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Graduation ceremony, speeches spotlight Princeton High School seniors’ perseverance and resilience

PHS graduates throw their graduation caps in the air during PHS's graduation ceremony.

Princeton High School (PHS) seniors in the Class of 2021 celebrated a life milestone together as they graduated in person to complete their senior year.

The 428 high school graduates in their blue caps and gowns gathered on the turf field at PHS Stadium in Princeton on June 23. The Class of 2021 is PHS’s 93rd graduating class.

Originally planned for June 22, the graduation ceremony was moved due to inclement weather.

This Class of 2021 graduates started their senior year in a global pandemic and finished the year much the same. However, the difference from last year’s graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 had been the in-person tradition of walking across the stage together as 2020’s ceremony was a virtual affair.

As the high school orchestra string quartet performed pomp and circumstance, seniors walked onto the turf field at PHS to take their seats, which were socially distanced.

Senior Class President Akshay Adaikalavan welcomed students, families, teachers, the school and district administration when he rhymed his speech, which kicked off the morning’s graduation speeches.

“It means a lot to be together today. At some points this year we thought, ‘No way,’ ” he said. “We tried to be optimistic but this pandemic seemed almost sadistic. It was extremely difficult for some of us and made so many want to cuss. Now I hope you had some sunshine in this darkness, but I wish us all well in the future regardless.”

Adaikalavan added that his classmates should take leaps of faith.

“I must admit that I cannot wait for college, too,” he said, “for that is where we continue our odyssey, while students cringing at the mention is not an oddity it was a story representative of our lives. Obstacles can be conquered if you strategize. Hard work and planning will get you through, but that does not mean you shouldn’t take leaps of faith, too.”

During the ceremony, Around Eight, a PHS a cappella group, performed “Till Forever Falls Apart” by Ashe & Finneas.

Senior addresses followed as four senior students presented speeches, which centered on separate themes of community, achievement, future and spirit. According to PHS Acting Principal Jared Warren, the four seniors were each voted in to speak on one of the four themes.

Speaking on the theme of community, senior Savannah Spring said her class did not want the title or to set any precedent as the first graduating class to start and finish their senior year amidst a pandemic.

“I think it makes our class and our year even more special to talk about the topic of community,” she said. “That word has filled our headlines for the past year with stories of people who persisted, hurt together and have risen from challenges. I think our ability to rely on another this year and come together was just a reflection of the ties and camaraderie that had already been built.”

Of the time where she found community, what came to mind at first for Savannah had been the many clubs she joined, the group of people she had eaten lunch with or the sports teams she was on, Savannah said.

“When we think of community what often comes to mind are these textbook definition examples. But, as thought more about my time in high school and this past year, I realized that the moments I truly felt a sense of community are with those I did not necessarily choose,” she said. “Even in this past year I have been able to talk to people that I have not been able to talk to in awhile, make new friends remotely and actually smile and laugh from talking through a Zoom call.”

From all of this Savannah learned that community isn’t necessarily the people they may have chosen at first, she said.

“But that they are the people that make you feel that you are a part of something greater than yourself, and make you feel seen in a world that can often make you feel small,” Savannah said. “Don’t forget that community can be found in places where we are least expecting it and let us not let the communities we have already chosen blind us from ones we have yet to discover.”

Asked to speak on the topic of spirit, senior Yazan Mohammad started by thanking all involved in making the socially distanced graduation possible along with prom, a movie night, talent show, and cabaret night, which occurred during the year with the restrictions.

“I have been thinking a lot about spirit recently with much of that thought devoted to school spirit,” she said. “Now one might look at our lack of vocal support for our sports teams or the relative rarity of senior student in school merchandise and they might assume that we do not have spirit. I beg to differ.”

In asking his fellow graduates to raise their hands on who returned to school in person and attended prom, Yazan said to him the many hands raised showed how their spirits shined in their commitment to community.

“Now, all year I have heard people dread graduating and moving away from their friends. I have seen new friendships grow and old ones fortify and I felt this collective closeness in our grade in a way that has never been this strong,” he said. “I’m not saying everyone loves everyone, but despite all that the reason why we love PHS is because we appreciate the people it has given us. Even if you do not want to say we have spirit we do undeniably have something special.”

After the senior addresses, Cats Meow performed “And So It Goes” by Billy Joel.

Warren praised graduates and provided encouragement in his remarks at graduation by saying this is the Class of 2021’s time.

“As you complete this rite of passage remember to be present, take a breath, look around and live in the moment,” he said. “At the start of this school year you were challenged with obstacles that no other graduating class at PHS has faced and hopefully will ever face again. You always found a way to come together and embrace change with grace and you advocated for yourselves with fierce compassion while looking out for one another.

“Throughout the school year students embody the spirit of student voice.

“You have experienced adversity like no other and navigated this pandemic with grit and resiliency,” Warren continued. “Class of 2021, you are the class that put PHS back on track and moving forward to normalcy. Class of 2021, do not let your dreams just be dreams.”

Princeton Public Schools Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso, following Warren during the June 23 Commencement Ceremony, said the students’ perseverance, adaptability, creativeness and support for each other was commendable.

“It needs to be celebrated. You kept your focus on what matters. You remained clearheaded and goal oriented,” he said. “Working together on common goals requires skills, requires patience, and particularly when the collaboration is stressful. If it has done nothing else, this year’s pandemic of loneliness has demonstrated our common humanity. We proved together that we change the norms of our activity and adapt to new circumstances.”

Galasso told seniors that he feels optimistic that a generation that has lived through the worst pandemic in 100 years will rise to lead the country and interdependent world into a period of joy and purposeful life, he said.

Princeton High School senior graduate's decorated cap in PHS Stadium on June 23.
Princeton Public Schools Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso (center) speaks to PHS senior graduates at a Commencement Ceremony on June 23.
Senior's graduation cap at the PHS graduation ceremony in Princeton.
Senior walks across graduation stage at PHS Stadium.
Senior Zane Scott (left) shakes the hand of Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso (right) as he walks across the stage on June 23.
PHS graduation ceremony on the turf field at PHS Stadium in Princeton on June 23.
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