Commencement, 2021 ~ An Evening to Remember

Do you remember what happens in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy steps outside into the Land of Oz? Everything turns to color.

It was kind of like that.

The Bedford High School community celebrated the end of the 15-month Covid-19 pandemic at commencement ceremonies Friday evening on the synthetic turf of Armand Sabourin Field. About 185 graduates joined the ranks of BHS alumni.

Click this link to see Commencement 2021 in Pictures

Oh, it wasn’t the actual end of the virus. There were still facemasks scattered among the crowd. Someone disinfected the podium between speakers. Seniors were seated with parents or caregivers in clusters of three chairs spread in evenly-spaced rows between the 27-yard lines. Teachers in academic regalia were seated in the rear; they formed two lines to salute the Class of 2021 as it approached the seats.

Indeed, even the venue was a reminder – the decision had been made earlier to return to BHS for an outdoor graduation rather than risk the restriction of the indoor venue that has been the site for the past several years, Tsongas Arena in Lowell

But the atmosphere was celebratory, liberating, bucolic, and the feeling was ….well, normal. The home stands were almost packed with non-distancing relatives and friends. A couple of dozen folks chose the visitors’ bleachers, and clusters of spectators were scattered around the complex, along the track, or on the hillside next to the tennis courts.

And every speaker had something to say about the year that the class had endured – a year that actually began in early March 2020.

“We persevered, survived, and emerged as one community from this pandemic,” declared BHS Principal Heather Galante as she began the program.

“This is the year we lost loved ones and learned to love the ones we didn’t lose,” said senior  Willa Potter in her graduation essay. She acknowledged the BHS teachers who “completely had to redefine their jobs.”

Potter said there is much for the class to anticipate, like “a chance to see smiling faces without fearing for the lives of our loved ones.” She observed, “Maybe we are the kids who needed to survive a pandemic to become the class of 2021.” She urged her classmates to “hold on to the lessons we learned this year. I do not have to tell you how to face the unexpected – we’ve got that down by now.”

Class President Malcolm Mayanja struck a similar note. “We missed not only the social aspects but it also impacted the desire to learn for many,” he said. This year has proven that “we can fight through anything that comes our way, no matter how difficult it is,”

Galante told the graduates, “You all deserve a ton of credit for how you handled this year.” The mantra, she said, was, “Given the circumstances, we are doing the best we can.”

The principal recognized her own struggles, a “constantly racing interior monologue. Each day I worried that something, or more important that someone, would slip through the cracks.”

Galante advised, “It is really important to identify when you need help, and when to ask for it.” She paused and asked the seniors to think of someone to whom they could turn, as well as who they would support.

“You are forever a part of our family,” Galante said, “and hopefully we will be a part of yours.”

Liana Heldman, the chemistry teacher voted by the class of 2021 to speak at graduation, reflected on her own high school commencement 20 years ago and how much has changed since then. In contrast, racism, she said, “still stubbornly clings to our society despite the activism of your generation.”

She referred to the challenges experienced over the past 15 months as preparation for future tests. For example, Heldman cited numerous extracurricular activities that continued with a virtual format, and how students “did your best to stay engaged with remote learning.”

“You are ready to make the world better,” she told the graduates.

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad, at his first BHS commencement, looked around and declared to the class “This is awesome.” Last July, he said, he couldn’t have imagined the scene.

Senior Aniyah Certain sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Other musical selections, all by BHS students, were pre-recorded.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at, or 781-983-1763

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