Good afternoon and on behalf of my leadership team, my main office team and the RMHS staff, we welcome you all to this year’s class of 2022 RMHS Graduation ceremony. My name is Kevin Tracey, the proud Principal here at Reading Memorial High School. First graduation speech as a new principal- no pressure at all!
Since we have all been through this process together, I would like to begin by complimenting the parents and caregivers, families, friends, members of the Reading community, our School Committee, Superintendent Milaschewski and his central office team for all of their incredible support. In addition, I would like to acknowledge and commend the wonderful contributions made by our RISE preschool, our elementary and middle school staff in establishing a strong foundation and to my immediate colleagues at RMHS for working tirelessly to build on this base to prepare these students for the challenges that lie ahead. In particular, I would like to publicly thank our retiring RMHS staff members, Ms. Jane Shea and Ms. Sharon Burke and ask that they please stand to be recognized.
While certainly none of us wish to repeat the trials of the past two years, it has given us all an opportunity to reflect. For me, that reflection led to a very humbling realization on the importance of community and how heavily I rely on that support and other people in life and to do my job, and certainly to do it effectively. Being honored with the opportunity to take this position after being somewhere for sixteen years was in some ways a stress-filled, leap of faith that Spring. I did not have the relationships to lean on or the institutional knowledge on which to draw. Similarly, you are all faced with a major life transition as you leave the safe confines of Reading Memorial high school. Perhaps the excitement of what is in store or today’s ceremony has temporarily masked the stress of this impending change. I know myself- I was a basket of nerves when I started here last summer. Throughout this year; however, the nerves have ebbed and flowed and were eventually worn down and replaced by immense pride, joy and excitement through the support and warm welcome I received from all of you and the RMHS community.
In taking on this new opportunity, I did my best to pull from past experiences and what I have found to be a good recipe for managing uncertainty. First, keep a calm head about you. Something not always easy to do when anxiety rises. Reflect and think before you act. If you do not know something, be humble, admit it and ask questions. Nobody knows everything. If you need help, strongly advocate for it. We all need help sometimes. Build sincere relationships, lean on those when needed and actively look for ways to contribute to the process and do not be a passive recipient for what life has to give. In the end, recognize that it is the journey itself that has immense value and not just the final outcome.
To the graduates of 2022: We could not be more proud of you. In our eyes, you represent an incredibly diverse and special group of young people. You are admired as individuals, cherished as a collective group and as a class, you are simply outstanding…from those of you who impress us daily in our classrooms to the students who relish the stage or display their prowess on the courts or athletic fields.
COVID, remote learning, hybrid schedules, mask-wearing, pool testing, quarantining- never before did we ever foresee or anticipate the unique curveballs and barriers we were presented. As scholars, you have wrestled with complex concepts and phenomena, problem-solved around real-world issues, and presented thoughtful findings and insights often in isolation from your bedrooms, as we, as educators, tried everything in our arsenal to engage, to support and to teach- reimagining socratic seminars and labs, the acquisition of language and desperately trying to stave off skill regression. Teaching the visual and performing arts, engineering, physical education and wellness all without the benefit of being together. The list of ways in which you have had to stay connected, adapt and overcome is endless.
There is no question that you have missed out, but you also rebounded. We finally competed and succeeded in three athletic seasons, held an in-person pep rally and a powder puff football game. Performed in band competitions, choral concerts and the productions of Zombie Prom, Murder on the Orient Express and Fantastic Mr. Fox. We supported one another through successes and failures. We launched a ski club, started a new RMHS tradition with Unity Day (that the majority of you missed for senior skip day), hosted Robotics and engaged in so many philanthropic and community service projects it would be impossible to list. We held Mr. RMHS with a few cringe worthy moments that I still can not seem to get out of my head and celebrated the end of our year at the Seaglass for prom. And, now we are finally here at graduation.
In the words of your RMHS teachers, counselors and staff who know you best:
Ms. Allyson Williams, our math department chair, states that the class of 2022 is friendly and outgoing. They want to know their teachers as people and for us to know them as people. They are gracious and understanding. They take care of their friends and are committed to making the world a better place using each of their own unique talents. Ms. Clawson agrees, adding you have been like this since 9th grade. You check in and help out when your friends are down and need a hand. You are incredibly loyal to one another.
