HARVARD -- In his opening remarks to the 113 graduating seniors (minus four who were out of town, competing in a national sports event) and their families and friends, gathered in The Bromfield School gym for the school's 134th commencement, Principal James O'Shea called the class of 2013 an "incredible group of students."
The class included "amazing" actors, singers, musicians, even comic performers and their absence will leave a "vacuum," he said.
Traditionally held on the grassy field outside Old Bromfield, with spectacular glimpses of Bare Hill Pond at sunset as a backdrop, this year the event had to be moved indoors.
Although 'gorgeous weather" held for graduation practice, it rained on the big day.
That said, Bromfield alumni are always welcome. "If in the course of ... events, you question" yourself, come back here for proof that you have what it takes to succeed, O'Shea said.
Faculty and Student Keynote Speakers
The first keynote speaker was longtime Bromfield teacher Steve Besold, who was invited to speak by the graduating class, a role he has also accepted in past years. Introducing Besold, O'Shea said he was a "beloved" teacher, coach and advisor with "a passion for his work."
His speech was supposed to be "inspirational," Besold said, "to set the tone and mood." But the previous speaker "stole my thunder," he lamented. His fallback was singing "It's Friday..." slightly off-key. Judging from the response, the sing-along was familiar to all.
"That was awful," Besold joked. But the mood was set. He went on to sketch the class, collectively, as a "unique reality show" with an unforgettable cast of characters who used their advantages and opportunities more than "any other class I've ever known."
One hears people gripe about young people, Besold continued.
The class also asked one of their own to speak. The student keynote speaker was Emma Noyes, a Harvard EMT who has been involved in numerous extracurricular and community activities during her years at Bromfield and is headed for Vanderbilt University in the fall.
"I tried to picture how I'd feel at this moment," Noyes began, recalling the 'bittersweet" memories it conjured up, like her first "big yellow school bus" ride on her first day of Kindergarten.
"We've changed a lot since then," she said, and have chalked up experiences as well as accomplishments but it's the "little things" that will linger, long after they leave the hills of Harvard and the halls of Bromfield for the outside world. "Growing up here has defined us," she said.
Teachers encouraged them to question, and the sense of community was strong. "When someone hurts, we all do," and the same goes for celebrations, she said.
Now, she and her classmates are heading for a variety of destinations, including an impressive roster of colleges and universities listed in the program and the unnamed challenges they will face in the future.
"We'll never have this moment again, but we'll always have this place," Noyes concluded. "We're more than ready...and it's because of Harvard."
Two accomplished students were chosen as valedictorians for the Class of 2013: Breanna McHugh and Clara Wang.
An "outstanding scholar," McHugh volunteered at Camp Sunshine and the Sterling Animal Shelter, O'Shea said. She will attend Dartmouth College this fall.
"You can choose your friends, but not your family," McHugh began, giving a positive ring to a familiar adage when she said she's been "extremely lucky" in both, and this class is a second family to her. Repurposing another familiar phrase, this time a local one, she credited her teachers, too. "There's no teacher like a Bromfield teacher," she said.
McHugh recalled walking into the school as a shy sixth grader, flunking her first high school test, the time her dog chewed through her Spanish book...and how two teachers retiring this year - Mrs. Castro-Castellanos and Mrs. Lanza - challenged and encouraged their students and enlivened their courses.
In conclusion, McHugh offered encouragement and advice to younger students just entering Bromfield, which she called a "great school" even if it's "tough sometimes."
Bromfield will be their "home" for the next seven years, she said. "Make it a place where you thrive, even if it scares you." She predicted that "amazing things can and will happen," and they should embrace the experience. "Enjoy your high school years...this only happens once!" she said.
As a class leader for four years, an AP scholar, accomplished musician and athlete, Wang also plans to attend Dartmouth next year.
"Well done!" Wang said to her classmates. "We finally made it."
With emotions cycling between joy and sadness, Wang sketched her journey at Bromfield. She struggled, made friends, experienced ups and downs, but now, her prevailing feeling was gratitude, she said.
But she was more terrified than grateful at first. She wondered then how she'd measure up against the geography whiz, or the girl who was "never embarrassed to be herself, even when I was a little (embarrassed) to be around her."
She made the grade, obviously. "This is such an accomplished class," she said. She's known most of them all her life, but her classmates still surprise her. "They inspired me to be the person I'm happy to be today," Wang said.
Wang cited important lessons she learned from her peers and said she aims to draw on those lessons in the future as she seeks goal called success. The definition can be elusive, she said. "It's personal," she concluded.
Looking back on the potential of those bright sixth graders who once intimidated her, she's now one of them, a success story in progress and she knows they didn't do it alone, she said, crediting families, friends and teachers for how far they've come and how far they can go.
"Be brave, bold, spontaneous," she urged, whatever profession or career they pursue. Actors, musicians, even animal whisperers, with celebrity "swagger" and "vast potential," she knows they'll all find success, she said. "It's out there waiting for us!"