Bromfield Class of 2019: Activists challenging the norms

Friday evening, June 7, was a perfect night for the graduation of the Class of 2019, the 140th commencement of Bromfield students. There was no threat of a thunderstorm as there has been in the past, and the atmosphere was relaxed and joyful. The graduates, led by class marshal, junior Dylan Ashe, marched in to “I Lived.” Contrary to the norm, the graduates all wore blue caps and gowns.

Traditionally, white gowns were for girls, blue for boys. For the past six years, seniors have voted to have the gowns distributed randomly. This year the seniors voted to have only blue gowns, a symbol of their propensity for knocking down differences and announcing themselves as a class of innovators and activists. Throughout the ceremony they expressed their gratitude for the support they received along their way.

Superintendent Linda Dwight told the audience this class was special to her because they were fifth-graders when she became principal of Hildreth Elementary School in 2011. She remembers them as activists even then. When the school decided to eliminate birthday treats, the class started a petition to bring them back. The students made sure they had a say in the design and materials for the new playground, and as Bromfield students, they taught teachers about LGBTQ issues.

“You challenged established norms and sought additional ways for students to have a voice,” Hoffman told the graduates. In addition to the gown choice, the students advocated for themselves and established Refresh Day, a day devoted to diverse activities of wellness and balance. This was the class that re-established the school newspaper and expanded the daily bulletin to include events and honors of all students, not just athletes. While not exactly breaking a norm, the seniors did beat the staff in the traditional basketball game, breaking the latter’s strong record of wins. Hoffman read the poem “Dash,” where the dash is the one on a person’s gravestone, separating birth and death dates. “What matters is how we live and love and use our dash,” said Hoffman.

Finding a place

An especially memorable part of Valedictorian Kate Selig’s speech was her story of moving to Harvard for third grade. Though hard to imagine now, she joked, she had been a shy child whom her pre-school teacher had recommended “holding back.” Before she arrived in Harvard, Rob Cullinane’s third-graders each wrote a letter to Kate, welcoming her to HES. She said during that year, Mr. C listened to the penguin stories she and her friend Hannah wrote, and at the end of the year Mr. C. wrote, “It’s like she’s always been here.”

Janet Brown, English Department chair and advisor to the meditation club, was the students’ choice for the faculty keynote speaker. She told anecdotes about several colleagues, showing that while some knew they wanted to be teachers at a young age, others switched careers at later points in their lives. She said she was one of the ones who took a longer journey to find the career she loves. She urged the graduates, “Leave some room for the unknown you who isn’t here yet.”

At graduation from a Catholic high school, Brown said she was “disheveled,” manifested outwardly by a plaid skirt held together with about 12 safety pins and a black “Ride the Lightning” Metallica T-shirt showing beneath the uniform’s (un-ironed) white Oxford shirt. She chose a business major as the persona of “Janet version 1.0.” Then she announced she was transferring to NYC and becoming a rock ’n roll tour manager, Janet version 2.0. After a time, there came a moment when she knew she could no longer be a “dude” in the very noisy world of the music industry. “What had been my dream for so long didn’t suit me anymore.”

She called her parents and asked if “the failure” could come home. Her parents assured her that, “Strength is the courage to catch yourself making a mistake and choosing to change.” She switched her major and then, even though it cost an extra year, changed again and became Janet version 4.0, an English teacher. It was a messy journey, Brown said, but she is the teacher she is because of all the Janets that came before. “They were the foundation.”

Finding benefit in misfortune

Salutatorian Yohhan Kumarasinghe seems already to have internalized Brown’s philosophy. He spoke of his time on the debate team, and his disappointment in not being elected to a position he wanted. He shifted to Quiz Bowl where “slamming a buzzer was much more satisfying” than lengthy arguments with other people. He reflected, “If I hadn’t lost, I wouldn’t have found other things,” and he urged his classmates to “find the benefits in the misfortunes.”

Thanking parents, teachers, and staff has always been part of graduation, but this year the gratitude seemed prolific. Hoffman expressed his thanks to all school employees and to the Garden Club, and he said to the graduates, “Thanks for all you’ve done.” Right after Brown had named and thanked her parents and was saying, “In closing —,” senior Alex Magan stood up from the bleachers: “Wait, hold on.” Saying that he was going to interrupt her as he had done so many times in class, he had his classmates rise and give a round of applause to their parents and others who have supported them. It remains a mystery whether anyone else was in on Alex’s seemingly spontaneous action.

Student keynote speaker Lance Jarosz expressed gratitude to the administration, teachers, staff, and parents and pointed out that his classmates had always helped one another. He went on to encourage them to strive for excellence, ending with: “If everyone lived up to potential, all 105 of us, imagine what we could do.” Later class officers thanked the senior advisors, Josh Thurston and Gayle Bruning.

There were the traditional elements: the sonorous voice of English teacher Chris Jones announcing each graduate; beautiful arrangements by the Garden Club; the Bromfield Trustees, represented this year by Suzanne Poitras, telling a bit about the history of Bromfield and naming scholarship recipients announced at awards day; and of course cameras everywhere. The line of graduates paused for a few moments while one grandfather got up from a fall and readied his camera to get his grandson in his sights.

The Class of 2019, talented individuals, innovators, activists, full of potential and gratitude, marched out to “Walking on a Dream.”


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