Yesterday, 317 students from the Class of 2016 graduated from Reading Memorial High School. The graduation ceremony featured the National Anthem sung by Cameron Dieselman, the Salutatory Address by Paul Chong, the Valedictory Address by Elizabeth Trauger, the Class President remarks by John Guazzaloca, and remarks from Principal Adam Bakr and Superintendent of Schools John Doherty. The RMHS Band, under the direction of Joe Mulligan provided the Processional and Recessional music, and the RMHS Singers, under the direction of Kristin Killian, sang Finale B.
Below are the remarks from Superintendent of Schools John Doherty.
High School Graduation Speech-Dr. John F. Doherty
Mr. Bakr, School Committee Members, Fellow Administrators and Faculty, Family and Friends of the Graduates, students, other guests, and most importantly, members of the Graduating Class of 2016, it is with great pride that I address you today as you complete your graduation requirements and begin the next part of your journey. This is my seventh high school graduation as Superintendent and speaking to our students on their graduation day is an honor that I look forward to each year. However, this year, I am giving my remarks with mixed emotions, because after today, I will no longer be a parent in the Reading Public Schools. Rarely, does a Superintendent have an opportunity to speak as a parent on Commencement Day. But, I am going to give it a try.
So, as you might imagine, when I sat down and began to compose my speech, my mind was filled with thoughts and emotions. I first thought about all of you, another class of amazing students who are about to graduate from the Reading Public Schools, but then I couldn’t help but think that my youngest daughter is about to graduate from high school! And that is when the father in me came out. I can’t even begin to imagine how challenging it must have been for my daughter Shealagh during the last 7 years to be known as the superintendent’s daughter, particularly during the winter months whenever a snowstorm rolled in and she got countless texts from her classmates asking her to share their opinions with me regarding school cancellations. As an aside, Class of 2016, I do apologize for the lack of snow days this year. And Shealagh, I hope being known as the superintendent’s daughter didn’t bother you too much!
Little did I know when I entered the teaching profession 33 years ago that one day I would witness firsthand, as a principal and superintendent, the positive impact that teachers and other adults have on students’ lives, and in this case, on my daughter’s life. I am very proud of the commitment and the work our teachers do each and every day during the school year and beyond to have such a positive impact on all of you sitting before us today. Reading Public Schools is certainly a very special district. Our schools are filled with a community of teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, coaches, advisors, and support staff who go above and beyond to educate and prepare our students not only to be college and career ready, but more so to enter into adulthood. What’s more, is that this support from caring adults does not stop at the doors of our schools but extends into the greater community to our police officers, firefighters, clergy, community leaders, and even local business owners who continuously provide their support to our students. One example of this tremendous effort was in December, 2014 when this community grieved with you and supported you when one of your classmates, Nate Doiron passed away. Class of 2016, please know that the entire community of Reading is filled with people who care about you and maybe, without you even realizing it, have helped you all along the way.
During your time at RMHS four very dedicated teachers of that very school community have passed away, three this year. We said goodbye to Joshua Eaton teacher Jody Carregal, Coolidge teacher John McCarthy, Birch Meadow teacher Irene Bourne and Birch Meadow and Wood End teacher Sally Mucica. Please share in a moment of silence in their memory as they too, positively impacted the lives of so many students, colleagues, and families who had the opportunity to know them. Thank you.
So, today, Class of 2016, I share with you a few messages, the first as a dad and the rest as a Superintendent. It is my hope that these messages will further help to prepare you for the next leg of your journey.
First and foremost, remember the importance of family and just how much you are loved by your parents, siblings, and relatives. At Friday’s Class Day, you all watched a slideshow with pictures dating as far back as your first day of kindergarten. Seeing the slideshow was like unlocking a chest, filled will treasured memories. As your parents, we too have our own special memories which we store in our minds and at times like this, we are reminded of them.
