Long climb up ladder delivers Wahconah grads to milestone

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DALTON — Thanks to a new ribbon of blacktop, it's smooth sailing today along Old Windsor Road where it runs past Wahconah Regional High School.

But Hannah Ronayne remembers the old bumps — and mentioned them when she stepped to the microphone Sunday, as the Class of 2018 salutatorian.

"You feared for your car's life," she said of the road, drawing laughs. "No worries, though. As seniors, we learned many valuable skills, from dodging potholes to learning how to drive on sidewalks."

Talk of skills and challenges echoed in the school's packed gym, as Ronayne and other speakers tapped metaphors like ladders and rowboats to describe what unites seniors at the school's 57th graduation.

Generations of friends and family members — including the graduates' elementary school principals — looked on from three sides, as fans turned overhead.

Minutes before, as they proceeded in pairs into the gym, many seniors sent messages from atop their mortarboards.

"Someday is today," one read.

"It's about time," said another.

Ronayne recapped what she and 117 classmates experienced over four years, likening it to climbing a ladder but pausing to appreciate what was passing by on their way, rung by rung.

"It felt as though we'd be climbing the ladder forever," she said. "After all of our hard work, we are now here. We have moved up the ladder and grown from small, scared freshmen to strong, confident and sometimes sassy seniors."

"Many different ladders await us in our future," Ronayne said.

Amber Topping, valedictorian, urged her blue-gowned classmates, sitting in several rows behind her, to pause and appreciate all they did to get to Sunday's celebration.

"We made it through each and every long, tiring, never-ending Monday," Topping said, "that all the coffee in the world couldn't fix."

All the while, she said, seniors were quietly wishing for things — "both to come and to go." Too much wishing, she suggested, is risky.

"But in reality, life can change so suddenly. If we spend so much time wishing for something to come, we waste being in the moment and appreciating things for what they are. The goal is to make our present lives matter."

Behind her, sun pouring through skylights drew four blue squares on the rear wall.

Topping called on classmates to keep wishing, but to desire what's simple and good. "Wish for the things that can be achieved from small actions of your own," she said. Pick that wish and believe in it "with all of your heart."

Laurie Casna, superintendent of the Central Berkshire Regional School District, shared a thought that had come to her at 2 a.m. that same day. It had to do with sorting through all the "what ifs" that flood in on graduates.

"Think about what really matters to you. What do you want your life to be about? Not necessarily the job, the location, or the salary or the car. What truly matters to you?" she asked.

It might be family, or friendship, she said. "Or being inclusive and kind to all."

"Decide on those things and stick with them," Casna said. "And as you go forward in your life, be unapologetic in insisting on them."

Two of those core values, the Wahconah ceremony established, are family and place.

Emily Cullett, class president, asked Wahconah alumni in the audience to raise their hands, and up they came in row after row.

Never underestimate kinship and friendship, Cullett said.

"The grades are important, but at the end of the day it comes down to the memories and stories that have been created for all of us sitting before you today," she said. "I will one day forget what I got on my pre-calculus final, but I will never forget the times I spent with my best friends, teachers, teammates and peers."

"We are bold. We are brave. And we will always bleed blue," Cullett said.

Before presenting diplomas, Principal Aaron Robb observed that the Class of 2018 had chosen a quote from poet Robert Frost to display in the gym and to print on the program.

"Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself," it said.

Robb apologized for offering an outside definition, but went ahead to praise the class for valuing inclusivity, helping to create one of the largest chapters of Best Buddies in Western Massachusetts. The group assists people with developmental disabilities.

"It is something you will be remembered for," Robb said.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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