Reading Memorial High School Graduation Speech
Superintendent of Schools, John Doherty
Before I begin, please join me in a moment of silence for the victims and their families of the tragic shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia on Friday.
Thank you. Members of the Reading School Committee, Principal Boynton, Faculty, Fellow Administrators, Distinguished Guests, Community Members, but most importantly, members of the Class of 2019 and their proud families and friends, it is with great pride that I address you today as you complete your graduation requirements for the Reading Public Schools. Each of you have made your own unique positive impact on this school. You have earned our congratulations and recognition and now you are ready to make your own imprint on the world.
To use the analogy of a marathon runner, you have reached a very important mile marker in your race today. The 26.2 mile journey that you are running has been both exciting and challenging. The next set of mile markers will be even more fascinating, with many different possible paths and opportunities to recenter and reset your mindset. Personally, this analogy of the marathon has resonated with me as well, as this past April, I ran the Boston Marathon to raise money for Rosie’s Place in Boston, a homeless shelter for women and children. This amazing experience was one of the most challenging yet fulfilling of my life. I learned that running and training for a marathon is very similar to the personal quests that each of us are navigating. Each has check in points along the way, each has challenges and setbacks, each requires preparation and training and each has a sense of accomplishment. To that end, I want to share with you three key mile markers or check in points, that hopefully you can use as training tips while you embark on the next leg of your own personal race. Over the next few minutes, stay with me as I take your through the marathon course.
Imagine you are with your running peers and you all take off, starting the journey together. As you travel along, you get into your groove. The first part of your race course is relatively flat with just a few rolling hills. When you reach your first check in point, you see a sign that says “embrace and appreciate your support team”. You think, what does this mean?” Earlier, you heard our amazing RMHS Singers, singing, You Raise Me Up. The lyrics connect to this theme of support.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be
It is here you realize that training for a Marathon cannot be done alone. You have to have an amazing support team, which includes family, friends, colleagues, and fellow runners. During the race, course volunteers are at every mile marker providing water, medical attention, and most importantly, encouragement. The crowd along the way cheers you on and the runners that you run alongside support each other.
As a young adult you too have had a support team during this leg of your own personal race. Your parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, teachers, staff, coaches, advisors, administrators and others have been critical in helping you complete today’s significant milestone of high school graduation. These important people have provided you with care, boundaries, encouragement and their love. They have educated you and prepared you for this very moment so that you can now take the next steps. They have an abundance of memories which they have stored in their hearts and minds for days like today. Over the next several days, take the time to express your thanks and gratitude to the members of your support team. Hug them if you wish. But please…do it in person and not by emoji on snapchat, facebook, Instagram, twitter, or any other social media. Personal connections matter and will set you up for life.
As we now go back to the marathon, you now hit the second check in point where you begin to reach steep and continuous hills. These are challenging and difficult at times to conquer. At the Boston Marathon, the four hills in Newton, which includes Heartbreak Hill is the most difficult part of the course. For some, it is the tipping point…the point in the race in which they know the finish line is so close, but they are exhausted, physically and mentally, and many just can’t continue as they are out of gas. However, those who do continue, hear the cheers and encouragement from all who have come to watch and support them.
It is important to remember that everyone has their own “heartbreak hill” with challenges, setbacks, and adversity. My advice to you is to look at these as challenges as opportunities and address them head on with confidence, personal drive, and out of the box thinking. And, please…don’t ever give up!
Many of you have your own personal stories of how you have conquered your “Heartbreak Hill.” Throughout the year, I have been inspired hearing and reading these stories. Here are a few of the many examples.
During their four years at RMHS Casey Roberts and Teresa Ortiz have both displayed courage and fortitude overcoming significant challenges and obstacles in their lives. Both will be attending college next year, Casey will be attending Salem State University, majoring in psychology and Teresa is going to pursue practical nursing at North Shore Community College. Jelynn Reed has exhibited resilience and character in her time at RMHS. She is a strong student and an even better person; someone who is always looking out for her peers. Jelynn’s late grandmother, who many of us knew as “Mother Reed” was the inspiration for Jelynn to attend the University of Hartford in the fall to pursue Physical Therapy. Aymon Langlois has overcome vision challenges throughout his life. His speeches, drama performances and the written word have been extremely motivating. At a Veteran’s Day speech, he challenged the audience to question why the holiday focuses less on honoring veterans and more on commercial activities. At another emotional speech he delivered in the freezing cold in memory of students who lost their lives in the Parkland, Florida school shootings, he talked about the senselessness of gun violence. Aymon is now a published author as one of his short stories titled “Her Books” was published in the Canvas Teen Literary Journal this past January. Victor Dos Santos is an inspiration for young people who immigrate to the USA. Victor was born in Brazil and at 13 years old, he came to the USA to be with his parents who had worked hard to pave the way for the family to join them. Not only did he learn to speak English in a six-month period, but he advanced to our most rigorous courses as a senior in high school, while placing in the top 15% of the class. Victor will be attending UMass Lowell this fall and major in chemical engineering. These stories are just a few examples of how your classmates have persevered to conquer their “heartbreak hills.”
