HATFIELD – “I’m nervous and excited!” Smith Academy senior Amanda Novak said minutes before addressing the crowd at her graduation on Friday night as her third honoree. His mission: to find something to say about each of his 40 classmates.
“Not so difficult,” she laughs. “I have known them all my life. Novak is leaving for Bentley University in the fall, taking one of the 40 with her, Caden Guimond.
Basketball center and rebounding prop Aiden Pederson will major in sports management at the ACC, but he’ll spend the summer working where he’s always worked, with the karts at Pioneer Valley Karting down the street .
“A group of us worked there – we all got jobs!” he said. You tend to be pretty good at racing, Pederson said, “but this guy was the best.”
The guy was baseball star Samuel Dobson, who explained: “It’s the tire pressure – it’s got to be perfect. And the track must be hot and humid. Dobson’s Purple Falcon baseball team was scheduled to compete in the state tournament on Saturday.
An entire wall of the Sherry A. Webb gymnasium is covered in field hockey championship banners that Webb and his proteges have brought home, including the 1993 and 2000 state titles, both teams undefeated. Under those waving flags walked two harnessed dogs, Brinley and Luna, police comfort dogs well known to all Falcons, brought in by school resource officer Monica Lavallee, who said: ‘We’re just here to support the children.”
Even the gymnasium scoreboard, in this sports-mad town, had the score at 20-22 with 20:22 to go.
And talk about tradition. To the piano chords of Pomp and Circumstance, the graduates entered through the venerable purple and white arch, slowly, deliberately, one small step at a time, the young women in all white, the young men in purple, taking their places on stage . If they had never heard Pomp and Circumstance before, those 22 repeated notes will surely be stuck in their eardrums now and forever.
“I learned from Allie (Emrick) how to have fun,” Amanda Novak said in her speech, “from Lauren (Perkins) how to express yourself. Julia (Dobson) told me how to listen, Tanner (Valentine) showed me there’s no limit to the number of bad jokes you can have…”
Class president and co-salute Maisy Dyer brought quantum mechanics into her speech, suggesting that the pandemic that hit in March 2020 “could be seen as a negative charge. The lack of laughter with this group was difficult. But we were part of a big force of 40 that held us all together. On Senior Captain’s Day, we went to the beach and dug a hole. All day! We have always been able to make something out of nothing.
Co-salutatorian Lila Guzowski echoed that, saying, “In hardship we found strength.”
” My God ! valedictorian Sofia Pantlilio exclaimed when she first realized her stay at Smith Academy would last six years. “It seemed insurmountable. Now, for the first time in my life, four years of college feels like nothing. Pantlilio had planned to spend his senior year teaching children in Ukraine, but COVID-19 had other ideas. “And now it’s a war zone!”
It’s never been fully explained how the state’s smallest school district consistently achieves academic and athletic excellence — most of those seniors graduated Pro Merito and National Honor Society — but the secret may lie in community support. Principal Conor Driscoll has awarded no less than 72 scholarships including the Hatfield Ancient Fyfe and Drum Award and the Edmund “Shipwreck” Jaworski Scholarship.
“You were my first kindergarten class, sweet five-year-olds,” said Riley Malinowski, the school’s administrative assistant, choked up during her commencement speech. “I was at this exact point 31 years ago. I’ve been where your parents are now – my two boys graduated here. What’s funny in life, she says turning directly to graduates, it’s not just what you know, it’s who you know. When you walk into a room, light it up! But never forget where you came from, always remember to tell them how how wonderful this place was.
As for all that ancient tradition, there were three young women dressed in purple – Panlilio, Lauren Perkins and Crista Kemp. “I’m not binary,” Panlilio said, “so it made sense.” The three had to write a letter to the school committee to get approval. “I think we were the first,” Perkins said. Meanwhile, a young man, Benjamin Carpenter, chose to go all white. “They were going to say no, said Panlilio, but we had this letter!