Principal Dr. David Smith leveled with the members of the Class of 2002, who sat in the Patriot Center for their graduation ceremony.
"I know when I sat there, I didn't listen to what the principal said. Who cares?" he told the seniors, but as tradition demanded of the 35th graduating class from West Springfield High School, they had to listen for a couple of hours at least.
"I think back to the day when you were 14-year-old freshmen. It affirms to me the importance and significance of what we do as a profession," Smith said, and he finished with, "Take care of yourself, those around you and the place around you," before turning the podium over to Steven Pomerantz, former assistant director of the FBI.
He stressed the American way of life and the threat of terrorism.
"You are tomorrow’s leaders at a time when our nation needs leaders. Today our way of life is in jeopardy. At this time, you need to take time out and celebrate your accomplishment," he said, inferring that the time out was only temporary before taking on a more serious role on a national scale.
"You must participate; you must contribute. Remember the sacrifices. That's the price of freedom," he said.
But he did break away from the "duty calls" line to talk about dreams and goals, challenging the students.
"Dare to dream. Without dreams there are no goals, and without goals there are no accomplishments," he said.
Madeline Valos was in town from Richmond to see her friend Christine Newton graduate, and she listened to the speech.
"They are issues they haven't even thought of, issues that high-school students don't have a passion about. It was a bit much," she said.
TEN VALEDICTORIANS were brought up on stage quoting passages from the Bible to Bob Marley, each with a personal meaning. Casey Lee Thompson Berson was awarded the Faculty Award, and Meghan E. Halfhill received the Outstanding Service Award. Then Smith took center stage again to hand out diplomas to 462 graduates.
Senior class president Sam Jung kept the last hurrah before the tassels short.
"I urge you to savor this moment," he said.
Outside the Patriot Center, Katie Trahan was exhilarated. After a number of absences, she wasn't sure she was graduating until the last minute.
"I'm going to Disney World. I was just so happy," she said.
Football star Jamie Langley is planning to play football and study criminology at Bridgewater College.
"I'm going to take two weeks off and start working," he said.
Bryan Sanford got a soccer scholarship to Concord College. This summer he will be working, also.
"I'm landscaping with my uncle," he said.
Charlene Taylor is only 16 but got her diploma anyway. She was exhilarated at her accomplishment but tried to remain humble.
"I'll be 17 when I start college," she said.
Eric Wrobel didn't speculate too far in advance.
"I'm going to the all-night grad party I guess. Beyond that I don't know," he said.