The Class of 2021 capped off a most unusual school year in an incredibly fitting way this past Saturday, June 26 - by celebrating together amongst family and friends. The annual commencement ceremony returned to Franklin Field this year and featured a number of traditions synonymous with PMHS graduation, including performances by the PMHS Band led by Andrew Van Bochove and a wonderful rendition of the National Anthem sung by Allison Feldman.
A color guard was presented by American Legion Pelham Post No. 50 and speeches were given by Student Association President Sophia Leung, Class of 2021 President Andrew Terraciano and Graduate Thomas Roche, as well as by PMHS Principal Mark Berkowitz, Board of Education President Jessica DeDomenico and Dr. Cheryl Champ, Superintendent of Schools.
The W.W. Fairclough Prize was awarded by PTA Council President Beth Blanc to the three top academic students: Emily Kalyvas, Lucia Lavallee and Isaac Blackburn. Memorial Tablets were presented to Sophia Leung and Matthew Cannella by Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ.
Principal Berkowitz kicked off the festivities by sharing some of the many accomplishments of the Class of 2021. In particular he noted that 96% of students will attend colleges and universities across the U.S. while several will be doing so outside the country. He also highlighted that four students participated in the prestigious International Science and Engineering Fair, several would be continuing their athletic careers at the college level and two students will be serving our country in the U.S. Armed Forces. Other noteworthy achievements include one student being nominated for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, another medaling for Team USA in synchronized skating, one child actor who has been onscreen for over a decade and another who is a fashion model appearing on a Times Square billboard.
“You have overcome unprecedented obstacles to reach this day,” Mr. Berkowitz said. “And yet, it is your intellectual achievement, dedication to community service, athleticism and artistry that you will be remembered for. Like the PMHS Varsity Baseball team, throughout this year the Class of 2021 has exhibited a mindset of ‘All Grit No Quit.’ A can-do spirit that has enabled these students to receive local, state and national recognition.”
In a speech titled “Shields Down,” Leung reflected on the many challenges that this past school year had presented, including the portable plastic barriers that students had to carry to and from school this year. She noted how students’ ability to connect with their teachers and peers changed dramatically once all students returned to school and were no longer required to use the barriers.
“What I’ve come to realize is that these connections are what make our small community so special,” Leung said. “It’s easy at a larger school to get lost in the crowd, to maybe only recognize a few faces, to be able to hold a conversation with a teacher or two. But when those shields came down on May 14, I saw Pelham again so much more clearly.”
Roche focused on the growth that the Class of 2021 experienced during their time in high school and encouraged his classmates to conquer their fears and move outside their comfort zone.
“Through it all you have come back,” Roche said. “You’re escaping that bubble of fear by sitting here right now, to graduate from this part of your life. Some of you escaped from the bubble a while ago, others of you may be just stepping out now. But I implore you all, years from now to look back at whatever unnecessary fears, whatever unnecessary bubbles you kept yourself in during high school and to laugh, rather than regret.”
In his speech “Patchwork People,” Terraciano shared several memories from his four years at PMHS, noting that the Class of 2021 had overcome many trials and tribulations to be incredibly successful.
“Thank you all for coming today, parents, guardians, and otherwise, to see the graduation of one of the greatest classes to ever pass through this school, and thank you all, old friends, for making it the greatest class to ever pass through the school,” Terraciano said. “I cannot wait to see all of the amazing things you all do, and I know it will be the best.”
Dr. Champ referenced Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to demonstrate how the Class of 2021 overcame all odds and rebuilt their support structure over the past year following the pandemic.
“If this year has taught us anything, it’s that nothing in life is certain, and our success is far from guaranteed,” Dr. Champ said. “But what we’ve also learned is that we can rebuild. You know how to rebuild, you know how to keep fighting. You got through this, which proves you have what it takes to accomplish anything that comes your way. Seniors, you have accomplished more in this year than any class before you because of the circumstances you persevered through. No other class will ever be able to claim such rebuilding and accomplishment. You did it, and for that each of you should always be proud.”
As the Class of 2021 moves on to their next chapter, Ms. DeDomenico challenged the students to strive for their personal bests in whatever they aspire to do.
“In life, we are winning if we give it our own personal best,” she said. “The most important thing about giving one’s best is realizing that everyone has their unique and own personal set of capabilities. For some this is straight A’s, for others straight B’s. For some it’s pushing to take an AP course or challenging elective, and for some it’s sticking it out for the year, even if they feel over their skis. It doesn’t really matter as long as we are all pushing a little bit more than we think is possible.
“Personal bests also connect to how we relate to others,” Ms. DeDomenico continued. “Are you being the best friend, son or daughter you can be? Are you treating those around you with respect? Giving people the benefit of the doubt? Leading with kindness instead of hate? These are also other ways to give your life its best.”
In addition to the awards handed out to students, the Board of Education honored Madeline Smith with The Thomas B. Fenlon Award, which is periodically presented to a Pelham citizen who demonstrates extraordinary volunteer service to the Pelham Public Schools. Ms. Smith served on the Board of Education for two terms after being elected in 2012. Her service included one year as Vice President and one year as President, during which she led the Board’s 2018 Capital Improvement Bond campaign, which resulted in the approval of the proposal to build a new Hutchinson School among other facilities repairs and upgrades. In addition to helping shape the District’s offerings in areas such as FLES, the IB program and STEAM programming, she spearheaded the Board’s advocacy efforts, earning her the “Advocate of the Year” award from the New York State School Boards Association in 2015.
“What I enjoyed most about my tenure (on the Board of Education) was talking with so many people in our community,” Ms. Smith said. “With that in mind, while I came up here to say ‘thank you,’ I would also like to take the opportunity to tell the class of 2021 what I have found the most rewarding in my life – and the most fun – and that is connecting with people; not just with people like myself, but with people who are totally different than I am – people with different backgrounds, different upbringings and different values. To all of the graduates, I would not just encourage you, but I would urge you to reach out and connect with as many people as you can as you move through life. Everyone has something interesting to say and to share. Listen to them all. Find out what you have in common. There’s always something. Establishing those connections brings tremendous meaning, and joy, to life.”