At graduation ceremonies Monday Newton South Principal Joel Stembridge told the story of this past April Fools Day to illustrate the spirit of the Class of 2014 and their perseverance in a year marked by tragedy.
It’s a day, he said, that all school administrators look forward to with fear.
“After an incredibly difficult and emotional six months, the senior class decided to sweeten up everyone’s April Fools day with four stairs full of cupcakes in the morning,” he said, adding that every one of the unofficial count of 2014 were homemade.
“It was a meaningful and significant gesture that nurtured our souls and palpably changed the tenor of the building for the remainder of the year,” he said.
After a school year that saw the death of two schoolmates by their own hand, a sophomore and a junior, and the suicide of a third student, a senior at Newton North High School, Stembridge told the graduates that they had failed to live up to their reputation “as the best worst class.”
Instead, he told them, “maybe you grew up, or maybe everyone else was wrong all along, but we here at South did not experience you in this way at all.”
Newton North senior Karen Douglas, 18, and 16-year-old Katie Stack, who was a sophomore at Newton South died within two weeks of each other last October, and Newton South junior Roee Grutman, 17, took his own life four months later in February.
At the ceremonies Monday the approximately 450 graduates and their families heard plenty of reasons for their being a class full of successes, talent, and scholarship, but for many at graduation, it was the way the class handled themselves during tragedy that will be remembered.
“This is an incredible class,” Wheeler House guidance counselor Aaron Lewis said before the ceremonies started at the Newton South High School fieldhouse.
“Being a leader is very hard these days, and there are a lot of leaders in this class. It was a really tough year, and they took a role in trying to help,” he said.
“They were there to comfort the younger kids, and they really needed it,” Lewis said. “I’ve got a lot of hope for the future, theirs and ours, because of his class.”
School Superintendent David Fleishman recalled the words of a former colleague in Wellesley who famously told graduates there a couple years ago, “you’re not that special.”
“What I am going to tell you, after observing you, is that you guys are pretty special,” he said.
He said he has been impressed by the rich conversations he’s had, and with the “high level of engagement,” at South, and admonished students to continue to be personally connected with the people in their lives.
“Can you feel the joy or pain that someone feels through a text?” he asked.
Kylie Walters, the senior class speaker, asked her classmates to always remember and contemplate the little things, like the purple glue stick she recently used for a Marine Biology class poster.
“The purple glue stick made me think of the days when we found joy around every corner and under every rock,” she said.
“We have a choice about the pace of our lives. We decide whether we will have time to stop and appreciate the purple glue sticks and the glow of the moon or if instead we will focus on only the things we are told matter,” she said.
Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org