This year’s East Boston High School graduation looked a lot different than the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 during the height of the pandemic. Last year, the usual graduation exercises at East Boston Memorial Stadium were cancelled and graduation for seniors was replaced with a socially distanced ‘drive-by’ graduation in front of the high school on White Street. However, on Friday at the stadium nearly 300 EBHS seniors walked the stage and received their diplomas from Headmaster Phil Brangiforte.
The graduation exercises included speeches from Brangiforte, Boston Public School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, Valedictorian Paola Andrea Ruiz Manrique, Salutatorian Anirichna Sophorlrath and a keynote address from former EBHS teacher, current Boston City Councilor and Mayoral Candidate Anissa Essaibi George. “Four years ago, all of you – the members of the Class of 2021 – began your journey as freshmen at East Boston High School,” said Brangiforte.
“In that time, I have watched you grow from excited and energetic adolescents to mature and responsible young adults – ready to face life’s adventures and make your mark on the world. Looking to the future, you will be faced with many difficult decisions. So cherish what you have learned from high school; seek positive role models, and use good judgment, because the choices you make will shape your lives forever.” Brangiforte said these past 18 months have been an incredibly difficult time for all of the students and staff.
“Many of you have not stepped foot in our school since the pandemic began,” he said “Feeling alone, not being able to socialize with your friend in person, constant zooms, long winter days and canceled events. I am truly sorry you were not able to enjoy your final year of high school the way classes before you have. But I want to express my sincere gratitude for all of your efforts during one of the most difficult times in our country’s history. Setting that alarm every day, turning on your computers, writing those papers, and studying for your tests is a testament to your hard work, independence, and perseverance. You are all brave. You are all courageous. And you are all my heroes.”
Valedictorian Ruiz Manrique said she was grateful for all the teachers she met in the past four years and helped her succeed and grow. “I want to specifically thank a few..Mr. Arinella, Coach Kane, Mr. Morse, Mr. Dalzon, Ms. Puopolo, and Mr. Lepak that helped me feel welcomed and cared for everyday,” she said. “You became my hope. Lastly, I want to thank the people who were literally next to me every step of the way, my daily reminders of hope. As we walk through tough unforeseen seasons we consistently and constantly choose resilience in the face of adversity.” Salutatorian Sophorlrath said thanked all the administrators, teachers, lunch mothers, janitors, and staff for providing students with a safe and nurturing learning environment over the past four years.
“I also want to thank all my friends and family for supporting me throughout my high school career and making me the person I am today,” said Sophorlrath. “I dedicate this speech to you—the graduating Class of 2021. On March 17th, 2020 it was announced that schools would close down and remote learning would begin. It was a day that changed the lives of everyone. We all had plans, ambitions, and experiences that we looked forward to doing that year, but it was all shattered by the Covid-19 virus, which caused this global pandemic that we are still fighting to this day. This virus took the lives of many people, and it has caused a great deal of pain in our hearts.” Sophorlrath said students faced many hardships, obstacles and challenges that tested their limits.
“Many of us fought through stress, anxiety, and depression, which inhibited us from doing our best,” said Sophorlrath. “Many of us lost motivation and hope, and sank into despair, fear, and loneliness. Sometimes, it was hard for us to wake up to continue on. I know on some days, I found it difficult to pay attention during some of my classes, and I am sure that many of you did as well. It’s understandable, because this was an incredibly difficult experience. But even with the extraordinary obstacles we faced, we stayed strong, adapted to our new learning environment, and continued to persevere.” In her keynote address Essaibi George said all seniors had to overcome so many barriers to be able to walk across the stage Friday. “Each and every one of you needs to revel in this moment and be proud of yourself,” said Essaibi George. “I am proud of you. We are all so very proud of you. That is the Eastie way. You have worked hard to get here – and although sometimes you have felt alone, felt you were carrying all of it alone, please know we have been here with you. We will continue to be here with you, and you must continue to be with each other. When we’re together, when we work together, when we lift each other up, when we take pride in our community that is when the magic happens. I feel that here today — that special magic — that endless pride — the Eastie way.”