DANVERS — Arguably the most spoken words at Saturday's graduation in Dr. Deering Stadium was "gratitude" and "thank you."
Speakers expressed gratitude and thanks to parents who filled the stands, teachers and staff who sat on the field, and friends in the class who helped guide them.
On what was the 239 graduates' last day together, the speakers also thanked the Danvers community that supported their education over the years, citing successes on the athletic field, on stage, in musical performances and in their DECA club business competitions.
"Our whole class has been fortunate to live in a community where we are encouraged to relentlessly pursue our passions. We have great class leaders, advisers, mentors and coaches. I know that the Class of 2019 feels blessed to have such amazing people involved in them," said the class essayist, Kevin Jordan.
In fact, half of Jordan's "Kev Talk" was made up of thank yous, as he thanked teachers and faculty, singling out several by name; his family; close friends "for many years of friendship;" and his best friend since kindergarten, Anthony Spignese.
"But, I think everyone would get quite irritated if I named everyone that I'm thankful for. To sum up my relationships with all of you, I would like to borrow a line from the movie, 'The Hangover,'" he said to laughs. "'I was a one-man wolf pack. Now, my wolf pack has grown.'" Thank you all for being a part of my wolf pack.'"
Salutatorian Shelby Johnson told a story about traveling to Prague in the Czech Republic, and getting lost after going out to a movie with her brother and sister in foreign country. Turns out, the trolley they took to get to the mall where the movie was shown was headed to a depot on the outskirts of town, instead of back into the city center. They got off, but it was too late for a cab, so they walked. They found their way "by looking up at the sparkling Prague castle high on its hill," near where they were staying.
"Never again would I be worried to take on a challenging journey," Johnson said, "because I knew that by finding something and looking up towards it, I could push myself wherever I wanted to go."
The graduates had taken a similar journey in their education, she said, only instead of a castle on a hill, their goal was graduation.
"We've been looking up, striving to get here, and persevering through all the trials that have come towards us to get here," Johnson said.
Valedictorian Sarah Welford turned to existentialism to sum up her high school experience.
"'Hell is other people,'" said Welford, quoting from philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, taking on his notion that living under the critical gaze of others "is a kind of hell," especially in high school.
This led her to ask: "Who even came up with high school? Who woke up one day and said let's take all these teenagers at their most vulnerable stage of their lives and stick them all in one building where they can constantly judge each other and then try to teach them that the mitochondria is the power house of the cell, or something?"
But Welford said her four years at DHS taught her Sartre was wrong.
"Contrary to Jean-Paul Sartre's argument, I believe that other people uplift us and high school has been positive for me because of other people," she said.
An attitude of gratitude
Saturday was also a major milestone band director Ron Parsons, who is retiring after 33 years at Danvers High.
Parsons led the band at three Rose Parades, presidential inaugurations, and the Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii, but Saturday was the last time he would lead the band as its director.
"Most of my thoughts have been about the people I have met along the way," Parsons said. "I have found myself being grateful for the students I have taught and mentored, the colleagues I have worked with, the love and support of my family and the mentors I have had along the way and on and on the list goes," he said.
Parsons told the graduates they need to "live with an attitude of gratitude," and have a mindset that is "positive, deliberate and focused" in their dealings. He asked them to think about how saying 'thank you' is a conscious act, and that each moment is an opportunity to express gratitude.
"What do you have to be thankful for?" Parsons asked. "If you were to write a lifetime 'thank you' list, what would it include? Be thankful for the people in your life. From day one, your life has been filled with people. They have given you their time, their instruction, their interests and their love."
He had another lesson about attitude from something that happened to him over which he had no control.
It was an attitude of determination, Parsons said, that helped him in his long recovery from a 12-foot fall off his roof, after climbing up on a ladder, in the spring of 2012.
"In a split second, my life changed," Parsons said. He spent a month in the hospital, four months in a wheelchair and four more months using a walker. It was a defining moment in his life, one he had not control over.
However, you have a choice on how to deal with such moments, he told the graduates.
"Our attitude is a very powerful tool. When you face a problem or deal with a disappointing situation, determination can make all the difference," Parsons said.
His final Parsons Point to Ponder: "It doesn't matter how many times you fall down, no pun intended, it matters how many times you get up."
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.
Danvers High 2019 graduation
When: June 8, 2019, 2 p.m.
Where: J. Ellison Morse Field at Dr. Charles F. Deering Stadium
Number of graduates: 239
Pledge of Allegiance: Nikki Lam
National Anthem: Danvers High Mixed Chorus
Welcome address: Principal Dr. Jason Colombino
Keynote speaker: Retiring band director Ron Parsons
Remarks: Superintendent Dr. Lisa Dana