METHUEN — This year's 509 Methuen High graduates soaked in sunshine and sage advice Friday night at Nicholson Stadium.
Speakers — including Mayor James Jajuga, newly named Superintendent Brandi Kwong, and Principal Richard Barden — urged the teens to take control of their future with consideration of lessons that have already passed.
"You control your own destiny," Jajuga said, reminding them also to stay curious, stay human and ask questions.
"Treat everyone fairly and equally," he said. "The person in the mail room is as valuable as the CEO. Never forget that."
For Principal Barden, a Methuen High graduate himself, the occasion came full circle in many ways.
The Class of 2019 is the first he's watched — as principal — navigate Methuen High for four years. The graduation ceremony was similar to his first meeting with the group.
On a Wednesday in April 2015, he stood in front of the now graduates, also with their parents nearby. Everyone was equal parts excited, nervous and unsure of what was ahead.
"So much of it was the same as tonight," he reminisced. "But I stand here tonight more confident, just as I hope you are."
Valedictorian Thomas Langston Barry shared his personal, full circle moment with the crowd. He delved into his battle with a learning disability that altered his educational journey early.
"Another place and time and I could have been shoved along and dumped into mediocrity," he said. "But not in Methuen."
He praised the supportive teachers and school leaders who fought alongside him for his success and eventual earning of the top academic title, valedictorian.
"As you go off, remember standing here today, and that you didn't get here alone," he said.
Salutatorian Sara Nicole Fragione — who was also named this year's Eagle-Tribune Student Athlete of the Year — touched on the lasting importance of the city in her speech.
"This place and these people are your home," Fragione said of Methuen. "Make your home proud."
After graduation, Methuen's newest graduates will start careers, head to colleges and universities, and serve their country in several branches of the armed forces: The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, National Guard, Marines and Army.
Whichever way the students go, the mayor reminded them of the permanence of home.
"All of you," he said, "are forever Rangers."
NUMBER OF GRADUATES: 509
VALEDICTORIAN: Thomas Langston Barry
SALUTATORIAN: Sara Nicole Fragione