LEE, Mass. — The Lee High School class of 2019 is entering the world at a tumultuous time, a time that may make many of them feel helpless and unable to change it.
Valedictorian Homer Winston, however, believes each and every student in the class has a "duty" to make the world better. Now that the class is graduating, he said, they have a responsibility to everybody else in this world to make it a better place on whichever path the students choose.
"It is our duty as your students and your children to carry on this journey of self-discovery, to uncover who we are and uncover what we like, whether that be school or sports, work or whatever else we may choose to pursue. We have to do this. We need to do this. Not for ourselves but for those around us," Winston told his classmates on the stage of the Shed at Tanglewood.
"Once we discover who we are, we can begin to better the world we find ourselves in."
He said some graduates will go into the military and have a duty to protect the country, others have a duty in the workforce to be productive to provide for themselves, families, and give back to the community, others will travel the world helping those in need, and others will go to college to learn more and share that knowledge to make the world better.
"But all of us, all 56 of us, have the same mission. We must pledge to the same responsibility. We may have different goals, different aspirations. We may even have different definitions of duty but I believe it is our responsibility to help. It is our responsibility to make a difference," Winston said.
But before they go out and tackle the world, salutatorian Anna Wang hopes the graduates also enjoy their youth and not rush.
"Graduating high school may imply that we are all of a sudden adults but the truth is we are still kids. Let's not rush to conclusions that we must act like adults. Let's embrace our youth. Let's take the time to explore the world and figure out what makes us shine at our own pace," Wang said.
Wang reflected on the time at Lee High School and in the small town of Lee in general, where "everyone loves one another since the early years of elementary school so it is difficult to keep secrets from spreading like wildfire."
But that has brought the class closer together, they understand each other, and help each other through difficult times.
"There may have been some unintelligent moments when someone thought doing so or so would be a great idea when it's not," Wang said. "Every class has experienced some moments like these and we are still sitting together to overcome those challenges and accept our faults. We would not be able to get to this stage ourselves. Without the patience and caring of our families and teachers, we would not be able to accomplish so much over these last few years."
And the graduating class has permission from Superintendent Jacob Eberwein to run stop signs.
Well, not literally. Figuratively. Eberwein told of a fantastical trip to Tanglewood in Lenox for Saturday afternoon's graduation during which he pulled up to a stop sign. He waited for it to turn green and say go but it never did. He tried to call for help but the connection was spotty and his wife couldn't understand him. After 45 minutes he got frustrated and started kicking the tires. Then an old woman approached him and told him he could go, so he did and made it to the ceremony on time.
The story wasn't about how older people are smarter or that those with doctorates have common sense. It is that everything the students have learned in the last 12 years of schools won't matter if they just stop. It is the "gift of permission," he said, in that the school has given them the skills to embrace all that life has to offer.
"Use your foundation, accept the permission we offer, run that sign, put your foot on the gas, and find something and embrace it," Eberwein said.
Lee's graduation was a time for celebration and for reflecting on those days. The ceremony included songs by the Lee High School graduation band, the singing of "For Good" by the graduation chorus, the traditional ivy oration when the presidents of the departing class figuratively pass the torch to the next, and, the most important part, the presentation of diplomas from Eberwein, Principal Gregg Brighenti, Dean of Students Nicole Maddalena, Lee School Committee Chairwoman Andrea Wadsworth, Tyringham School Committee Vice Chairwoman Maureen Lenti, Lee Elementary Principal Kathryn Retzel, and Director of Special Education Jennifer Norton.
Student speaker Timothy Deming was selected by the class to give welcoming remarks to the seniors.
"This is just a start, a new beginning, so let's not waste a second, let's get out in the world and do whatever makes us happy," Deming told his peers.
Brighenti then passed on some pieces of advice saying, "you are lucky to live in this time," that they should figure out the things they love and fight for them, not to rush, live in the "gray" areas and not in the world that is seemingly black and white, and not to sweat the small stuff.
"Get out there and live the rest of your lives," he said.
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Lee High graduated 53 seniors Friday evening during a compromised graduation ceremony affected, like many others, by the COVID-19 pandemic. But class speaker Taggart Roosa found the football field quite fitting.
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