We remember all of your firsts- when you first entered this world, when you took your first step, said your first word, and celebrated your first birthday. The first day of kindergarten is a day we will never forget and hearing you read a book for the first time was priceless. Not only do we remember your first day of Kindergarten, but your first day of every new school year as you began a new grade. We also remember when you began participating in activities involving dance, scouts, arts, music, and sports and with those activities came your first recital, your first badge ceremony, your first art show, your first chorus or instrument performance and your first sports game. However, with all of these celebratory memories, also come memories of having to watch you as you experienced setbacks and disappointments. Of course, these are the memories we wished you didn’t have to experience, but with every one, we were there supporting and comforting you and assuring you that you would make it through those difficult times. Those times made you a stronger person and us as well. Yes, over the years, we have shared with you your many firsts, your successes and your disappointments. We hope you know that we were always there for you.
We also remember the countless hours we spent volunteering at your many different events; buying candy, cookies, candles, wrapping paper to support your school and activity’s fundraisers, selling refreshments and raffle tickets during your events, coaching your teams, and, most of all, driving you back and forth from activity to activity. We attended your parent teacher conferences and we looked forward to watching you lead your first student conference during your freshman year. What a proud moment it was to hear you share all that you learned and accomplished. We also remember when you first got your driving permit and all of the times we sat in the passenger seat, holding on to the dashboard and pressing the passenger floor wishing it was a brake pedal as you drove around, and around, and around empty parking lots before taking on the streets around your neighborhood. When you first got your driver’s license life got a little easier on us because we no longer had to drive you everywhere!
And then, we will never forget this past year, as it was like a roller coaster ride as you were deciding what path you would follow after graduation- attend a post high school, join the military, take a gap year, enter college or begin to work. If college was your choice, it became which college did you want to attend, and how were we going to pay for it? Then, did you write your essays and get your applications in on time? Did you apply for scholarships?
Most recently, many of your firsts became your lasts. We remember your last game, your last dance recital, your last concert, your last performance, and your last day of high school. All of these times, whether it was a first or a last, have provided us with so many wonderful memories and all of them should prove to you that your years of hard work have been worth your effort and time. Personally, for me, I will always remember the last time that Shealagh and I drove to school together, just last week…. Shealagh, my morning rides will never be the same as you, my driving companion will, like all of the Class of 2016, will now begin a new leg of your journey.
Finally, and probably the most difficult memory was the day we realized that you had grown up, and that you did not need us as much as you once had. We have done our best to coach you, nurture you, challenge you, and encourage you to believe in yourself and in your abilities. The role we will now play in your lives may change, but we always want to be an important part of your lives. Although our arms may not be big enough to carry you, or our backs are not strong enough to give you piggyback rides or hold you on our shoulders any more, our hearts and spirits will always be there for you. So, with that, I say thank you, from all of us parents, to all of you, thank you for these memories. And always remember the importance of family.
Okay, now I am going to switch to my Superintendent’s hat and my second message to you is to always be true to who you are. Share and celebrate your talents, gifts, and your uniqueness with the world. Those personal qualities that you may not consider special may lead you to something you never expected. For some of you, you may not have discovered those special talents yet, but that’s ok… that is what the next chapter in your life is all about. Now is the time to embrace your uniqueness and look for and experience new opportunities.
