By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — A gray sky threatening rain yesterday did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the Presentation of Mary Academy graduates, the first co-ed class in the school’s half-century history.
Thirty-two graduates received diplomas yesterday during the 52nd commencement at the Dupre Sports and Arts Center, including John Kahla, the first young man to graduate from PMA.
“It’s been a great time being here,” Kahla said after the ceremony. “I wasn’t feeling lonely at all, surrounded by all the students. We’re all close family here.”
Students and instructors used their speeches to urge the graduates to use the educational and moral grounding they received at the private Catholic academy to be agents of change, hitting on the theme time and again to describe the new nature of their school, their new lives and the evolution they have gone through over the last four years.
“PMA has taught us that we can change the world, and it has given us the tools to do so,” said salutatorian Margaret Tucker. “PMA has enabled us to be not only ourselves, but also our best selves by teaching us the value of community and the virtues of faith and service. Instilled in us is the confidence to take on the world and change it to become a better place.”
English teacher Greta Zygmont told them to remember the theme they had heard a lot over the years, “discover you,” because “it’s an important sense to have.” And rather than being narcissistic, the slogan should remind the young women and man that self-discovery is not a solo project. It is an endeavor influenced by the people and ideas nearby.
“We are all connected,” Zygmont said, choking back tears. “So when I talk about you, the graduates, I’m also talking about me. You have all played a fundamental role in each other’s consciousnesses and identities.”
“By discovering you, you discover the world,” she said.
Micaela Tobio, the class’s honor essayist, said “discover you” neatly described to her the process of growing up there. “High school is such a trying time for everyone, especially the teenagers that are struggling to find out who they are while being constantly bombarded by distractions and temptation,” she said. “PMA made it very easy and strongly encouraged us to try new things.”
Valedictorian Gina Amaral said the change they saw in school should be a lesson in what is to come. “Change is what life seems to be all about, though,” she said. “Just as we feel like we’re finally getting used to one thing, life decides it’s time for something else. Change can be overwhelming, yet it is inevitable.”
The next change for each of the graduates is a range of schools, including local institutions like Northern Essex Community College, Merrimack College and University of Massachusetts Lowell, to Regis College, Emmanuel College, Providence College, and even Hult International Business School in London and the University of Mostar in Croatia.
Head of School Rose Maria Redman, who handed out the diplomas, said the graduates qualified for $1.5 million in scholarships, with one of them receiving a full scholarship.
After the ceremony, Christina Beveridge, who will go to Newbury College for culinary arts, said she felt amazing on her last day at PMA. “It was a long and hard adventure in my life,” she said.
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