2014 Class Act: Belmont High Graduates Seniors into the World

Salutations, speeches, songs and even a selfie. The 2014 graduating class of Belmont High School was feted in a myriad of ways at the final ceremony of – for many of the graduates – 13 years of education in the Belmont school system.

On a brilliant late spring day, the 265 graduates – one of the largest senior classes in recent history – had to cool their heels upstairs in the “little” gym before descending into a hallway with faculty, staff and School Committee members just outside the Wenner Field House. Inside were parents, relatives, siblings and friends, many with cameras, iPads and smartphones at the ready to help remember the celebration.

Leading the way in was Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston whose three-year long “interim” tenure heading the district is coming to an end on June 30. It also marked the end of an active career as an educator of nearly half a century.

“All graduations are a bit bittersweet,” said Kingston, who said he had been to so many in his career his academic robes had become frayed.

And a few minutes after 3 p.m. – not that many people were worried about being tardy – the graduation possession proceeded with Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” by the school’s Symphonic Winds.

The ceremony’s highlights were the exceptional speeches from three outstanding graduates.

Class President Tyler Normale – or as he was known, “El Presidente” – said he is the 32nd member of his extended family to have graduated from Belmont High School, a school in what is more than just a small town; “it is a community … a place to be together, and a place where everyone knows everyone.”

Speaking of the activities his classmates had in common, Normale said it took a “thick skin, hard work, perseverance and countless sleepless hours with nothing but caffeine” to move through the four years of high school and to be seating in the Field House on this day.

Normale, who will be attending Stonehill in the fall, asked his classmates to turn around and give those nearby a hug, a high five and a handshake before turning around himself to take a group selfie of himself and his classmates, a gesture leading to a standing ovation from this classmates.

The two graduation speakers, honored with the School Committee Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship, saw their classmates as having

An accomplished violinist and outstanding academic – her senior thesis was honored with the Lillian Blacker Award – Aldis Elfarsdottir said while they praise those who helped shape us such as parents, family, teachers and friends, she asked her classmates to think of those “you only glancingly saw” in hallways and classrooms; “those you probably known by name but have never really spoken to.”

“You might be one of them,” said Elfarsdottir, who is matriculating at Harvard.

“All around us, there are people we don’t really know, who we take for granted to always act in certain ways” – Elfarsdottir never got to know the young man who had the locker next to hers through most of High School – which can change quietly or with a burst of friendly charm.

“Whether or not we choose to burst our with friendliness as we bump into new people in the future depends on ourselves. It is up to us … [to] bring out the compassion and goodness in ourselves and others of our global community,” she said.

Yuansi Amy Zhang admitted being a perfectionist from the time when she had to answer all the “Mad Minute” questions correctly. So given the opportunity to write one of the graduation speeches, she was flooded with excitement and anxiety “as the intrinsic need for fiction coursed through my body.”

Joining Elfarsdottir at Harvard, Zhang – a first-class scientist and four-year volunteer education aide – said she soon realized the speech need not be perfect but have some long-lasting impact on her classmates, a speech “tinged with permanence.”

“I believe that an individual, like a good speech, should strive to have style, substance and a permanent impact” one achieved through hard work, perseverance and practice, she said.

Asking her classmates to think of what, over the past 13 years, helped shape their character and their own quest for permanence, Zhang said she believed the class of 2014 remain in control of that goal “because we can choose what impact we make on the world.”

“We cannot be the future until we make the conscious decision to become part of the present,” said Zhang.

And for the next 45 minutes, that present was for each of the seniors to receive their diplomas, toss their caps into the air and then walking out into the warm afternoon newly-minted alumni.

Soon, several young men continued the recent tradition of lighting up a “victory” cigars – this year joined by a few young women – while classmates gathered for photographs, handshakes and hugs.

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