Wahconah grads reflect on 'what lies within'

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DALTON — After being named this year's salutatorian at Wahconah Regional High School, Holden Nelson did one of those things that comes with high-grades territory: a little research.

Nelson decided to look up "salutatorian" and, with puckish humor, shared one finding with hundreds of people Sunday from a microphone in the school's Ed Ladley Gymnasium.

"Salutatorian" means the less important of two high school seniors, he said to laughter, adding, "It really helped to boost my ego."

But not to worry, because he and fellow student speakers used short remarks at the school's 85th graduation to celebrate the accomplishments of all 145 members of this year's Class of 2019.

"There is no one in this class who is not remarkable in their own right," Nelson said.

As is customary at Wahconah, student voices led the day. When it came time for Superintendent Laurie Casna to speak, she saluted Principal Aaron Robb's practice of putting student voices first.

Before diplomas were handed out shortly before 2 p.m., the multi-generational audience in packed gym heard students reflect on how life's puzzles manage to sort themselves out during high school, the value of hard work and what it means for seniors to say goodbye to a building that will soon be demolished.

Victoria Gamberoni, class president, said that in the roughly 1,400 days since starting their studies at Wahconah, she and classmates have found that the puzzles of their lives have more and more pieces.

"Sometimes we needed to be just left alone to figure it out," she said of challenges. By this year, the pieces were fitting together.

"We are certainly not the same people," Gamberoni said. "We all crafted our puzzles under the roof of Wahconah Regional High School."

Valedictorian Anna Duquette, who served on the committee that planned the new school approved by voters in April, ticked off the current school's shortcomings, but with affection. Recall the day, she told classmates, when a yoga class fled the gym, fearful wind might pull the roof off. Or when they'd roast in one classroom and put on winter coats in another.

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"The many times the toilets broke in the girls' bathroom," she said.

Despite the building's ills, Duquette cast it as a witness. "These aging brick walls have seen more life than we can possibly imagine."

Then she shared an imagined scene of her own parents flirting at lockers when they attended Wahconah. "Without Wahconah, I would not be here," she mused.

Duquette issued a call to embrace the unknown. "How we use this opportunity — that is what will define our futures."

Minutes later, Casna, the superintendent of the seven-town Central Berkshire Regional School District, picked up on that to issue a call to action. "Go for it," she told the seniors seated behind her.

It fell to Robb to put flesh on that notion. Create positive, meaningful and lasting change in the world, the principal told graduates.

Robb made clear he thinks they're up to the challenge. It is a class, after all, that selected a quote from 19th-century thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson as its motto: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters to what lies within us."

Robb said he saw that inner strength in this year's seniors. Two class advisers, Meagan Shannon and Nicole Swegel, stressed it to him as well.

Seniors this year showed conscience and resolve in many ways, Robb told the crowd, from pushing for inclusion and equity to confronting gun violence to backing one another. "Simply put, this class is loaded with champions," he said.

And not only on the big topics. "You somehow got our entire school to compost food," Robb said.

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


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