Some of you have already begun to embrace your skills and talents in your lives. Here are just a few of the many examples. Luke Chase, through his hard work, motivation, and a passion for learning persevered through many difficult educational challenges during the past four years and as a result grew tremendously as a student, an athlete and as the person he is today. Briana Ferreira has lived one third of her life in Brazil and after doing so, successfully transitioned back to living in the United States and reentering school. Her resiliency and life experiences has made her a stronger person which will help her in pursuing a career in nursing. Julia Lorenzetti is a talented and accomplished trombone player who is passionate about music. She has been selected to participate in numerous ensembles, including the Massachusetts All State Festival. She will now take her talents to the University of Miami and focus on music education so that she can inspire others with her gift. Simran Poudyal (Pow dell) was born in Nepal and has traveled back to her native country several times to volunteer, most recently last year after the devastating earthquake. Nick O’Leary is a talented math and science student who recently received the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association Fellowship award and will be completing an internship at Raytheon this summer before attending UMass Amherst this fall to study engineering. Christina O’Connor, who will study nursing next year at UConn, spent time volunteering at a hospital in Ecuador, shadowing doctors and nurses, as well as, visiting and entertaining children who ill. She met with their families in an effort to make them feel more at ease. Elizabeth Trauger, this year’s Patrick A. Schettini, Jr. Scholarship winner, participated in an internship in Ecuador with Fundacion VIHDA, a foundation which raises money to provide treatment for HIV infected pregnant women so that their children are born HIV free. Inspired by her Ecuadorian internship experience, she came back in to school and co-founded a new club, which in its first year at RMHS, raised over $1,500 dollars. Sam Enright, an avid rock climber since he was 10 years old, qualified for the International Federation of Sport Climbing world youth championship last year by placing 4th in the National Competition. He then competed internationally in Italy, participating with climbers from over 50 countries. Last, but certainly not least, Amelia Collymore focused her Girl Scout Gold Award project on creating storybooks for RISE Preschool students who have sensory and physical learning disabilities. She was inspired by her family and the internship that she had completed at RISE last year.
I am proud to say that we also have three members of the Class of 2016 joining our armed forces in the future. Seth Fillmore will be joining the United States Army, Kevin King will be attending Norwich University and then pursuing a career with the United States Army, and Kayla St. Pierre will be attending the United States Air Force Academy and then pursuing a career with the United States Air Force. Seth, Kevin, and Kayla, thank you for defending our country and doing such important work. We wish you a safe journey and Godspeed.
Another important message for you today…dream big and never give up on those dreams, no matter how big or impossible they may seem. Those who feel that they can change the world, most often do. Sometimes chasing your dreams may not always be easy and yes you will make mistakes along the way, and at times, you may fail. Making mistakes and learning from those mistakes are part of the natural process of learning.
Often, others may not believe in you and you may have to travel along a road that few have taken. As the poet Robert Frost says, “Two roads diverged in the woods, and I took the one less travelled and that has made all of the difference.” Try the road where your dreams can become a reality, where you can learn and grow, and where it is ok to question the status quo. Put yourself in a position where someday you can say, I am glad I took the road I did. Remember, it is not about the destination that you reach, but the journey that you take along the way.
My final message that I have for you is actually a challenge…To Make a positive difference in this world, no matter how large or how small. Each of you has tremendous skills and talents that can change our world. A positive change can be as simple as performing ongoing community service, an act of kindness, or using your skills and talents to impact others. Perhaps the songwriter Diane Warren said it best with her lyrics from the song, “I am here”,
I wanna leave my footprint on the sands of time
Know there was something that, meant something that I left behind
When I leave this world, I’ll leave no regrets,
Leave something to remember, so they won’t forget
The hearts I have touched will be the proof that I leave
That I made a difference, and this world will see
I just want them to know
That I gave my all, did my best
Brought someone to happiness
Left this world a little better just because
I was here
So, Class of 2016, in a few short minutes, you will be receiving your diploma which symbolizes a successful culmination of your Reading Memorial High School experience. As you walk towards this stage, reflect on your experiences, remember the importance of your family, of being true to who you are, of dreaming big without giving up and my challenge to you of making a positive difference in this world. We look forward to hearing about and seeing where your journey will take you and how each of you made this world a better place for you and future generations.
It’s has been a tradition to conclude my graduation speech with a quote from Walt Disney, as he is someone who has inspired me as a leader, a parent and a person. When Walt was asked about his success, he said:
“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing-that it was all started by a mouse.” My translation of this quote for you is, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing-that your hopes and dreams are all started by you.”
Class of 2016, on behalf of your parents, family, educators, and the entire Reading Community, I congratulate you on your graduation. I wish you good fortune and much success on your journey ahead.