In her remarks at Highland High School’s commencement ceremonies on Wednesday, June 26, valedictorian Carlie Relyea referenced the “curse” that has seemingly followed the class of 2019 throughout their school days in the district. “Our class has fallen on bad luck from the very start,” she said. “Half-day kindergarten, multiple power outages at formal, the Boston elevator fiasco, and all of our 200 cancelled field trips. Just to name a few; I think we could add tonight to the list.”
Relyea was speaking after an hour-long delay to the ceremonies caused by a heavy downpour of rain accompanied by thunder and lightning, which sent the crowd gathered on the football field running for cover shortly after salutatorian Marie Ling began her speech.
Some of the family and friends on hand to see the soon-to-be grads accept their diplomas waited out the storm in their vehicles, while others accompanied the students inside to the gym and auditorium.
Commencement resumed as the sun went down, the bright lights of the football field illuminating a different type of action.
Salutatorian Marie Ling picked up where she’d left off, her fondness for mathematics informing her remarks. Noting that most of the students had attended Highland schools together since kindergarten, she said they’d spent some 15,750 hours in each other’s company. “We’ve gone through thousands of years of history, had about 1,080 gym classes, and conjugated at least 300 verbs. And we’ve given our teachers a million headaches.”
In the coming years, Ling told her classmates, they’ll probably be worried about different numbers: their college GPAs, their salaries, or paying off student loans. “But don’t stress about that too much. You’re probably tired of hearing me say all these numbers, but don’t worry; they aren’t everything, and they shouldn’t be. Because numbers, in the end, don’t define you. The most important things don’t have numbers: family, how much you love someone and happiness matter. Just those few things.”
The planned program was abbreviated on account of the storm, with the usual musical interludes between speeches eliminated. Valedictorian Relyea took the stage after Ling, telling the crowd that she wasn’t going to use a line she’d planned about “half-expecting to get struck by lightning” while referencing the “curse of the class of 2019,” a possibility that turned out to be more likely than she’d imagined when composing the speech, she joked.
Relyea read from a few of the daily letters she’d written to her classmates over the course of the year, a collection of thoughts that serves as a journal of their last year together. In one, she spoke about perseverance, advising classmates that when life throws them the inevitable challenges “and you seem to be cursed, always keep fighting. Take the hardships head-on, and instead of asking yourself, ‘Why is this happening to me,’ ask yourself, ‘How can I make the most of this?’ What can I do to better myself in this situation?”
The guest commencement speaker, 2010 Highland High School alumna Olivia Armstrong, took the podium next. She delivered a somewhat dystopian view of her years in high school and the difficulties of coping with the workplace as an adult.
And then it was time.
The graduating class of 136 students patiently waiting on the Carl F. Meekins Athletic Field at Highland High School received their diplomas in a ceremony presided over by high school principal William Zimmer, released afterward into the world to carry on with the next stages of their lives. There’s a saying that rain is lucky at weddings; maybe it’s true for graduations, as well.