WESTFORD ACADEMY: Despite Adversity, Class of 2020 Demonstrates Resilience at Graduation Ceremony

Subscribe now to our free daily alerts for all your Westford news.

Quoting from an online article, Westford Academy Principal James Antonelli kicked off the long-delayed Class of 2020 graduation ceremony with this: “One of your main jobs in life is to become an expert in dealing with adversity…” And deal they did.

The 429-graduating seniors finally got a graduation ceremony on Aug. 7 at Trustees Field. In mid-March, the class had been swept into an unprecedented viral pandemic that overpowered the end of their school year with lost opportunities. Postponed or canceled were their June 5 graduation, a Memorial Day class trip to Disney World, spring sports, a lock down overnight event, called Last Night, and a prom at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston.

‘); ?> [Continue below]

Despite the two-month lag, the ceremony went smoothly. Every student’s name was spoken. A band composed of seniors performed “The Good Old Days,” by Macklemore and Kesha. The WA Trustees awards were distributed by Geoffrey Hall, president. Parents cheered for their children. Those who couldn’t attend, watched a WestfordCAT live stream at home.

But there was no denying the COVID-19 virus is still in charge. Everyone at the graduation wore a face mask, and social distancing rules meant the entire Trustees Field was filled with chairs positioned widely apart. Family members sat behind netting on the edges of the field.

Antonelli thanked many who made the day happen, including the “dedicated maintenance and custodial staff members,” his assistant Hilary Langille, his leadership team of deans, guidance director Wendy Pechacek, athletic director Jeff Bunyon, and “a wonderful and committed group of faculty members that truly care about each and every student in their classsrooms,” he said.

Two of those students shared the valedictorian honor. Grace Pu is on her way to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Isabella Xu will attend Washington University in St. Louis this fall.

Pu is “brilliant” and “exceptionally talented,” according to Pechacek. She called Xu “creative, tenacious, enthusiastic and gifted.” Pu is planning a career in artificial intelligence. Xu will explore a career in medicine.

The honors choir, directed by Karen St. George sang the school’s Alma Mater. Emily Blagg was the 2020 class speaker.

Blagg praised her educators for teaching her and her fellow students about “ethics, morals, love, loss, triumph and sorrow.” She said by encouraging discussions — sometimes heated — in the class room, the WA students learned about the elements of life.

“Four years worth of learning, changing, growing, and living. Although we will walk away from WA equipped with a broad scope of knowledge thanks to our incredible teachers, much of this change and growth is a product of lessons learned from one another,” Blagg said.

Superintendent Everett V Olsen Jr. praised the students for their “inspirational strength and resilience.”

“Sometimes, what divides us brings us closer together,” he said. Olsen ended his presentation by reminding the class that “one smile makes a friendship, one subeam lights up a room…one touch can show you care.”

Class president Matt Wasylyshyn delivered the final speech with optimism. “No one knows what the Class of 2020 will do. But I believe we’ll stand out in some way, given our unique experiences here at WA.”

Wasylyshyn was first elected as class president in his freshman year and every year thereafter.

“We walked through those doors as wide-eyed freshmen almost 10 iPhone versions ago,” he said. “…As a community, you cultivated us to grow strong and you nudged us to do better.”

A rain cloud that earlier had left puddles on the chair seats was giving way to a dry afternoon, perhaps reminding the audience and students of the article Antonelli had referenced at the beginning of the ceremony. It was on overcoming adversity.

Quoting from the article written by inspirational speaker Brian Tracy, Antonelli said,”…in dealing with adversity, perhaps one of the most important positive affirmations you can remember is…’This, too, shall pass.'”