Old Rochester Regional High School Principal Mike Devoll had so much to manage on Saturday that he forgot to give his opening remarks, but even after Valedictorian Rachel Perry spoke, he realized he had to take his turn at the podium because of what he needed to share.
Devoll recalled telling faculty and staff at the end of the school day on March 13, “I believe we will be in school on Monday — yikes!”
Friday the 13th became the last day that students were in Massachusetts public school buildings, but Devoll was thrilled to let everyone in attendance know that no one was left behind. For the first time in Devoll’s 12-year tenure as high school principal, every senior graduated; all 175 made it through the chaotic spring of 2020.
David S. Hagen Memorial Field was set up for ORR Commencement so that graduates arrived and left with their immediate households and, while on campus, were seated at tables socially distanced from one another on the football field. Faculty and staff served as greeters as two gates and pointed out directions from a seating chart for arriving graduates with their families.
The speakers sat along the first row of the home-side football bleachers, and the podium was on the 50-yard line.
Along with the valedictorian speech from Perry, ORR’s truncated graduation exercises featured short remarks by Devoll, Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson, senior class president Meg McCullough, and National Honor Society member Alexa Lyn McLeod, who introduced Perry.
Given the challenges of the spring semester, Nelson proclaimed the Class of 2020 “ready for anything.”
McCullough encouraged her classmates to stop and smell the roses, quoting from the ’80s comedy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when the lead character looks into the camera, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t look around, you could miss it.”
Knowing she was in for a very weird graduation exercises, Mattapoisett resident Mary Butler took it in stride. “I was just thinking, ‘What mask should I wear today?’ So weird. I kept it simple.” The 18-year-old National Honor Society member will attend UMass Amherst and major in bio-chemistry and molecular biology.
“I want to be a geneticist or do something in genetics. You can focus on medicine to prevent genetic disorders,” said Butler. “I need to do more research of course because I’m interested in the impact I can have on predicting… the science behind that.”
Butler played soccer, basketball and lacrosse and put up a 4.29 grade-point average.
Marion resident Lucas Costa, 18, will attend Worcester Polytechnical Institute and major in bio-medical engineering. He could wind up designing prosthetics or maintaining medical equipment in a hospital.
“I kind of just found it eventually,” said Costa, whose mother is a nurse and father works with vaccines in a pharmaceutical company. “So I kind of wanted a middle ground between that and something mechanical so I was just looking online like sophomore year, and found that on a job-career-finding site so I just stayed with it.”
Costa will attend WPI on campus, where multiple COVID-19 tests will be required each week. He will stay at the Hampton Inn next to the Worcester campus. There will be no small vacations; students on campus will remain there until Christmas break.
Costa, who plays trumpet in the jazz band, played soccer and tennis and also competed in swimming and track while at ORR. His 15-year-old brother David, who runs cross-country and plays tennis, will be a sophomore this year.
Marion resident Jackie Barrett, 18, finished more than 12 years in the ORR system, having started in preschool. When she was four years old, Barrett learned she has Type 1 diabetes.
Barrett, who took advantage of ORR’s first-ever endorsement of cap decorations with “2020 – NOW WHAT” on hers, intends to take a gap year and do internships while plotting her next move.
Luke Burke, 18, a school-choice student from West Wareham near the Rochester line, is well aware of all that’s gone in in the Tri-Town this year as the communities and his chosen school district has tried to confront racism.
“I feel like a normal person — not my experience,” said Burke, who admitted to having race relations on his mind some of the time. “A little bit, but (I’ve) just got to push it away and forget about it.”
In the winter, Burke will look to continue his basketball career at Bristol Community College.
In her seven-minute address, Perry, a school-choice student from New Bedford, summed up the sentiments that carried the day at ORR: “Tomorrow no one will remember this (speech), no matter how much I screw this up.” Quoting late civil-rights activist Maya Angelou, Perry said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
By Mick Colageo