PORTSMOUTH — Tropical Storm Andrea may have gotten some heads wet, but she couldn’t dampen the Class of 2013’s spirit.
Portsmouth High School handed out diplomas to 222 graduates during commencement exercises in a packed gymnasium Friday night. The event was originally scheduled to take place at John F. Kennedy Field, but the torrential rains forced everybody inside.
No one seemed to mind, however.
The ceremony started with PHS alumnus Devon Flynn on bagpipes leading the procession of faculty, school officials and graduating seniors down the center of the gym.
Music played a big part in the ceremony; two bittersweet moments came when senior musicians joined the band for one last song: “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Graduating chorus members did the same with their group on “And Wherever You Go.” Student ensemble The Anthem Five played “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Kevin Reilly, a PHS technology education instructor who was chosen by the Class of 2013 to give the keynote address, said he could hardly believe he was giving a graduation speech.
“I’m a tech ed teacher; I still got ink on my fingers,” he said. “I can honestly say the last place on earth I thought about, as I was sitting in the stands at my own graduation, was to be asked to be a keynote speaker at a high school graduation, selected by a student council.”
Mr. Reilly spent years working in the graphic arts industry before he became a teacher, and said the first day on the job was jarring. “This is serious,” he said. “I am entrusted with this group, the youth of this school, the youth of this town, this country, this world. That’s right kids; you are the world — this world and my world.”
He was determined to become a dedicated member of the “Portsmouth High School community,” he said, adding that he attended sporting events in bitter cold or came out to hear the band play whenever he could. He couldn’t help but be impressed by the students’ passion and talent.
“I am a high school activities fanatic,” he said. “I am so fortunate to witness so many different examples of inspiration.”
He urged the graduates to become “less distracted” going forward, to not spent all their time on “Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, Instagram” and other forms of social media.
“Whever you go, remember these times.This is a special place. Enjoy and live every moment. Pick up your head, deal with your heart and listen to your gut,” he said.
Noting that he wanted to avoid quoting Shakespeare, Mark Twain or other highbrow writers, he instead picked someone more relatable to a high school crowd — Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.
“All you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be,” he said, quoting a line from the band’s song, “Breathe.”
Superintendent Lynn Krisic thanked the parents for all they’ve done for their kids. “Like most parents,” she told the graduates, “on the day you were born they dreamt many things for you.” Most of all, she said, they wished for their children’s happiness.
She told students to value inquisitiveness above all. “Don’t just ask the ‘why’ question. Ask, ‘Why not?’” she said.
Claire O’Connor, senior class president, thanked her fellow graduates for making her four years at PHS so memorable.
“Nothing I have achieved could have been possible without all of you,” she said, adding that she’s had 222 inspirations — one for each graduating member of the Class of 2013. She mentioned several of them in particular, including Julia Kavanagh, a special needs student who got a standing ovation from the class.
As part of her senior project Julia, along with her friend Brooke Waters, organized a “Unity Ball” in which intellectually disabled and non-disabled students from all over the East Bay joined together for a prom at the Glen Manor House.
Claire also thanked physical education teacher Nancy Fitzgerald — Julia’s mentor on the senior project — and choir leader Meryl Moore. Both teachers are retiring and got a big hand from the crowd.
“Mrs. Moore, you gave me my voice. And Mrs. Fitzgerald, you gave me the confidence to succeed,” she said.
Emily Force was chosen by her peers to be one of the two class speakers. “What I learned over these past four years, and this year especially, is the importance of individuality,” she said. “Every person has grown to become themselves — nothing more, nothing less.”
She said her friends will go far if they “embrace what makes all of us beautifully different from one another.”
Happiness, she said, is the one attainable goal for which classmates should strive. Classmates have taught her how to be a good friend, teammate and more, she said.
She ended with, “I am so proud to be a member of the Class of 2013. And live from Portsmouth it’s graduation night!”
18th birthday speech
Steven Elleman, who was chosen by the faculty to give the other student speech, said graduation night marked the end of childhood. For himself, it also marked something else.
Steven said he felt blessed to have so many fine role models among the faculty and student body. “I just hope that nobody learned or picked up on my eccentricities including, but not limited to, my over usage of the word ‘groovy,’ my love of dodgeball and Campmor hiking backpacks, my penchant for wearing sandals year round, and my Ferris Bueller ‘Ohhhhhh yeah’ impression,” he said. “Emergency chocolate, however, I maintain is a positive force in times of emotional upheaval and is an expedient form of concentrated (tender loving care).
“And by the way,” he added, “I smuggled some emergency chocolate for the more sentimental of my peers.”