This now leads me to the final push in the marathon, and thus, the final analogy. You are now reaching the home stretch and as we reach our final check in point my advice to you is simple: throughout your route, take care of yourself and finish strong as you cross that finish line. Then look for new races, new challenges, and new dreams. You have only one body and one mind. You need to take care of both. Be careful what you fill it with. Find physical activities and eating habits that will keep your body healthy. Take time to slow down and take care of your emotional well-being. Participate in activities like yoga, meditation, or even quiet walks. Find ways to contribute to society and participate in community service. Unplug yourself regularly from technology. By practicing healthy habits long term you will have a more fulfilling marathon race.
Most importantly, when you cross the finish line of one race, you will have the opportunity to participate in new races. Each course represents a new possibility, a new opportunity, a new dream. Try a course where your dreams can become a reality, where you can learn and grow, and where it is ok to question the status quo. Then you can say, I am glad I chose this course, instead of saying, I wish I chose another. Remember, it is not about the destination that you reach, but the journey that you take along the way.
You are already showing this perseverance. Here are some amazing examples. Prior to going to Gordon College in 2020, Dan Erikson will be participating in a gap year at a full year program in Costa Rica called the Portantorchas Bible School where he will be studying in Spanish alongside students from all around the world. During the year he will be immersed into the culture and Spanish language and he will have opportunities to do short term mission trips in the surrounding areas. Austin Pierre “AP” Rein spent second semester of 10th grade abroad in Bolivia where he was able to attend school, travel and visit family. His experience has helped to shape his vision of the future where he hopes to eventually live and work internationally. He will be attending Rochester Institute of Technology this fall, majoring in Computing Security. Arabella Rice has served as the Kennel manager at The Service Dog Project which raises dogs to become service dogs and then donates them to the mobility impaired. People bound to a wheelchair or crutches received dogs and were able to gain greater independence and security in their lives. She will be attending UMass Amherst this fall, majoring in business. Tali Shorr has been a change agent in our community, where she has actively spoken at community and school events against the rising tide of anti-semitism and hate in our community and beyond. Recently, Tali won First Prize from over 200 other entries for the Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest. In addition, she was honored by the Jewish Community Relations Council on May 5 and this fall, will be honored in Washington, D.C. at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Several of your classmates are pursuing education with a goal of becoming a teacher. Georgiana Jones, Ava Rice, Erin O’Neill, Robyn Cashins, Gemma Cenci and Elena Cusato will be pursuing majors in college that focus on shaping the minds of future students. Thank you for choosing this path.
Last, but certainly not least, I am also proud to say that we have three members of the Class of 2019 who will be making commitments to our armed forces. Nils Willander will be enlisting in the National Guard at Salem State with a major in Nursing. Keegan Coulter will be attending Norwich University with an ROTC Scholarship and majoring in Criminal Justice and Kendra Richardson has enlisted in the United States Marines. Nils, Keegan, and Kendra, thank you for defending our country and doing such important work. We wish you a safe journey and Godspeed.
The students that I have highlighted today are only a few of the many examples of this graduating class who are the unsung heroes among us. Each of you have amazing stories to tell and each of you will be pursuing your own paths whether it be higher education, the military, vocation, or joining the work force. It reaffirms my belief that our future is in very good hands.
So, Class of 2019, as you can see, your ongoing exploration is very similar to running a marathon. You will experience accomplishments, setbacks, challenges, and learning moments along your unpredictable way. You will continue to learn the value of family, hard work, service for others, and positively contributing to society. You will reach milestones, goals, and dreams and that is the exciting part that keeps you going. You will also discover that as time goes on, you will make mistakes along the way. That is how true learning occurs. But throughout your race, whether it be 26.2 miles or some other measurement, your focus always needs to be on the finish line…with the goal to be productive and contributing members in our society.
To conclude my remarks this afternoon, I would like to share with you my final wishes to you, the Reading Memorial High School Class of 2019.
- I wish each of you all of the success that you think you need.
- I wish you the tenacity, the courage, and the good fortune to someday find life’s work about what you feel passionate about rather than settling for one that neither challenges, nor fulfills you.
- I wish you a sense of satisfaction and self-worth that comes from using some of your talents and some of your energy to help others who are in need.
- I wish you the wisdom to not forgo the love of family and friends in some relentless pursuit of material success.
- I wish you the perspective to forgive yourself and learn from the mistakes which are inevitable.
- I wish you to have the strength to never give up, because by not giving up, you will always have a chance to accomplish whatever you want to do in life.
- Finally, and probably the most difficult, I wish that you not become so preoccupied with achieving some cherished goal on some far away day in some far away land that somehow you fail to appreciate each and every day of your life.
Class of 2019, we look forward to seeing where your adventures will take you, and how each of you will make a difference. We are very proud of you and we will be rooting for you as you cross your own finish line. On behalf of your parents, family, educators, and the entire Reading Community, I congratulate you on your graduation. I wish you good fortune, happiness, and much success on your journey ahead!