LAWRENCE — Lancer pride was on full display Saturday as Lawrence High School bid farewell to the class of 2021 in the city's first major in-person public event since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diplomas were handed out to 725 graduates at Veterans Memorial Stadium for students at Lawrence High School and the district’s high school programs, including LHS Upper School, Abbott Lawrence Academy, the High School Learning Center, International High School and RISE. Given the size of the graduating class, the ceremony was split into a morning and afternoon session. Each student was allowed four tickets, with graduates seated on the field and family members watching from the bleachers.
"It feels extremely exciting to celebrate the graduates," said Mayor Kendrys Vasquez, a member of Lawrence's class of 2004. "This is the biggest event the city has had during the pandemic. While we celebrate, it does feel great, but we have to be cautious about it. I am proud of all the new Lancer alumni and it's so exciting to celebrate with them. This class has been through a lot."
Superintendent Cynthia Paris was similarly "overjoyed" to address the class live, compared to last year's ceremony that was held virtually.
"The pandemic, to start with, hit this city harder than almost any in the state. It impacted our community in ways that too many other people will never grasp, but you understand all too well," the superintendent explained. "That insight — into how something as arbitrary as a town line can decide who has to go to work, how a child learns or if an athlete plays — is not something you asked for. But you have it, and now you have to decide how to use it."
Couple the pandemic with a summer of social unrest and the presidential election of 2020 and it was, as Paris described, "a lot."
"You aren’t just graduating from Lawrence High School," she said, "You are also graduates of the experience we know as 2020. Embrace your hard-earned diploma. Because despite what it may have felt like this past year, the future is not scheduled to take place remotely. Your life will not happen on Zoom. And you are most definitely not on mute. Go. Be brave. Be loud. Be heard. And always, always be a proud Lancer!"
Khang Le from the Upper School and Griselys Fermin from Abbott Lawrence Academy were both named class valedictorians, with Le delivering remarks during the morning ceremony and Fermin addressing classmates and their guests in the afternoon.
In her address, Fermin urged her classmates to remember their hometown of Lawrence as they go off to their post-graduate life.
"Life is all about perspective and it is important that we look at the good things even if it comes from the bad. Pain, struggles, and adversities are what form strength in people," she said. "So when you’re in college or pursuing future plans and feel like you’re not strong enough, think about the fact that you survived a global pandemic living in an underprivileged and under-resourced community like Lawrence....As you go off, begin to write your own chapters of that history textbook. Most importantly, remember to look back where you came from because that is where your strength blooms from, but don’t forget to look ahead because that is where your goals reside."