Ms. Audra Williams describes this class as easy-going, resilient, smiley, funny, personable, kind, hard-working and goal-driven who are social justice warriors and who also have a great taste in music. Ms. Wall shares that you are an incredibly spirited and enthusiastic group. Ms. Shea adds that you are energetic, respectful and full of life sharing that she hasn’t taught seniors for years and is so glad she had the opportunity this past year. You are so much fun and she absolutely loved teaching you.
In facing the obstacles of the pandemic, the words “resilient,” “perseverant,” “flexible” and “determined” were used to describe the class from many of my colleagues. Ms. Cory remarked how proud she is of you making it across the finish line, observing it was a strange, lonely time, but ultimately it led to connections much stronger than we expected. Mr. Cabanas felt the close connection as well, believing that we have all been reliant on one another as a big RMHS family. Quoting one of his favorite movies, the film “The Crow,” “it never rains forever.” This class of 2022 has become a paradigm of hope ensuring that there is a future for the rest of us out there. From the intimate view of our medical ward and from perhaps the hardest working staff member over the past two years, Ms. Giuliana, our lead nurse, is in awe of your resilience. Having just caught your stride as sophomores, this group of students in particular bore the full brunt of disruption as you juggled remote and in-person learning. In her words, it has been such a joy over these past
few months to see you laughing, being together and celebrating. Perhaps no other class I have worked with has shown such caring and empathy exhibited towards each other and those around them.
Understandably given your age and perspective, I am not sure any of you realize the great impact you have had on our community and on us as individuals. Mr. Bosco and others wish to thank you for keeping them going by being inspiring and gracious. Mr. Buono, who has great faith in this class of talented future engineers, is in awe of how much to a remarkable extent you pursued science and your studies outside of the “typical school day.” Ms. Schuette expressed the same. Creative thinkers and problem solvers, you did not back away from pushing yourselves whether it was auditing your families’ waste patterns to determine sustainable solutions or learning complex scientific processes with the resources you had available at home. Ms. Kane shared a story of three phenomenal girls- you know who you are. You never missed a zoom and asked to continue to meet in-person this fall moving the meetings from zoom to flex block. Ms. Kane proclaimed these students are some of the most empathetic, caring and personable people she has worked with as a teacher, remarking you actually cared to see if she was doing okay. I do not think the students realized these calls gave me purpose during isolation and made me feel less alone.” My colleague, Ms. Trionfi used two words to summarize our collective view that you are “determined,” having faced two years of loss, but being able to forge ahead, prepare for the future, while giving back to our community, and “special,” overcoming and meeting unforeseen obstacles and coming out stronger, wiser and with a newfound maturity. Last, but certainly not least, Ms. Theriault, your assistant principal, shared the other day at the Baccalaureate ceremony, that you are by far the nicest group of students she has ever worked with and remember that “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”
Echoed over and over again, I fielded the compliments from the RMHS staff that this is “my favorite class ever” and “I am going to miss them more than any other class before.” It is funny since as unbiased educators many followed with- they know they can not actually say that as they are not really supposed to choose favorites (but if they did this would be the one). Given my position and the reality that I am brand new to Reading, I guess I just had to say it for them. You are my favorite class from RMHS for all of the reasons they mentioned. I agree with all of their thoughts and have no doubt that these shared characteristics will lead to your success in the future whether you leave us to take a gap year, join the workforce, enlist in the military or attend college.
On part of the faculty, and wherever your path may lead, we ask that you always act with integrity; confidence and pride for you alone represent the potential greatness of the class of 2022 and the very best of the Reading School community. As we have not come to this place without assistance, please take the time to thank staff members, family and friends who have supported you along the way. Modeling, I will start us off by thanking Ms. Scouten, Mr. Strout and our outstanding facilities department for all of their work pulling together this ceremony to honor you. Please give them a very well deserved round of applause.
Remember Rockets, you always have a home here. Congratulations to you all and we wish you all a safe and relaxing summer!