Urging the more than 500 students in the West Springfield High School class of 2006 to stay true to themselves and remember to “take care of yourselves, take care of each other and take care of this place,” principal Dr. David G. Smith sent forth his graduates with confidence and high hopes for their future.
“What a pleasure it is to be here,” he began his address to the students during their commencement ceremony at the Patriot Center on Tuesday, June 20.
He thanked the parents of the graduates, telling them “if West Springfield is an outstanding school, it is because we serve an outstanding community. You were partners with us the whole way.”
TURNING TO the students, Smith said he didn’t have a speech prepared for them because he knows he forgot what his own principal said during his graduation from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. He instead decided to “share an impression” of how he viewed the students.
“When I look at you, I recall how you were in ninth grade. It’s been a delight to be with you,” he said. “You’ve all accomplished something worthy of recognition. I hope you remember that I really like you all.”
Smith also said he hoped that, once they left West Springfield, the class of 2006 remembered that “we are a better school because you have passed through it.”
Assistant principal Joan Galdi said she could feel the students’ “sense of pride, sense of accomplishment and an eagerness to begin your journey.”
Graduation is a “time for serious thought and reflection” because “so much rests on your shoulders,” she told students. Between living in a global economy, watching the destruction of the planet and the suffering caused by war and destruction, “you are more aware of the interconnectivity of the world than any generation before you.”
Facing the uncertain future “will require your leadership,” she advised. “I hope you will draw on the inner core of the values that have guided you here.”
ECHOING THE principal’s words, she encouraged the students to take care of themselves after leaving West Springfield.
“You’ve had the chance to develop your mind, your body and your spirit in the past four years. Graduation is the beginning of a life-long learning process, not the end of it,” Galdi said. “Don’t be afraid to change your mind and dream big.”
In taking care of each other, Galdi said the students will “develop a greater understanding” of what matters to other people, and from that understanding, they will learn to appreciate other ways of life.
“What you bring to others by understanding comes back to us,” she said.
By letting the environmental world unravel, students could “dishonor the spirit of man. Go out into the world and conduct yourselves as if you only have one day to live, but treat the earth as if you’ll live forever,” Galdi said.
Class vice president Andrea Goetchius said she and her classmates have “jumped hurdles, dodged bullets and faced a few close calls all to get to this point. It is my belief that this is the best class West Springfield has ever seen,” she said.
On behalf of her fellow graduates, Goetchius thanked their parents, and apologized for “all the dinners left uneaten, all the times we’ve gone to sleep without saying I love you and for those times we forgot that you are really on our side.”
She also thanked them for “defending us and taking pride in our accomplishments as if they were the greatest things ever.”
Before introducing the keynote speaker, class secretary John Mark Walker said it was “hard to imagine there being a better class to be part of. These past four years have gone by so fast and we’ve come a long way.”
Army Brig. Gen. Julia J. Cleckley, a neighbor of Walker's, said she was reminded to keep her speech short and simple, both by Walker and her daughter, a graduate of
West Springfield in 1991.
“I know you’re all feeling mixed emotions,” said Cleckley. “I’ve experienced graduation as a parent, a teacher, a speaker and a student.”
For teachers, Cleckley said, it was time to let their students go, secure in the knowledge that they did the job well.
“To parents, I know all the emotions running through your heads. In some ways, your job is under negotiation,” she said. “Our job as parents was and is to help them move from dependence to independence.”
Cleckley told students that the role in their lives has changed as well.
“Regardless of your plans after leaving West Springfield, you education has just begun,” she said. “My advice to you is to know that life is a journey. Never, never stop learning. Concentrate on your goals, not the obstacles.”
She told the students to embrace failure as the only real way to learn lessons in life. “If you can fail, you can learn. No one can hope to be successful without failing,” she said.
The most valuable things in life are “health, family, love and friendships,” Cleckley said. It is also important to live with a sense of purpose because “if you don’t have a purpose, what’s the point?” she asked.
At the end of her speech, she revealed that her daughter had died from cancer last year and was whispering in her ear, “OK Mom, that’s enough,” Cleckley said. “So just remember, we need leaders who are creative and less bureaucratic. Nobody makes it alone.”