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For Westport Class of ’20, graduating together 'worth the wait'

No 'virtual' ceremony for them, grads hold out for real 'in-person' event

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 8/15/20

 

 

 

Back in June they had chosen to trade a virtual computer screen graduation for the real thing in August.

And on Sunday, members of the Class of the Westport High …

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Please support local news coverage –

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For Westport Class of ’20, graduating together 'worth the wait'

No 'virtual' ceremony for them, grads hold out for real 'in-person' event

Posted

WESTPORT — Back in June they had chosen to trade a virtual computer screen graduation for the real thing in August.

And on Sunday, members of the Class of the Westport High School Class of 2020 did just that, gathering one last time together for an in-person graduation in the parking lot behind Westport High School.

“Rather than being in the auditorium, we are … here now on a hot summer day in August,” said Valedictorian Adam Charest. “You know, I wouldn't have it any other way.”

There had been hopes that perhaps the coronavirus might have eased or gone away by now, but social distancing and masks remained the order of the day. Classmates lined up in measured distance and walked in to their seats, all set six feet apart.

Faculty, staff and guest kept their remarks brief to cede time to student speakers and for the sake of families out in the shadeless viewing area — the ceremony took just under an hour.

“I'm really proud of you,” said Superintendent of Schools Gary Reese, “for waiting it out so we could be here together one last time.”

State Senator Michael Rodrigues noted that this class has had more than its share of turbulent times from the get-go.

I think many of you were born around September 11, 2001. Here we are again in 2020 with a different type of crisis before us. I give you all the credit in the world. There are many lessons you are going to take with you. Don't forget us here in Westport — we want to see you back.”

“Take advantage of the disappointments to propel you into the future,” said School Committee member Melissa Pacheco.

“Celebrate moments,” she urged. “Look around you now, look at the eyes that are surrounding you, look at the green trees, feel the sun on your skin and remember these moments. They pass us by so quickly — not everybody gets a moment.”

She thanked the School Committee chairman for letting her speak on behalf of the committee. “My daughter (Katelyn) would have been a graduate of your Class of 2020

“If you fall, get back up again. If others fall around you, make sure you help them. Be a helper. Live, love others and love yourself.”

“It has been a heck of a ride,” Valedictorian Charest said.

“Our graduation will be unlike any other as our entire time here in Westport has been just that.”

Mr. Charest said he has “kind of an obscure way of seeing our current situation. I see us as a blade, and with forming a sword of any sort” you need to work with the right material.

That material must be heated, melted, beaten and hammered to become useful, strong and sturdy “so that it doesn't break.”

He thanked those at WHS who helped them “and beat” them (he said to laughter) to give them the strength to weather the “plenty more” challenges to come,” Mr. Charest said.

“I promise you guys there's a vaccine on the horizon. Things will become normal again. This is a temporary normal — we're not going to be wearing masks our whole lives. Our ups and downs at Westport High School have forged these bonds that will last forever. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.”

“Our class is unique,” said Salutatorian and Class President Rachel Collins. “We are survivors — It has been an unprecedented and crazy journey.”

“We're the class that got robbed of our eighth grade year because of PCBs at the middle school. It was a tough transition to the high school but we persevered.”

And “We had so many administrations come and go that the main office felt like a train station.”

Then came coronavirus but, “Instead of giving up on senior year, we adapted to change and still had an amazing four years.”

Ms. Collins quoted Winston Churchill —“It is the courage to continue that counts.”

“Until it was taken away from us, I don't thing many of us realized how much we enjoyed going to school to see our friends and our teachers,” she said.

“Congratulations to my fellow survivors, my friends, the Class of 2020, the class of perseverance and courage.”

Guidance Counselor Leslie Ruel then welcomed the graduates, one-by-one, onto the stage to pick up their diplomas, and said a few words about each student's accomplishments and plans.

Also recognized with the Distinguished graduate award was Michael Duarte “for 39 years of exceptional leadership to Westport schools.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.