South Hadley salutatorian: We are not special, except we are



Published: 06-03-2017 5:29 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — South Hadley High School’s salutatorian Bertram Thomas had a message for his graduating peers: None of them are special.

“None of us,” he said, “are statistically likely to make a mark on the history of humanity.”

About 140 seniors gathered Friday night in the Gettell Amphitheater at Mount Holyoke College, clad in black gowns and orange stoles. They represented future service members, doctors and teachers, but, as Thomas said, “What is one doctor among thousands? What is one teacher among all who have taught?”

What made these kids significant, he asked, as 140 of the almost 7.4 billion people on a tiny orb in one of trillions of galaxies?

“None of us are special,” he repeated, then paused. “Except we are. The meaning and power behind this ceremony exists because of the relationships we’ve built.”

He said the bonds formed between the classmates who grew up alongside each other and the relationships between students and those in the audience supporting them made the seniors’ graduation ceremony special, even if it wasn’t historically or astronomically significant.

Relationships are what graduating senior Kyra Schoenfeld, 18, said brought her back to South Hadley her sophomore year after spending about two years away living with her mom. She said she moved back in with her father, so she could graduate from South Hadley High alongside her elementary school “buddies.”

Relationships are also what graduating senior Sabrina Baez, 19, singled out when reflecting on her high school experience. She said she thought she would stay friends with the same people for four years, but she didn’t. Even though she lost some friends, she said, she also made new ones.

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The graduates seated together Friday will disperse in the next few months to locations across the country.

Shoenfeld plans to attend Norwich University in Vermont, where she wants to study nursing. Kate O’Neill, a track star who is set to compete at the state meet Saturday, will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute to study civil engineering. Baez plans to stay in western Massachusetts for a few years to attend Holyoke Community College before transferring to a university.

But Thomas assured the class that their relationships wouldn’t end. They’re lucky to live in an age, he said, where they can easily keep up with one another through social media and other technology. No matter where students are headed in the coming months, he said the class of 2017 would continue cheering for each other.

“I challenge you to go out and make the world proud,” he said. “Even if you don’t, you’ll make us proud.”