Lee grads get 'taste of freedom'

Sunday June 10, 2012

LENOX -- For one graduate, it was "the most memorable day of my life" as 78 Lee High seniors trooped to the stage of the Shed at Tangle wood on Saturday afternoon.

"When caught in the unfamiliar position of facing the world as adults and leaving the familiar security blanket that is the teen age world, the senior is often left weak at the knees, if only for a second," said Salutatorian Stephanie Passetto.

"Although these have been the best years of their lives," she added, "everyone is dying to get a taste of freedom...the day is a taste of the exciting chaos to come."

Recalling her family's arrival in the U.S. 12 years ago, Valedictorian Jia Ling Wang mentioned some people "who made rude comments; we ignored them because we knew they were wrong. We had courage, and that's why I'm still here today. If I had listened to those negative voices, I wouldn't be part of an outstanding school."

Superintendent Jason P. McCandless, presiding over his 10th Lee High graduation, voiced fears that keep him up at night.

"My greatest fear is that the Jerry Springer Show becomes our model for how to handle disagreements," he declared, a reference to the tabloid TV talk show.

He also expressed concern that "people with names like Snooki [the MTV "Jersey Show" star] will set the tone for how we solve problems here in America ... that we mistake made-for-TV fake reality for how people should treat each other and solve problems ... that we lose the ability to disagree in an agreeable way."

McCandless asserted that "life is not a TV talk show where telling everybody exactly what is on your mind in the most explicit of terms is OK ... or a TV reality show where fake drama, drunken arguments or overblown emotions are a healthy, productive way to live. My biggest fear as a father of three ... is that we stop loving, respecting and being kind to one another."

"We are forgetting how to fight nice," he added, citing a close-to-home example -- two older brothers, 49 and 54, who have not spoken for three years because of a dispute over President Obama's birthplace.

"Their prize for winning an argument -- nothing," McCand less said.

He described the recipe for a school superindent's survival -- "being able to tell people things they don't want to hear in ways that don't make them want to run you out of town. ... I care more about good decisions being made than about winning."

"If we have to win, I suggest we try to win well," he emphasized. "Win with excellent reason and kind words, and try to remember that most of your wins are not worth sacrificing your relationships for."

He ended by saluting the 2012 crop of Wildcats for giving him "a reason for hope and optimism. You've displayed an ability to be kind, compassionate, to think of others before yourselves, to handle conflict in ways that are classy and to move disagreements to positive outcomes. ... Go make the world a better place."

Much of the 75-minute ceremony was devoted to more than $90,000 in scholarship awards announced by Principal Kerry A. Burke.

The one-by-one presentation of diplomas to seniors was greeted by cheers and, for some, a blast of party noisemakers. Then, the newly minted graduates marched off the stage to hugs, back slaps and high fives from familiy and friends, glimpsing some rays of sunlight as a harbinger of hope for the future.


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