It feels like a perfect night to recognize the Class of ’22 for your hard work and perseverance that enabled you to meet the requirements to earn a Shrewsbury High School diploma. The challenges you have experienced over your high school years were substantial, and we are all very proud of what you have achieved despite them. As many of you know, in addition to being your superintendent, I am also a very proud parent of a graduate, and I think I can speak for all of the parents and caretakers here this evening that when you all were younger, and we as parents were thinking ahead to your high school experience, none of us imagined that you would be coping with the impact of a global pandemic. I think we’re all quite familiar with all the ways in which COVID-19 negatively affected your experience, and this is not a topic to dwell upon this evening as you step into the future. However, there are positives that emerged from the ways in which people responded to the pandemic, and there is one that I would like to highlight this evening: the understanding of what it means to be a hero.
I’m not talking about mythical heroes here, but rather, as Merriam Webster defines the term, those who are “admired for achievements or noble qualities” and “who show great courage.” Over the course of the past two-plus years, we have witnessed so many making sacrifices for the good of others under incredibly trying circumstances. This especially includes the contributions made by those on the front lines of healthcare and public health. It most certainly includes the ways in which our teachers, education professionals, support staff, and school leaders rose to the myriad challenges of providing education and support for you. And there is no question that it also includes the many ways in which your families supported you during a time of fear and uncertainty, as well as everything you did as friends to support one another. At this time, I ask that our graduates stand and applaud all of those people for what they have done to help you get to this milestone today.
The acts of heroism you just applauded, large and small, did not require extraordinary powers. The late actor, Christopher Reeve, said that “...a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Those of you who are my age know that Reeve was famous for playing the part of Superman in the movies, but this quote was not about the fictional comic book hero. Rather, it was his reflection upon his real-life circumstances after he became paralyzed in an accident. He was speaking of a special kind of strength of character that so many of you have already shown at a young age – a strength our society needs you to keep demonstrating as you move into adulthood.
As the mythical hero Superman, Reeves delivered the famous line that his mission was to “fight for truth, justice, and the American way.” We are living in a time when all three of these aspirations are in jeopardy. We need you to seek the truth by thoughtfully and critically examining the messages you receive, while considering the motivation and intent of the sources behind them, and to speak the truth in opposition to lies designed to manipulate your emotions and beliefs. We need you to promote justice so that our society becomes a more equitable one for all of its members – especially those who have the greatest needs – and so that getting a fair shake isn’t based on who you are or where you’re from. We need you to align our nation’s actions with the noble values articulated at its founding, so that we can indeed form a more perfect union, one that secures the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by protecting the integrity of elections and engaging in the democratic process. We need you to have the strength to fight for these things, because I believe that the fate of our country depends on it.
On the first day of this school year, we opened the new Beal School. When entering this beautiful building for the first time, a first grader looked around with wonder and exclaimed, “This looks like a place where we can all be heroes.” I think he was right, because your strong education has provided you with the foundation to act heroically when circumstances require it. I am confident that you all have the ability to honor truth, promote justice, and advance our nation’s values. But this is not easy work. We need you to demonstrate the everyday heroism of persevering when you face the many difficult challenges that lie ahead. And when you do, you will indeed be the best kind of hero, one who makes a significant, positive impact on the lives of others. I believe that you have what it takes to make a difference in our community, our nation, and our world, and so I’ll conclude by paraphrasing that first grader:
“This looks like a class where you can all be heroes.”
Congratulations, Class of 2022!