By Laura Hayes, Contributing Writer
SHREWSBURY — Sitting in a sea of navy blue on the turf field at Shrewsbury High School, the Class of 2021 marked a lot of firsts in their school’s history.
They were the first class to have an outdoor graduation in about 40 years. They were the first class to have an outdoor graduation on the campus. And they were the first class in school history to have two valedictorians — Aryan Kale and Alyssa Guo.
“I was pretty nervous writing my speech, but then I remembered that [Principal Todd Bazydlo] told me that everyone is really only here to receive a diploma or watch a loved one receive a diploma and that no one is ever going to remember a word of what I say,” Kale joked.
The impact of COVID-19 was the topic of many of the speeches. Kale recalled the high school closing for cleaning in March 2020, not knowing it was their last day of junior year. It was, then, uncertain if they would even they would have an in-person graduation, Kale said.
“While COVID is still in the forefront of our minds, it will not be what defines our high school experience,” Kale said.
Guo, meanwhile, compared the seniors’ perseverance to her own experience as a figure skater.
“We’re not strangers to struggle, especially during the chaos of the last year, but all of us have persevered in one way or another,” she said.
Kale and Guo were two of 453 graduates who received their diplomas on June 4. Originally, graduation was to be held on June 3, but it got pushed to June 4 due to the potential of rain.
Superintendent Joseph Sawyer likened the challenge of forecasting the weather for graduation to the difficulty of forecasting the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two school years.
Sawyer said he wished their high school experience hadn’t been affected by the pandemic. Decisions had to be made how to educate the students, he noted.
“I’m quite sure that there were times when my decisions were imperfect and caused you frustration and difficulties. And for that, I’m sorry,” Sawyer said.
He commended the students and their families for the perseverance, just as he celebrated school staff for adapting to meet their needs.
The students are better equipped to adapt to challenges and drastic changes thanks to that work, he said.
“Here’s my final forecast for the class of 2021,” Sawyer added. “I’m predicting that you will live lives that will model respect and kindness, that use your knowledge and skills to make significant contributions to the well-being of others and your community, and that will make a positive difference to those who are fortunate to receive your friendship and love.”