By Dave Rogers
---- — BYFIELD — A gauntlet of sorts was thrown in front of the 103 students making up The Governor’s Academy graduating class of 2013 by Congressional Gold Medal winner and civil rights activist Dr. Melba Beals, guest speaker, during yesterday’s commencement inside the Pescosolido Field House.
Beals was one of nine black students escorted into formerly segregated Little Rock Central High School by Army troops in 1957, defying the wishes of then-Ark. Gov. Orval Faubus and a mob of protesters blocking the school, one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement. Yesterday, she challenged graduating seniors to break through barriers and jump through any and all hoops that might stop them from carrying out their dreams, much like she did back in 1957.
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life. You’re in charge now,” Beals said. “The next question is: What are you going to do about it?”
Beals went on to reenforce the notion that society will tell graduating seniors they aren’t bright enough or connected enough to follow their hearts. She also told them that the days of their parents watching over them — and in some cases handing them credit cards — were essentially over. The key, she said, was to let nothing deter them from fulfilling their dreams.
“Do you want it bad enough or are you bragging?” she asked.
Wet weather for much of the weekend prompted school officials to hold the school’s 250th commencement exercises indoors for the first time in years. Typically, the ceremony is held on a expansive grassy area next to the Mansion House, home to the school’s headmaster. But the foul weather didn’t detract from the festivities and excitement as proud parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings and friends filled every available seat inside the fieldhouse and then some.
As seniors walked down the staircase from the school’s old gym around 10:20 a.m., a loud roar was heard followed by smiling parents snapping photographs with cameras, smart phones — and even a few iPads.
Eventually, the clouds parted and the sun shone enough to allow those wishing to jump over the Mansion House wall, a longtime commencement tradition, to do so without getting soaked.
For the second year in a row, a New Hampshire-based student was awarded the Morse Flag, an honor on par with being named class valedictorian. Andrew Werchniak, of Hampton Falls, not only took home the Morse Flag. but he was also the recipient of the Thorndike Hilton Cup, awarded to the ranking scholar of the school. Last year, John Damianos of North Hampton, N.H., was awarded the Morse Flag. The Academy Prize was awarded to Jean Mary Bower of Newburyport.
Moody Kent Prize winners, awarded to students who excel in certain subjects, included: Jakyung Banf of Seoul, South Korea, for science; Rapas Chamnanratanakul of Bangkok, Thailand, for arts; Eric Harrold of Byfield for music; Edith Mei Li Pinckney Johnson of Byfield for foreign language; Imogene Robinson of Newburyport for English; Bryce Turner of Norwalk, Conn., for history; and Vincent Yuan Jing Yan of Hong Kong for mathematics.
Yesterday was the second commencement for headmaster Dr. Peter Quimby. Quimby, the school’s 28th headmaster, succeeded Marty Doggett, who stepped down as headmaster after 12 years at the prestigious school. Doggett was in attendance yesterday. Others spotted in the crowd were Newbury Selectman Joe Story and nationally known author Andre Dubus III whose daughter, Ariadne Dubus, was among those graduating.
Continuing a tradition perpetuated by Doggett, Quimby asked grandparents and great-grandparents to stand up and be recognized. He praised them for creating an atmosphere of trust, adding that their support over the years meant so much to their grandchildren. Quimby then asked parents to rise and also took a few moments to recognize the dozens of veterans in attendance.