Taconic Class of 2021 Challenged to Make World a Better Place
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The 195 Taconic High School seniors graduated from the school's football field on Sunday surrounded by a large crowd of friends and family.
The audience — who filled up the field with lawn chairs from home — was not shy when it came to cheering for their loved ones' achievements.
The class of 2021 is the first class to have commencement outside on the school's brand-new campus. Principal Matthew Bishop outlined the number of other firsts this senior class has experienced.
"You are the first class at the Taconic to graduate having navigated the world of remote in hybrid learning, terms that really didn't exist for us before this year," he said. "You are the first to have multiple first days of school, and withstand being inundated with videos and emails from the principal, and you're the first to graduate here outside on the track."
Bishop expressed his apologies for how the class's last year and a half has unfolded but said the students were able to grow beyond their comfort zone because of being presented with challenges and adversaries in the face of COVID-19.
Valedictorian Benjamin Vengalil promised his classmates that he will move forward in life with the intention of making the world a better place.
"We're all born and we will all die, and in between these two points is a funny thing we call life," he said. "I apologize for the cliché, I promise I have a point. As I stand in front of you today, I'm going to make each and every one of you a promise, as I make my way to that final point, every breath that I take, every step that I manage, and every word that crosses my lips will be carried out with the intention of making this world a better place."
Vengalil challenged each and every one of his classmates to do the same.
"As I look out at you all, I know that some of you may make more money than me, some of you may live longer lives, and some of you may have more stories to tell," he said. "But one thing I'm sure of is that if I can, in any attempt to do so, make this world a better place, I'm as successful as anyone who has ever been able to say the same thing. And I hope that as you look up at me, you're assured of that same fact.
Before wrapping us his speech, Vengalil solicited a round of applause for parents, guidance counselors, teachers, family, and friends who have helped him reach this milestone.
Salutatorian Ellianna Christopher said her time at Taconic went fast — just as she was told it would — and that is a universal truth that all of the graduates have to accept.
"If you take anything away from the pandemic, in the last 15 months, there should be a new appreciation of time. Time goes so fast and you don't always have control of everything around you. So you should be sure to make the best of your time and every moment in whatever way that brings you peace and happiness," She said to her peers.
"Enjoy the support of people in your life, the experiences you will come across the places you will go and the new friends you will meet along the way."
Christopher said graduation means "celebration and accomplishment" but cannot be celebrated without recognizing those who aided the young scholars such as school staff and family.
She thanked the Taconic staff for being unselfish in giving each student time, support, and compassion. She also thanked her friends and classmates and her family, who she described as her "incredible support system."
"As you all leave today, and as we venture forth on this life after high school adventure, I wish nothing but the best for every single one of you," Christopher said. "And I know that we will all go on to accomplish great things in our future. Hopefully, these last four years will occupy a special place in your heart just as it has in mine."
Gianna Arace received the Karl Boyer McEachron Award, which has been given annually to a Taconic or Pittsfield High School student since 1954. The award is given to a city graduate who has shown high academic standards, community involvement, work ethic, and who plans a career in engineering or science.
It consists of a plaque and a scholarship and is usually announced as a surprise at graduation.
Arace plans on attending Western New England University with an intended major in bio-medial engineering. She has a 100.4 grade average, ranked 13 in her class, received the Bausch and Lomb honorary science award in 2020, and placed third in the Massachusetts regional science fair.
She is also a member of the National Honors Society and was involved in various school clubs.
Superintendent Joseph Curtis, who presented the award, said the School Committee was presented with a list of "outstanding nominees" this year.
At the ceremony, Taconic High School band members Olivia Chelstowski and London Martin played the processional music, Avery Hartman Caesar and Laura Knowlton sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the Taconic honors chorus presented a recorded performance of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Paul Simon.
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