M/cloudy
32°
M/cloudy
Hi 32° | Lo 7°

Pittsfield Middle High School graduates told to embrace where they came from

  • Courtney Chagnon (center), who will attend Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, descends the stage with fellow seniors following Pittsfield Middle High School's graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 21.<br/><br/>(CASEY MCDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

    Courtney Chagnon (center), who will attend Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, descends the stage with fellow seniors following Pittsfield Middle High School's graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 21.

    (CASEY MCDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

  • Krystal Small (left, facing away) and Courtney Chagnon (right) wait with friends before the PIttsfield Middle High School graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 21.<br/><br/>(CASEY MCDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

    Krystal Small (left, facing away) and Courtney Chagnon (right) wait with friends before the PIttsfield Middle High School graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 21.

    (CASEY MCDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

  • Senior class president Maxwell Tuttle prepares for the ceremony in the Pittsfield Middle High School library on Saturday, June 21, 2014. <br/><br/>(CASEY MCDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

    Senior class president Maxwell Tuttle prepares for the ceremony in the Pittsfield Middle High School library on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

    (CASEY MCDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

  • Courtney Chagnon (center), who will attend Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, descends the stage with fellow seniors following Pittsfield Middle High School's graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 21.<br/><br/>(CASEY MCDERMOTT / Monitor staff)
  • Krystal Small (left, facing away) and Courtney Chagnon (right) wait with friends before the PIttsfield Middle High School graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 21.<br/><br/>(CASEY MCDERMOTT / Monitor staff)
  • Senior class president Maxwell Tuttle prepares for the ceremony in the Pittsfield Middle High School library on Saturday, June 21, 2014. <br/><br/>(CASEY MCDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

Yesterday was a day full of victories – some little, some not so much – for the Pittsfield Class of 2014.

Katrina Haynes, for one, had never given a speech in public before. (“It terrifies me,” she told the audience as she stepped up to the microphone to begin her salutatorian address.) But she did it, and she used her platform to encourage her fellow seniors to embrace future challenges: “I hope you choose to take the doors that are farthest away and the most difficult to get through, because behind those doors are the best opportunities.”

In the library before graduation began, Emma Fisher was surrounded by a handful of her peers who were laughing and reminiscing and making sure each other’s caps were properly pinned into place. Fisher, who is quiet and said she used to have trouble making friends, said she was happy to have found this group of girls who – as another one of them put it, spurring more laughter – practically gave her no choice but to become a part of their circle.

Passion for business

Courtney Chagnon, reflecting on her time at Pittsfield, said she learned the hard way the importance of taking school seriously. When she dropped a chemistry class her junior year, she said one of her teachers warned her that she probably wouldn’t be able to get into a four-year college as a result. She had to play catch-up academically as a senior, but thanks to the encouragement she received from Jennifer Massey and Anne Banks, both senior class advisers, she found a passion for business and sent out a few college applications anyway. She got into several schools after all, and she’ll soon study accounting at Johnson and Wales University.

Krystal and Katie Small, twin sisters, had taken different paths through high school. Krystal was more artistic and struggled academically at first, while Katie said she immersed herself in school and sports. But after their sophomore year, it was Katie who convinced Krystal to take her studies more seriously.

“My twin sister looked at me and said, ‘I want to graduate with you,’ ” Krystal said.

The sisters both said they were proud to have arrived at this milestone together, and on her graduation cap, Krystal wrote: “All great changes are preceded by chaos.”

“Anybody who knows me knows it was the right quote,” Krystal said of the phrase, which is widely attributed to Deepak Chopra. “Chaos is my life.”

Multiyear revamp

This class as a whole, by many accounts, endured a somewhat chaotic period at Pittsfield. The school has embarked on a multiyear effort to revamp nearly all aspects of its educational experience – overhauling its teaching methods and introducing new student leadership opportunities, among other changes – and this year’s seniors “have seen every change that has come down the road,” said Massey, the senior class adviser.

“They have endured change after change after change,” Massey said. “And yet they’re still here, you know, with a positive attitude.”

But according to anecdotes recalled yesterday from Massey and other school officials – even from the students themselves – this group has also, in turn, kept the school on its toes.

‘Grown a lot’

“They have grown a lot,” Massey said, describing the group as fun but sometimes challenging. “They were frustrating at times, in the beginning, but they have come together so nicely in the last year. It’s almost as if you’re graduating 30 of your own children.”

Derek Hamilton, a social studies teacher and soon-to-be dean of operations, said another quality sticks out to him: perseverance.

“There were so many kids in this group who had challenges both inside and outside of class,” he said.

And Hamilton, a Pittsfield alumnus himself, wanted to make sure the students walked away from the ceremony feeling proud of where they came from – something that, he said in his keynote speech, hasn’t always been easy. The school has been labeled a “dropout factory” in the past, he said, and the community’s reputation at large has taken a beating over the years.

“When I graduated and went to college, I was hesitant to tell people where I was from,” Hamilton told the crowd. “I was glad when people responded, ‘Where was that?’ rather than with a dismissive look or snide comment.”

Since Pittsfield has ramped up efforts to change in recent years, he said, “The shift in the school culture, local perception and national attention has been staggering.”

When these new Pittsfield alumni embark on their own paths beyond Pittsfield and tell others where they grew up, Hamilton said after the ceremony, “I just hope they would embrace that and would say it with some pride.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 396-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @caseymcdermott.)

Legacy Comments0
There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.