LOWELL — The class of 2018 tossed up their graduation caps in a confetti like flurry Monday night as they celebrated the end of their high school career and the beginning of something new.
About 2,500 graduates, teachers, administrators, family and friends came together Monday afternoon at the Tsongas Center to celebrate the graduation of Andover High's class of 2018.
Glen Johnson, a 30-year journalist for organizations including the Boston Globe, Associated Press, the Salem News, and the Lowell Sun, was the commencement speaker at the ceremony. Johnson graduated with the Andover High class of 1981.
"Don't be afraid to take risks," Johnson said. "You have a broad, loving safety net behind you."
Years into his career as a journalist, Johnson said he took a risk of his own by leaving a job with Boston.com to become a senior State Department adviser for John F. Kerry.
"Don't be so content with your life that you aren't willing to make change," Johnson said. "Those four years were the most exhilarating, if not exhausting, in my life. I got to see things and do things I had dreamed of."
Johnson also encouraged graduates to consider incorporating service into their careers.
"One of the things that has been constant in my professional life is that I have not been chasing the dollar," Johnson said. "Each vocation was a form of public service. As a reporter nothing was more meaningful than hearing about something wrong and using research to fix it."
Service proved to be a theme at the ceremony. Superintendent Sheldon Berman praised the class for their volunteerism and activism, and highlighted several national tragedies students in the class of 2018 took to heart. He pointed to $20,000 students and staff across the district raised for hurricane victims this fall and to the initiatives students took this spring in asking local legislators to push for gun safety in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting.
"You responded with passion, thoughtfulness, and committed to make a difference," Berman said of students who marched, held discussions, and participated in a school walkout this spring in the name of gun safety. "You not only stood up, but registered to vote. I am so very proud of the courage you have shown this year. You are a diverse and talented class. I am confident you will achieve things in your career that will make our world a more safe, just, ecologically stable place."
Charlotte Lowell, a student who was outspoken in advocating for gun safety legislation this spring, gave the class essay.
"You may wonder how you made it through these last four years where you discovered passions, talents and dreams," said Lowell. "You faced challenges and overcame them. You know how to empathize. You know how to find courage within yourself. You know how to connect to others and support each other. You know how to create art, energy, and change."
She added, "There is a whole ocean out there class of 2018. Let's explore it."
Members of the graduating class were also praised by Principal Philip Conrad for a long list of weighty, significant academic, athletic, artistic, musical, and service related accomplishments including sports championships and the success of the High School Quiz show team.
Conrad also somberly reflected on the absense of Kristen Stark, a member of the class of 2018 who committed suicide in 2016.
"Remember Kristen," Conrad said. "We wish you were here."
Assistant Superintendent Nancy Duclos, who will retire this summer, told students to reflect on their time at Andover High, how they had grown, and to remember the lessons they had learned in the coming years.
"Whether you are leaving the school system after one year, 13 years, or something in between, a new world awaits," Duclos said. "Let's take a moment to reflect on our successes, on our challenges, and all we have learned about ourselves. Think about the times you have walked away thinking, 'Holy cow, I just nailed that.' You deserve to smile big. Balance this with memories of times you missed the mark. Give yourself a big phew. Finding perspective in the past helps shape decisions of the future."
The class of 2018 valedictorian was Alexander Shih and the salutatorian was Elise Minor.
Follow Kelsey Bode on Twitter @Kelsey_Bode.