The Class of 2018 graduates with Roberge in their hearts

June 3, 2018


Mehul Shrivastava

Graduation concludes as the Class of 2018 throws their caps into the air.

Proudly bearing their maroon and white gowns, with personalized, brightly decorated caps, the procession of Class of 2018 seniors entered the Westford Academy Alumni Stadium on 1 June 2018, a day marking one of their most important milestones yet: high school graduation.

The clouds which brought a humid, rainy afternoon seemed to clear away especially for the graduating seniors, as only minutes before their arrival on the scene did the sun begin to shine. Preceded by WA teachers, three hundred eighty-nine soon-to-be graduates took their seats on the turf, led by valedictorian Danielle Sawka, salutatorian Anthony Zhu, and Principal James Antonelli, who soon gave the opening remarks.

Mahi Kandage

Thanking the many who facilitated the years in high school for the seniors, Antonelli moved to address George Arsenault, the thirteen-year director of the band.  Sophomore Claire Song, along with other members of the band, presented Arsenault with a signed picture of him directing the band. He will leave for Acton-Boxborough next year, making this his final graduation as a teacher as WA.

“Mr. A has helped us create one of the strongest music programs in the state,” Antonelli said.

Antonelli continued to describe the experience of witnessing the learning process in Theater Arts’ Director Michael Towers’ Public Speaking class. The seniors in Public Speaking are each tasked with crafting a speech for the graduation ceremony. One of them, senior Rebecca D’Anna, thanked all her peers, believing them to be close friends, even as they grew close and drifted apart over the years.

“Our class does not burn bridges, we build them,” D’Anna said.

D’Anna’s words of reflection and appreciation for the class of 2018 were followed by those of advice, given by Steven Okuhara. Okuhara stressed the importance of working hard, but also that of actively participating in activities one genuinely enjoys.

“Put passion and heart in everything,”Okuhara said.

The intense drive and love of learning described by Okuhara are a quality found especially in the top two students of the grade: Sawka and Zhu. Antonelli invited Guidance Coordinator Wendy Pechacek to speak for Zhu’s character and academic excellence. She cited him to be an involved, intuitive student, and an excellent communicator. His participation in his church, Cross-Country, Track & Field, Volleyball, and DECA only add to his impressive accomplishments, with over 1,000 logged volunteer hours over his four years at WA.

As Zhu continues his education at the University of Michigan, the valedictorian will stay a little closer to home at Rhode Island’s prestigious Brown University. Guidance Counselor Tracy McLaughlin spoke to Sawka’s achievements spanning a wide range of subjects and extracurriculars. Her summers spent interning at Harvard University make good use of Sawka’s talent for synthesizing information.

“The possibilities are truly endless,” says McLaughlin, speaking of Sawka’s multi-disciplinary academic prowess.

Along with the highly distinguished students, class officers Param Talwalkar, Molly Armstrong, Ryan Wasylyshyn and Ian Kim continued to thank those who aided their journey, specifically their class advisors, English teacher Chris Bramanti and Library and Technology teacher Kathe Paquette.

As the applause for music teacher Karen St. George’s Honors Choir singing the WA Alma Mater died down, class speaker Erika Waterhouse ascended the stage. Chosen through a selective process, Waterhouse’s speech focused upon the class’s loss of both a friend and teammate, Matt Roberge, who passed away of leukemia in 2016.

“Matt was strong, kind, and free-willed,” Waterhouse described.

Waterhouse emphasized the dedication displayed by the seniors, who continued to preserve Roberge’s legacy through fundraising to help those struggling with cancer, believing the class chose to come together and become stronger, at a time it could have fallen apart.

“Our class flourished with creativity,” Waterhouse said, speaking of the various methods of fundraising and remembering Roberge that her classmates created.

The WA Boys’ Soccer Team held a night for Roberge, where a player on the team released 21 balloons. In Roberge’s seat at graduation, the class had also placed a white balloon, to be released upon calling his name. Waterhouse urged her classmates to let go of their own insecurities, jealousy, and negative qualities along with those balloons, but to hold on to loved people and important moments.

“Matt, you’ll forever be a part of the family that is the Class of 2018,” Waterhouse said.

