and the recessional marches as well as playing the "Star-Spangled Banner." Principal Amy Rex introduced the speakers and ultimately declare the students as graduates after each received their diplomas from Bannon.
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At the tail end of last year, I heard a story about a young man who had passed away of an opioid overdose. This story hit many nerves for me, in particular, because it involved a first responder who arrived on the scene while the young man was still alive, but was unable to take action to save his life because he was not carrying an opioid antagonist.
Opioid antagonists work by blocking receptors in the brain interacting with opioids causing the overdose and preventing the body from responding to them. The most common and easily accessible antagonist at this time is naloxone, usually referred to by its brand name, Narcan. We know that Narcan works and we credit it with saving hundreds of Massachusetts lives a year.
In fact, Massachusetts issued a Narcan standing order for all pharmacies across the state through last year's CARE Act, allowing it to be readily available to anyone who has a need for it; we as a state created the Department of Public Health's Overdoes Education and Naloxone Distribution Program (OEND) to better understand how to make the medicine more easily accessible; and we created the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund (BPTF) through legislation in 2015 to help make the substance more affordable for communities to provide to their first responders.
For these reasons and more, I was floored to learn that first responders in Massachusetts are not required to carry Narcan on their persons or in their vehicles while they are on duty. Knowing full well that we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic that is gripping the entire nation, knowing that any call coming in through an emergency line could be reporting an overdose situation, and realizing that the lack of an opioid antagonist by the responder who was the first professional to arrive on the scene is why that young man is not here with us today all prompted me to take legislative action on this dire issue. After months of research and discussion with public safety officers, legislators, healthcare advocates and providers, my office introduced H.1747, An Act helping overdosing persons in emergencies, otherwise known as the HOPE Act.
Madison Ross took home a gold medal and two second-place finishes, and her Mount Greylock teammates won the mile relay to close the meet as the Mounties placed second at the Central/Western Massachusetts Division 2 Championships at Westfield State University. click for more