No Backing Down for NRHS Grads… June 15, 2016
By Ann Needle
It was a day that celebrated the compassion— and determination —of teens heading into the world. Nashoba Regional High School’s Class of 2016 received their diplomas June 12 amid an almost-capacity crowd at Worcester’s DCU Center.
The packed audience stemmed from family and friends of one of the largest graduating classes in Nashoba’s history, at more than 250 students. NRHS principal Dr. Parry Graham seemed to capture the actions and words of what he noted was the first class he has been with for its four years.
Graham said the two characteristics the class will be remembered for are “a strong sense of equity and fairness,” and that “this class does not like to hear the word ‘no’.” He pointed to the yearbook being in danger earlier this year of not publishing — so the class got together and saved it. Saluting this class determination, Graham echoed the lyrics of a Tom Petty tune, quoting, “’In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around, I’ll stand my ground, and I won’t back down.’”
“You are going to keep hearing the word no after you leave high school,” Graham cautioned. “But the people who change our world are the people who believe the word no is just the first step in contracted negotiation.”
In his first and final speech to the high school’s graduates, Interim Superintendent Dr. Curtis Bates stressed, “There is no period at the end of this event, but a comma.” While graduation remains a time to express gratitude to all who helped each student to this point, Bates reminded students to continue heeding the basic advice of their earliest mentors, such as, “Flush, don’t take things that aren’t yours, wash your hands, hold hands and stick together.”
Coincidentally, the hand-washing mention followed closely behind the anonymous graduate blowing bubbles that were floating above the students’ heads. And, predictably, a beach ball began bouncing about the stage.
Compassion and a Look Down the Hallway
All three student speakers hailed from Stow, each offering her version of the class’s hallmark compassion and connecting to others.
Valedictorian Hannah Stevenson laid aside any mention of life’s academic side in favor of another message to classmates. “I think that, when I die, if I can look back on my life and think about one time I truly showed compassion for someone, without thinking about myself at all, my life has been worth living,” she said.
Speaking of her appreciation of the time some unknown boys stopped to comfort her when she was visibly upset in public, Stevenson reflected, “A random act of kindness is just that: a spontaneous, unplanned, unwatched display of compassion that doesn’t end up on a Facebook page, because the doer sees nothing overtly or uniquely romantic about what he or she has done to brag about.”
Salutatorian Jessie Duggan lauded the class’s many accomplishments, including sports championships, performances in jaw-dropping musicals, and even completing marathons, “On Netflix, of course.” While Duggan paid brief tribute to the joys of coffee, Snapchat, and Grey’s Anatomy, she ended her words with, “Don’t forget to hug everyone who helped you along the way.”
Chieftain Speech writer Marianna Sardella spoke of life at NRHS began when she stopped staring at the floor, something she was told freshman make a habit of when arriving at NRHS. “As a freshman I was so concerned with getting my work done that I felt I had no reason to look up in the hallways. I needed to go to class, learn, go home, do homework, sleep and repeat. I treated school like a showering routine.” But, getting involved in Nashoba’s wide range of activities meant a new connectedness with classmates by senior year, Sardella said. “As years at Nashoba went on, I became more involved in the school, and the more involved I became, the more I looked up in the hallways and smiled or shouted at a new amazing face.”
Before diplomas were handed out, Graham announced that the Class of 2016’s gift to the school was a wide-screen television monitor in the cafeteria. He mentioned that the gift was mounted for the seniors to enjoy before their final day.
The distribution of diplomas was delightfully routine. Requests for the audience to hold its applause until the final diploma were heeded once in a while. The bubbles kept flying, and the beach ball— in a twist from previous years — continued bouncing through the W surnames, with no administration rushing to catch and deflate.
The day was bittersweet for the parents watching one of their younger children graduate, many remarking on their sadness over knowing fewer teachers and students throughout Nashoba as the years have passed.
And, while waiting for her fourth child to graduate from NRHS, commenting on the parade of graduations she has attended, Stow’s Carol Gjeltema laughed, “What’s sad is it all blends together.”