Photo Gallery | Leland & Gray Graduation 2014
TOWNSHEND -- Many of the speakers at The Leland & Gray Union High School Class of 2014 Commencement Ceremony talked about the challenges, sadness and loss that the students experienced during their four years at the school.
As the graduating seniors walked in to the ceremony Saturday, each student dropped a flower, or a bouquet, into a basket, to honor the members of the graduating class who could not join them.
Faculty speaker Megan Altshuler recognized the sometimes tough circumstances the seniors had to overcome to pick up their diplomas Saturday.
"Many young people who have the opportunity to wear a funny square hat and a long, hot, synthetic gown in the middle of summer have also had the privilege of a more sheltered beginning," Altshuler said. "You, Leland & Gray Class of 2014, have not had that privilege."
Altshuler went on to say that while graduation is usually viewed as a time when innocent high school students move on to the "real world," this year's Leland & Gray graduates have already experienced many real life lessons.
And at the same time, she said, it is a chance to look back and decide how each student should move on.
"The path you have walked has not sheltered you from the world we call 'real,' real choices have been made with real consequences, real grief, real guilt, real pain, but also I think real joy, real friendships and real growth," she said. "You have an opportunity right now to take everything you hold, all the good, all the burdens, all the relationships, and reevaluate what is worth carrying from this point forward."
Sixty-one Leland & Gray students graduated from high school Saturday.
Class speakers Alana Redden and Addie Mahdavi gave a heartfelt and funny speech.
They also talked about the challenges the class faced and some of the obstacles that were not so successfully overcome.
"The theme of our time at Leland & Gray has been challenge; the challenges we have posed to the school and the challenges we ourselves have been forced to endure," Mahdavi said. "Our independence and rambunctiosness translated early on into disrespect and defiance which caused friction between students and staff. While we were a demanding group to handle, we were dealing with difficulties of our own. Some were small and others were not so small. In the last six years, the class of 2014 has struggled with displacement, with life-threatening health problems, and most of all, with loss."
The two class speakers kept things in perspective by recognizing both the profound and the silly.
Mahdavi talked about facing the realty of a new paint job in the school that changed the walls from a "sickly yellow hue" to an eggshell white.
And she said the graduating class struggled with an ongoing conflict in one classroom that ranged from a colony of ants to having to "hit the deck" when the regular desks were deemed too unsafe.
Redden said the seniors had an identity crisis when the study halls were renamed, "academies," though no one knew what that meant, and the entire 2014 year was spent trying to figure out if the lunch trays were disposable or not.
Then, when the laughter died down, Redden and Mahdavi acknowledged that attending and graduating high school was also serious.
"Growing up is hard," Mahdavi said. "High school is often lonely, confusing and unforgiving. Teenagers are expected to act like adults but are often deemed undeserving of the same respect; expected to always make the right life decisions without having the experience to draw from; expected to listen to adults but ignore their peer influences; expected to function at our highest capacity even though our bodies and minds are exhausted."
"Even worse, we have to learn about puberty while going through puberty," Redden said. Adding later that "Collectively and individually we have overcome more hardship than some people face in their whole lives."
Then, Mahdavi finished the speech.
"To the Class of 2014, let's use our knowledge of challenge," she said. "Few people are equipped with as much experience as we. Seek further challenges. Not the challenges we have already endured, these are enough to last a lifetime. But seek new experiences, new situations and smile in the face of difficulty, knowing that it has never, and will never, stop you."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.