, Salem, MA

June 7, 2013

Class of 2013 reflects on 4 years

Essex Aggie graduates urged to choose their own paths


---- — DANVERS — With their voices, Lara Carney of Gloucester and Abigail Seabrook of Newburyport provided an emotional musical capstone to last evening’s graduation exercises under a jammed tent on the front lawn of Essex Agricultural and Technical High School.

They did so during the next to the last such ceremony for Essex Aggie before the school merges into a new $133 million technical high school being built across the street from where the graduation took place.

After performing a duet of the song “For Good” from the musical “Wicked,” Carney and Seabrook, who are best friends, hugged, and the graduates, friends and family screamed and applauded the moment.

“It’s a really inspirational song and it really affects everyone,” Seabrook said of the song “For Good.”

“Because, I don’t know if you could tell,” she added, “but a lot of people were crying in the audience.” For Seabrook, who studied animal science, the moment caused memories from her four years to flood in.

Carney and Seabrook also performed a duet of the national anthem last night.

Last night’s fast-moving ceremony saw 114 graduates walk to accept their diplomas from state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, and trustees of the state-owned high school.

“I feel so excited, like we did it,” said Erin Hardy of Lynn, a veterinarian technology major, just after graduation. “It’s surreal, it’s surreal, I can’t believe it’s happening right now.”

Before receiving their sheepskins, however, student speakers struggled to sum up what this moment meant.

Valedictorian Brittaney Leeper of Haverhill said she was at a loss, given her speech was meant to “validate” the class.

“How was I supposed to make over 100 people feel like the time spent here was worth the time and effort that we put in?” Her solution — Look up previous valedictorian speeches on the Internet. “I probably shouldn’t admit that,” she said.

Those other speeches talked about how high school represented the best four years of their lives and how they would be leaders of the future. Leeper said she could not guarantee that, because everyone had different experiences, both good and bad.

“It’s not my job to choose how you feel and act about your time at Essex Aggie or tell you how you will spend the rest of your lives. But it is within my limits to ask you something. Was there something, whether it be a class, friend or teacher, a club ... anything at all, anything that you felt was worth your time, anything that made you feel happy or made you feel that you belong, something that you would never have experienced coming to Essex Aggie? ... It is your choice to choose to make these years into something worth remembering and to make your life better based on these years.”

Class orator Cherish Wanter of Salem, who ranked third in her class, took a look back at how everyone bonded, including on a river trip for environmental students.

“Spending two weeks with a group of teenagers was not easy,” Wanter said, “because no one could hide their flaws.” Students faced many obstacles in and out of school, she added. “I urge us not to forget the challenges we faced in this school, but to reflect on it during times of difficulty to remember the incredible strength we each possess.”

Salutatorian Samantha Hardy also took a look back to her freshman year: “Just think back to the first day of school when we all got to take those awful ID pictures and had to play those icebreaker games in the soccer field.” She, too, said graduates have a lot of choices to make, and her advice was to stand out.

“The world is full of new high school graduates, so it’s your job to make everyone see you. Make them see why you’re not just another teenager looking for things to be handed to her. Prove that you’re unique and hardworking and special.”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

Essex Aggie’s Graduation At-a-Glance