LAWRENCE — During its graduation yesterday, the Lawrence High School Class of 2011 celebrated its triumphs and hardships.
Misael Moscat, valedictorian for the Business, Management and Finance High School, spoke about his struggle to learn English and adopt to a new culture when he immigrated to the United States.
In addition he lived in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and missed many days of school, which he made up when he came to Lawrence High.
"I didn't let that stop me. My parents always said, 'education is the key to success' and I'm beginning to believe it," said Moscat who will study computer science at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell.
The Class of 2011 with its 586 students is the first to graduate after coming in as freshmen to the new Lawrence High campus. Another 60 students will get their diplomas in August.
In her speech, titled "New Beginnings," Kassandra Pirela told fellow graduates to see their future as a blank page.
"Write our own stories. Enjoy every day and take the path that leads to happiness. This is our time to shine," said Pirela, valedictorian for the International School.
One bit of advice Jennifer Cruz gave her fellow graduates was to "come back" to Lawrence High.
"Come back to show others that it is possible," said Cruz, valedictorian for Health and Human Services School.
In her address to the graduates, interim superintendent Mary Lou Bergeron said they were ready to lend a helping hand from the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, local floods and fires, serving at soup kitchens, hosting food and blood drives.
"Instead of turning a blind eye, they were there to help. Their humanity may be their biggest legacy," Bergeron said.
She also noted the students achieved academic proficiency; exceled in athletics with the wrestling team winning back-to-back Merrimack Valley Conference Championships for the first time and the first state wrestling championship in the school's history. Bergeron also praised the dramatic programs, the robotics team and the ROTC program.
When Mayor William Lantigua took the podium, he was booed by many and cheered by others. Speaking in Spanish and English, he praised the graduates, their parents and teachers.
"With these 586 students coming back in four years, we're going to continue to move the city forward," Lantigua said.
While there was no shortage of cheers, applause, whistling and the occasional air horn, the entire student body gave a standing ovation to three classmates with special needs — Cynthia DeJesus and twin brothers Danny and David Santiago.
Another set of twins Janina and Jerika Santiago, sat together after receiving for their diplomas from the Health and Human Services High School.
"It feels good because all the hard work we put into being here today paid off," said Janina, who played volleyball, basketball and softball. Jerika also played softball and volleyball. They will both attend Springfield College where Janina will study sports management and Jerika will major in psychology.
Several of the graduates decorated their caps with jewels, funny faces or airbrushed their names on it. Osmilka Reyes simply wrote on it, "Free at Last."
"I finally made it after four years here," said Reyes who will study at Middlesex Community College.
Before the ceremony, Francis Spraus spoke about how her survived a near drowning in the Merrimack River that claimed the life of four of his friends.
"I don't talk about it but it made me care more about life," said Spraus, who at 6'1'' was a standout on the Lancers basketball team.
"This diploma is for them also because of them, I decided to go to school. It seems like it was yesterday when I was a freshman and here I am ready to go to college."
Suleika Maldonado can sympathize with Spraus. Her sister, Nayelin Encarnacion, 12, drowned at Hampton Beach, N.H. while on an outing with Suleika, brother Walter Maldonado and several friends.
"I'm getting better," she said of the ordeal. One memory of her high school years will always be the teachers and friends she made.
"The people I meet here made me the person that I am today," said Maldonado who will major in French and political science at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Thao Nguyen agreed.
"They (the teachers) helped me a lot. It was more than teaching me in the classroom, but about every day life. Because of them, I liked high school," who graduated with distinction in the Math, Science and Technology School.
Shayna Rivera did not see graduation as an end.
"This is a finish, but also a start to something new. It means that college is right around the corner," said Rivera who will attend Farleigh Dickinson to study criminal justice and forensic psychology.
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