The event was steered in the academic direction following Waterhouse’s touching words, as the Board of Trustees presented awards to high-achieving students. Board members Herbert Cogliano and Diane Holmes classified students as “Most Worthy Representatives of Westford Academy” and well as those receiving Academic Excellence Awards.

Most Worthy Representatives of Westford Academy:

Class of 2021: Micah Smith, Yasmin Rodriguez

Class of 2020: Michael Simpson, Caroline Burke

Class of 2019: Nolan Hart, Kathryne Lovell

Class of 2018: Gareth Owens, Medha Palnati

Academic Excellence Awards:

Excellence in English: Adithya Vellal

Excellence in Social Science: Anthony Zhu

Excellence in Math: Danielle Sawka

Excellence in Science: Danielle Sawka

Excellence in Computer Science: Harshal Sheth

Excellence in Engineering: Katherine Pawlak

Excellence in Spanish: Danielle Sawka

Excellence in French: Margaret Granger

Excellence in German: Sean Doherty

Excellence in Latin: William Christopher Smith

Excellence in Mandarin: Justin Huang

Excellence in Visual Art: Danielle Wilson

Excellence in Music: Brian Carr

Excellence in Theater Arts: Michael Tricca

Excellence in Business Education: Emily Harkins

Excellence in Physical Education: John Sturrock

Excellence in Health and Wellness: Brihanna Laushine

The ceremony was continued with meaningful words by Superintendent Everett Bill Olsen, who first acknowledged the three students enlisting in the military and thanked them for their bravery, sacrifice and dedication to the nation.

“It’s a tough world,” Olsen said. “Don’t let it be tough on you.”

Olsen continued on to encourage each senior to enjoy the subtle, beautiful moments that life will always have to offer. He stressed the importance of connecting with others,

empathy, and of kindness.

The presentation of the diplomas is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated segment of the evening, where each senior receives their official certificate of high school completion. Led by Sawka and Zhu, the students marched onto the stage one by one, finishing with the class officers.

Mahi Kandage

The Class of 2018 Band, starring vocalist Sean Riordan, guitarist Damon Godfroy, and drummer Cameron Bortolussi, along with singer Madison Wiser, and Brian Carr performed an engaging, upbeat rendition of the class song, “The Middle”, by Jimmy Eat World. The beach balls bounced through the sea of colorful caps as the audience clapped and sang along.

Mahi Kandage

To finally draw the ceremony to a close, Class President Ian Kim ascended the stage to address his classmates, narrating to them the four most valuable lessons he has learned.

“It’s amazing how much we can learn without realizing we learned anything at all,” Kim said.

The first lesson, according to Kim, he acquired from his dad, whom he cited to be a source of inspiration, and a prime example of passion, curiosity, and a love of learning. The journey to extract the ‘correct answers’ from life is a difficult one, because as Kim believes, the answer may not exist.

“[A] fulfilling life is not necessarily one where we have all the right answers,” Kim said.

Kim cites his mother as the tutor of his second lesson, describing her raising him and his sister in a manner of ‘tough love’. However, Kim never doubted the great love his mother held for him because as his second lesson states, there is much to be treasured in the small, subtle gestures of love.

“I knew that my mom’s love was in the details,” Kim said, describing it to be evident in his hot breakfast every morning, and a blanket over him at night.

Mahi Kandage

The final lesson Kim obtained from a family member was from his sister, Sydney Kim. He described her to be cynical, believing the world a lost cause, lacking faith in humanity. The change he perceived in his sister- who is now heading into a pediatric oncology career- proved to him the power of positivity. Though he relates himself as the opposite of his sister’s cynicism, he acknowledges the sadness that can settle over a population just by witnessing current events or the news. However, his positive outlook encourages his classmates to make the change in their world that they would like to see because the present is dictated by those of the past, but the future belongs to us.

“Go out in the world as an optimist,” Kim encouraged.

For his fourth and ultimate point, Kim concluded the ceremony by bringing the attention to the heart of the Class of 2018: Matt Roberge. Kim could speak of nothing but praise for his peers, who built a beautiful bond through immense sadness and tragedy, one that will last a lifetime.

“Sharing our weaknesses does not make us weak,” Kim said, “But rather makes us stronger than we could ever imagine.”

Mahi Kandage
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