NORTHAMPTON — Amherst Regional High School’s Class of 2021 organized rallies in support of Black Lives Matter, fought against injustices for the LGBTQ community and stood up to hate, said Class President Tulsi Patel.
Speaking to a sun-drenched crowd of parents, guardians and other family members at the school’s graduation ceremony Thursday afternoon at Look Park’s Pines Theater, Patel urged people to be kind and understanding to each other, and to always remember this philosophy.
“We have seen so much hate and prejudice circulate in the world, and if there is one thing I ask of you it is to show compassion,” Patel said during the ceremony, in which 216 students received diplomas.
“Importantly, I want you to leave here remembering that Black Lives Matter, and love is love,” Patel said.
Though Patel said she refers to the graduating class as the “pandemic class,” being most affected by COVID-19 due to the extended time away from classrooms, it is so much more than that.
“It has been a crazy four years to say the least,” Patel said, observing that it began with bathrooms without doors as a measure to curtail unruly student behavior, and that the doors had been restored just as they were departing.
Class speaker Michael Cardozo told the graduates that he sees a group of people with hearts and minds open to question how things have always been, and a generation ready to dismantle injustices in society that have existed century after century.
“I really see something in this group of students that is a little rare,” said Cardozo, a science teacher selected by the class to give the address. “You don’t just go with the flow, you know how to be creative and innovative.
“You are all poised to be leaders of society in the next generation,” Cardozo said.
During the celebration, the high school chorale and Hurricane Singers under conductor Todd Fruth sang “The Road Home.” Conjunto de Bomba, an ensemble of musicians, dancers and drummers directed by Tracy Vernon and Nick Shaw, performed “Bomba Sica,” and the jazz band conducted by Kara Nye played “Held Together.”
The graduation celebrated 11 valedictorians who maintained 4.0 grade-point averages. Their brief presentation featured each one taking turns doing a countdown referencing such topics as the seven elementary schools in Amherst, Shutesbury, Leverett and Pelham the graduates had attended, the six retiring high school teachers leaving, the four principals they had — and the missing bathroom doors.
Talib Sadiq, the current and last of the four principals for the class, said whether it was the Youth for Black Lives Matter rally that members of the class organized in June 2020, or making sure that Black History Month and Women’s History Month were properly recognized, the students were remarkable.
“This is an amazing group of students about to step off to a new chapter in their lives,” Sadiq said.
He first got to know many of them when he was a middle school guidance counselor, observing that they had shown a growth of maturity since that time.
They now know how to support themselves with people who will allow them to succeed, he said.
“Regardless of what’s going on in life, you’ve made the most of it,” Sadiq said.
Before the ceremony, lining up alphabetically for the procession into Pines Theater through a field of signs displaying the graduates’ photographs, some of the graduating students reflected on the challenges of spending more than a year learning in a virtual format.
“It feels great to be graduating,” said Kaih Hernandez of Amherst, who hopes to go to college and pursue a career as a CNA or nurse.
The limited time in the school building made the year a challenge, she said.
“I feel like it’s been more stressful because online learning is so much different from being in school,” Hernandez said.
Brandy Hernandez-Amaya, who will be heading to Macalester College to study psychology or political science, stayed remote for the full year, but got to see classmates during senior week activities.
“It’s been hard not going to school, but I feel like I got used it,” she said. “It feels good to be done.”
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