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Commencement mixes celebration and mourning

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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

On Monday evening, June 3, Needham High School held its 2019 commencement ceremony.

But unlike many other ceremonies, this one was a unique mix of hopeful optimism, youthful hijinks and somber reflection of the classmates who couldn’t be there with them.

There were plenty of fun moments. Amid the classic air horns and overly enthusiastic clapping, Keith Ford took a selfie, while David Abdurakhmanov pulled out a handful of dollar bills and tossed them into the air after his name was called. It made for a flashy visual, but if David was hoping for a chaotic cash grab from the graduates, he didn’t get it. Mr. Abdurakhmanov should consider saving that trick for his college graduation, when his compatriots in cap and gown are months away from student loan payments - he’ll have more success.

In student speaker Jenny Gould’s speech, she brought up Kyle Gilman’s salsa dancing three times - enough that the crowd began to wonder if he was going to take the stage and show them. Disappointingly, he did not.

Even Superintendent of Schools Dr. Daniel Gutekanst’s speech was a funny one. He told the audience the story of how on September 7, 2006, a boy who didn’t know anybody in Needham and was worried about making friends - a boy whose brow was covered in sweat and whose brain was screaming “what am I doing here?” - was taken by the hand by an enthusiastic youngster who led him into Kindergarten.

Talia Barrett shakes hands and accepts her diploma.

Talia Barrett shakes hands and accepts her diploma.

“That boy was me,” Dr. Getekanst explained, as his first day in Needham’s school system coincided with the class of 2019’s first day in Kindergarten. “Thank you for being my friends” he said. “And like you tell a friend when you’re saying goodbye, I will tell you all: take care.”

But while the ceremony had many light and fun moments, it was impossible not to notice how somber it was, due to the two members of the class of 2019 who couldn’t be there. In February of 2018, Adrienne Garrido and Talia Newfield died after being struck by a pair of vehicles. Their loss loomed over the ceremony, and their absence was felt throughout.

Among the graduates, two chairs were left vacant in their memory. And, amidst speaking about their time together, Dr. Gutekanst noted how he and the students both “laughed a lot, and mourned together.”

When telling stories of her high school memories, Jenny Gould talked about how NHS was forever changed on February 11, and what it was like walking into school and seeing everyone hugging each other and crying together.

When Principal Aaron Sicotte delivered his speech, he used a theme of “short and sweet.” While he argued that they could control how sweet life is, declaring “be fully present in each moment, be alive for each tick of the clock, be with your family, be with your friends, do what you love,” he also acknowledged that this class is uniquely aware of how short life can be, and how vital it is to make the most of one’s time on earth.

Needham High School’s class of 2019 looked toward the future on Monday, but will never forget the classmates who tragically could not experience it with them.

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