Photo: The first act of the newly minted class of 2021.
It’s unlikely any future group of same-grade students will be dealt such a bad hand as the Belmont High School class of 2021. The classmates missed out by a single year attending classes in a brand new high school, playing fields were taken away by the construction as the new school was being built, and the COVID-19 global pandemic forced students to spend the majority of their senior year learning and socializing online rather than in the halls and grounds of the high school.
But under an unforgiving sun that pushed temperatures into the mid-90s, the vast majority of the 321 member class of 2021 attended their graduation celebration. Keeping with the trend of deviating from tradition, the graduation celebration was held on Harris Field rather than the Wenner Field House and taking place on the first Saturday of June instead of the Sunday. And while the vast majority of the class received at least one vaccination shot, the pandemic also saw graduates miss out on receiving their diplomas from the podium, instead of standing when their names were called. But two customs did carry on: beach balls flying in the student section and the post-graduation cigar.
In his welcoming remarks, Belmont High Principal Isaac Taylor spoke of the power of friendship in sustaining the community, especially during this school year.
“I think that we can all agree that people have needed one another as we faced chaos, loss and the uncertainty of the pandemic,” he said, noting the best friendships are based on openness and honesty. “Friendship is at the heart of any good relationship,” he said. With this generation facing a climate crisis, the likelihood of more pandemics and the rapid advancement in technology likely to leave a large number of people behind. But it is also a generation that can reshape society for the better and that depending on taking risks including taking a risk on friendship.
If there was a person who took center stage on Saturday it was Edward Lee, who performed triple duty, speaking as senior class president, being honored with one of the two School Committee awards for outstanding achievement in scholarship (and giving his second speech within 10 minutes of the other) and then reading 320 of the 321 names of each graduate.
In his opening remarks, Lee – who will be attending Harvard College in September – said as president he learned that the class didn’t have a single core identity – with the exception of transforming in feral beasts in the student parking lot at the end of each school day – as it was as diverse as each person, overflowing with interests, hobbies and experiences. Whether it was award-winning musicals, exhilarating sports events and impactful community service projects, his fellow student should “bring this same passion and energy where ever you may go. Stay true to your vision and don’t be afraid to nurture them,” Lee said.
Jason Tang, the second School Committee scholarship winner – and joining Lee at Harvard in the fall – recalled the “brazen fearlessness and an unshakable optimism” of his and his classmates younger selves, how on the first-ever days of school, surrounded by strangers and asked to study things no one had any experience with, “we dove right in.”
“We exhibit shameless curiosity, by pestering our teachers with question after question about anything that crossed our minds. We viewed everyone as potential friends and eagerly approached each other. We were unafraid to be vulnerable to explore unfamiliar concepts to experiment with innovative ideas,” said Tang.
And as each graduate will soon be asked to begin a new chapter of their life, “keep seeking out new opportunities, and don’t be afraid to try new things, dream big, and follow those dreams, live with the fear of a little kid, and combine it with the wisdom, you have accumulated the past 13 years. We are ready for anything that life may throw,” he said.
With an arrangement of “Send Me On My Way,” by the Senior A Cappella group and Lee reading each graduate’s name at a 12 per minute clip, the graduation ceremony took just over an hour to conclude. And with it, the class of 2021 had a final good memory to hold onto for years to come.