DANVERS — The Class of 2014 celebrated last night as the 100th class to graduate from the campus of the Essex Agricultural and Technical High, and the last class to do so.
From the tent on the lawn in front of Smith Hall, one could see across Maple Street where the $135 million Essex Technical High School is nearing completion. It’s a school this class will never attend, but the lower grades of Essex Aggie will, along with students from North Shore Tech and Peabody.
Still, last night’s ceremony was anything but a somber farewell to the school founded in 1913.
Students, staff, trustees, family and friends cheered loudly as speaker after speaker recognized the uniqueness of the small, state-owned, state-funded agricultural and technical high school, a vestige of an abolished county government. It drew from as far away as the Merrimack Valley, Newburyport and Gloucester, Stoneham and Saugus, and as near as the North Shore.
It was also a place of individuals who sacrificed much to go there, students said.
In a speech about individuality, valedictorian Oona King of Beverly won applause when she recounted how she visited a college in Pennsylvania where she was asked to leave a hall where an “informal” session was taking place because she was wearing jeans.
“I want no part of a school that judges their students on their appearance and clothing,” she said to applause. “Remember to stand up for what you know is right.”
“You are the last class of Essex Agricultural and Technical High School,” said animal science teacher Clarice Grima, a senior class adviser who read a speech with the class’s other adviser, history teacher Karen McKay. “The last group to join this elite alumni association, the one like no other.”
Going to Essex Aggie meant getting up at 6 a.m. and arriving home after 6 p.m. speakers said. It meant leaving friends in hometowns behind. But going to Essex Aggie meant getting a unique education, an opportunity to climb a tree, ride a horse, work with animals, study biology or environmental science, and pursue a career in their field of study, or not.