PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The "last of the Braves" began their journey into adulthood on Sunday.
185 students received diplomas in front of family, friends, and district and city officials.
During the Star Spangled Banner, students enthusiastically sang "O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave" and Valedictorian Benjamin Ginsberg cited the school's 2022 name change in his address.
"Today, we graduate. We graduate as the last true Braves of Taconic High School," he said.
"We have persevered through much and have shown that with determination and a goal in mind, together we can achieve great things. Don't let this fire inside you fizzle out. Keep that real resilience ablaze as we move on to the next chapter of our lives."
Principal Matthew Bishop commended the students for surviving the countless tests, essays, and projects of high school as well as the "treacherous waters of teenage angst" and coming out on the other side.
"Remember, when you first entered this school? I remember some of the looks on your faces at orientation four years ago, some of the parents too. You remember? It was like a mix of excitement, nervousness, and maybe a little disbelief, like, ‘how did I get the high school already?'" he said.
"Well, time-warped to now and it's kind of cool that I'm seeing the same looks that I saw then. There is excitement, maybe a little nervousness, and I know there's at least someone out there in utter disbelief, wondering just how on earth the last four years went by so quickly."
Bishop will remember this class for its leadership and commitment to creating a sense of belonging for every student and giving everyone in the community a sense of pride.
"Class of 2023, while you may not always have seen it, I watched you all help foster a spirit of community, feelings of joy, and a sense of belonging at Taconic High School and I will always be grateful for that," he said.
"And now, as we sit here together for what is very likely the last time, I want to leave you with one final thought: Don't lose your passion, and don't forget what you've learned here in your time at Taconic. It has brought you success and will continue to bring you success in life. We all know that you're capable of greatness and you've demonstrated your power to make change. Use what you know to better yourself and to walk the path that seeks to make this world a more compassionate, just, and equitable place."
Salutatorian Jane Wong highlighted the changes and struggles that took place in the past four years. The second class to enter Taconic's new building, their lives were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of freshman year and not long after, had to decide on a new mascot.
Wong was glad to see the school embrace its new image as Taconic Thunder.
"We were presented with a blank canvas that was difficult to familiarize ourselves with but by senior year, this campus was blooming with green and gold," she said.
"When we realized that rather it being the demolition of an image we once knew and instead an opportunity to prove our spirit in facing obstacles, it was mesmerizing to see the school come back to life."
She asked her peers to praise themselves for pushing through the hardships that occurred during their high school careers.
"Giving up and surrendering to pessimism is easy but I hope not a single one of us chooses to do so because frankly, the next chapter in life is not an easy one because great rewards did not come easy. When you feel like they can easily route, please remember that you've done well before," Wong said.
"Recognize your accomplishments. Become an impressive person to your parents, friends, siblings, or maybe that cute classmate in your lecture. Manifest your dreams. Get lost in positive delusion. Don't let negative thoughts run loose. Following this mentality will allow us to say we did it again and again except as we part ways, changed the "we" to "I." I did it."
Ginsberg said that when his class first stepped into the "new airport— sorry, school" it felt overwhelming, and then by March 2020, the pandemic struck.
"It's only going to be two weeks they said. Little did we know, the pandemic would continue to show its effects for almost two years. By the time summer hit, we were stuck in isolation, bored and frustrated from day after day with parents and siblings," he explained.
"However, deprived of any decent human interaction, we made it work. I remember the summer after my freshman year, my friends and I were so determined to see each other that we rode all the way to the school to meet up, have fun riding around, and go for a dip in the lake."
He said that the school remained persistent in continuing their education despite student fatigue from virtual learning.
As upperclassmen, Ginsberg explained that COVID persisted but they still formed connections with teachers, staff, and friends.
"But at the end of the year, I felt like our school was missing something: culture," he said. "However, at the start of the 2022 school year, many seniors were determined to bring back our school culture that was devastated by COVID."
Between the revitalization of pep rallies, the Mr. Taconic pageant that included around 20 senior boys, and the school's production of Mamma Mia!, the valedictorian feels that school culture has been restored.
Ginsberg graduated with a GPA of 103.9 and Wong with a GPA of 103.6. 26 students graduated with honors for having a GPA of 88 or higher and 57 graduated with high honors for having a GPA of 92 or higher.
During the ceremony, the Star Spangled Banner was led by Mia Bencivenga, Geneviene Cormier, Selyna Kalinowski, Tiffin Martin, and Jefferson Orellana.
"Never Grow Up" by Taylor Swift was performed by Bencivenga, Cormier, Martin, Orellana, and Owen Quadrozzi.
The Taconic High School band performed the processional and recessional.
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