DALTON -- The Class of 2012 at Wahconah Regional High School has left behind a legacy that "it's normal to be different," according to its top senior.
Valedictorian Abigail Pugh and her classmates are founding members of the Buddy Pro gram, in which Wahconah students are mentors and friends to youngsters with autism and other disabilities in the Central Berkshire Regional School District.
While Pugh has taught her buddy how to swim and play baseball, the boy has taught her to laugh more and take life less seriously. She says its one of the best friendships she's had during her four years in high school.
"The greatest friendships are the unexpected ones," Pugh said during Wahconah's commencement ceremony on Sunday.
Pugh encouraged the Class of 2012 to maintain that philosophy that being different is OK as the 161 seniors accepted their diplomas before a standing-room only crowd of family, friends and faculty in the high school gymnasium.
"Wahconah taught us to learn about ourselves by helping others," said the Williams College-bound teenager. "We will pass on this endless circle of universal empathy as we enter the world ourselves."
Salutatorian Kayla Stergis cited how Wahconah, especially during her senior year, taught her about being prepared and forging unique friendships -- lessons found in the animated Disney movie, "The Lion King."
"We've all had valuable friendships throughout the years here and a lot of us have found the Timon to our Pumbaa," said Stergis, referring to the unlikely pairing of a meerkat and warthog.
"I hope that these relationships can be carried on," she added. "A good friend is something we should never take for granted."
Principal James Conro was impressed with the Class of 2012's positive attitude, proving they are the pride of Wahconah.
As for career advice, Conro urged them to be like the Wahconah teachers -- passionate about their profession.
"That's what a career should be: Love what you're doing," he said.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.