A category filled with ‘grit’ Essex Tech celebrates 2021 grads | Native Information

DANVERS — Sitting in the stands of the Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School stadium Friday night, John and Sue Haladay witnessed a milestone that, up until recently, they weren’t sure they would be able to see in person.

After a year that included socially distanced driveway visits, holidays spent alone and and watching their grandchildren’s extracurriculars via Livestream, the proud couple saw their granddaughter, Taylor Fiore, walk across the stage and receive her diploma, bursting into cheers and applause as her name was called.

For Kylie Gale, of Salem, watching her brother, Thomas, graduate was the happy ending to a stressful year. Her brother, the captain of the football team, chose to do remote learning for the first half of the year after his father underwent a heart transplant.

The virtual format helped her brother mature and gain responsibility, Gale said.

“He’s grown so much, I am so proud of him,” she said.

Following 15 months of challenges and uncertainty, the spirit and determination of the Class of 2021 was celebrated and praised by the speakers during the regional technical high school graduation.

“I want you to know how proud I am of you,” Principal Shannon Donnelly told the class. “Whether your senior year consisted of hybrid learning, remote virtual learning, cooperative education or some mix of these, you were able to stick with it, work hard, and complete something that others could not.”

When times get tough, Donnelly said, she hopes the graduates will recall how hard they worked to be successful during this challenging year.

“As you leave us today, please remember you finished strong. Stand tall and proud as you go off to bright futures,” she said.

Keynote speaker state Sen. Joan Lovely, an alumna of Essex Agricultural and Technical Institute, offered the Class of 2021 three pieces of advice: Be a helper, take chances, and speak up.

In the hardest days of the pandemic, bright spots were seen when volunteers stepped up to make masks for those in need or fill the shelves of the food pantry, Lovely said.

“Give your time to others,” she said, adding that even a kind word and a smile can go a long way in helping another.

“Take big chances,” she continued. Apply for a job that you think is out of reach, or go after a dream that someone tells you is unachievable.

“The greatest risk lies in doing nothing,” Lovely said. “You will never know if you don’t try.”

She also told the class that some of the best advocates she has heard on Beacon Hill have been young constituents, who staunchly fight for issues they are passionate about.

“Each of you has a unique voice,” she said, “I hope you use your voices.”

Superintendent-Director Heidi Riccio told the class they have “grit.”

There are five characteristics of grit, she said, which they have shown repeatedly.

Courage, she said, such as when they made the choice to leave their home district to attend Essex North Shore, and then when they chose to join a club or a sport, or which program to enter.

The class also has conscientiousness, perseverance, resilience and passion, she said. “When the country was shut down, you continued to grow… You persevered through a global pandemic.”


The graduates and their guests also heard from fellow classmates.

Kevin Rush, an advanced manufacturing student from Salem, was the winner of the Massachusetts Vocational Association Outstanding Vocational Student Award.

Because of the education they received at Essex Tech — their academic studies and their career technical education — Rush said, the class is one step ahead of graduates from a traditional high school.

“Whatever career path we take, we will still always be successful and confident because of our experience learning a unique craft,” he said.

Salutatorian Ellie Clark, of Swampscott, urged the grads to keep in mind the lessons of patience despite the growing demand for instant gratification.

“We must trust that being patient for the right thing will always be worth it,” she said.

Valedictorian Molly McDonald, also of Swampscott, told classmates to think about how much they have grown over the past four years, and to remember the unique opportunities they were given at Essex Tech — such as the opportunity to work and get paid during school time or athletes practicing next to livestock and horses.

They must take their experiences and the skills they gained as they define the world they want to live in, she said. Over their four years of high school, society has seen a cultural awakening in numerous issues. Pursue your passion and get involved as you see fit, McDonald told her peers.

“We can all make a difference,” she said.

As the graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, some seniors were presented with theirs by family members who work at the school, but there was one moment that drew a standing ovation.

That was when the father of Theresa Joens, of Beverly, who passed away in 2019, was given her diploma posthumously.

Class President Tyler Geary, of Salem, closed out the evening with a farewell address.

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