Masuk High School’s Class of 2023 faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Laura Crowley fondly recalls the time when everyone came back to school after a long period of remote learning at home. She expressed her gratitude to the teachers and classmates who organized the pep rallies, sporting events and dances that brought their school experience back to life.
“This is what defines us,” she said from the podium during Masuk’s commencement ceremony on Benedict Field Thursday evening, “not the pandemic, not online learning, but the comeback and the strength in our community.”
The sun broke through the clouds as families and friends filled the bleachers in a show of support for the 247 members of Masuk’s graduating class.
On the football field, two seats were left empty “in loving memory of Bridget Cable and Ciara O’Driscoll” two members of the Class of 2023 who are not here today. A moment of silence was also observed in their honor.
Crowley went on to share how her experience as a journalist with the Masuk Free Press gave her the opportunity to connect with the school community and learn more about her classmates.
“As we embark on our next chapter, stay open to the opportunity to be a bigger part of your community,” she said. “I have never been so sure of something, but I’m sure you’re all going to change the world. You’ve changed mine just by being here.”
In their addresses, salutatorian Siddharth Pamulapati and Valedictorian Cole Gakos both shared how bonding with their teachers and forming friendships with their peers made their class a tight knit group.
“Even if you have not found your doorways yet, keep searching and one day you’ll find yourself swimming in a plethora of opportunities, reminiscing fondly on the work you put in to get there,” Gakos said. “And from being a social wreck to laughing at lunch everyday with a massive group of friends, it is so worth it.”
Gakos called Pamulapati back to the podium and told the audience they have been close friends since their days at Stepney Elementary School.
“Masuk has been a place to connect with others, forming friendships that last a lifetime,” said Pamulapati, “and so as our time here comes to its bittersweet end, I hope every single one of you can look around at everyone else who gathered here today and realize just how close we’ve grown as a group.”
He said they have done incredible things in life, and motivated and pushed each other to the limit to get themselves to this moment.
Christopher Tierney, the class president, told his classmates Thursday’s graduation was a culmination of their 2,340 school days together over their academic careers.
When the prom rolled around, Tierney said it hit him that their four years at Masuk were nearly over, so he strove to get the most out of the experience, from the Senior Trip to taking a selfie with his class from the podium Thursday night.
“Now we are sitting here at the 2,340th day,” he said, “from our first ride on the yellow school bus to our last day at Masuk, in these last 13 years we’ve accomplished so much and we have so many people to be grateful for. Now as I end this speech, I leave you with one final question: what would you accomplish in your next 2,340 days?”
Board of Education Chairman David Ferris reminded the graduates of all the people who positively affected their lives, family members, teachers and coaches who made it possible for them to get to where they are today.
“Graduates, laugh loud, love deeply, stay humble, don’t quit, stay true to your values and never forget to enjoy the journey,” he said. “Congratulations again, and best wishes to all your future endeavors.”
Principal Steve Swensen recognized Masuk’s retirees and asked John Nguyen and Andy Iniguez Leon, two graduates who will serve their country in the armed forces, to stand up to be recognized.
In his presentation of the Class of 2023, Swensen praised them for all they accomplished in their four years.
He recalled reading the book, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak to his children. The story is about a mischievous boy named Max who, after misbehaving, is sent to bed by his mother without supper.
Max uses his imagination to sail to the Land of the Wild Things, where he tames its inhabitants because he is the wildest one of all. He is made king, but wants to go back to his mother. When he returns to his room he finds his supper, still hot, waiting for him.
“No matter what life has in store for you, please know that there are people in your lives and in this community that have been and will be there for you, even long after this commencement ceremony is just a faint memory,” Swensen said.
“So do not be afraid to ask for help or advice when it is needed,” he continued. “We will always be there for you with the piping hot dinner and whatever you may need, even when you are a little bit wild. Congratulations Class of 2023.”
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza said he recently read Sanford D. Greenberg’s autobiography, “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man’s Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life.”
Greenberg, a famous man who runs a successful technology company, went completely blind after the mistreatment of glaucoma while entering his junior year at Columbia University.
Self doubt crept in, but his girlfriend Sue, who would later become his wife, and his roommate did their own school work, then read to him for hours so that he could finish his.
The roommate was Art Garfunkel from the famed singing duo Simon & Garfunkel. The title of the book, “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend” is a refrain from Simon & Garfunkel’s classic song “The Sounds of Silence”, which is believed to have been written in honor of the friendship between Garfunkel and Greenberg, according to Kobza.
“I want you all to be financially successful for sure, but my sincere hope is that you take the skills you learned at Masuk and throughout all your years in the Monroe public schools and use them to provide service to others in the same way that Greenberg’s friends and family did for him,” Kobza said.
“Their service, while only to one man, had a ripple effect that has touched the lives of millions of people,” he said. “I truly believe that our legacy is not so much what we have accomplished, but what we do for others. Congratulations on this achievement tonight. I’m certain this is simply the first step on a journey of success and hopefully service.”
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