HATFIELD — “I’m nervous and excited!” Smith Academy senior Amanda Novak said minutes before she was due to address the crowd in her third honors capacity at her graduation Friday night. Her mission: to come up with something about each of her 40 classmates.
“Not that hard,” she laughed. “I’ve known her all my life. “Novak is going to Bentley University in the fall, taking with him one of the 40, Caden Guimond.
Aiden Pederson, basketball center and rebounder, will be majoring in sports management at ACC, but he’ll be spending the summers where he’s always worked, racing the go-karts at Pioneer Valley Karting down the street.
“A couple of us worked there – we all got each other jobs!” he said. They tend to get 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 has to be perfect. And the course has to be hot and humid.” Dobson’s Purple Falcon baseball team was scheduled to compete in the state tournament on Saturday.
An entire wall of Sherry A. Webb High School is covered in field hockey banners brought home by Webb and her charges, including the 1993 and 2000 state titles, both teams undefeated. Running under those fluttering flags were two harnessed dogs, Brinley and Luna, police comfort dogs well known to all hawks, who were brought there by school resource officer Monica Lavallee, who said: “We’re just here to support the children. “
Even the gym scoreboard in this sports-loving city showed 20-22 with 20-22 in play.
And talk about tradition. To the piano chords of Pomp and Circumstance, the graduates stepped through the venerable purple and white archway, slowly, deliberately, inch by inch, the young women all in white, the young men in purple, taking their places on the stage. If you’ve never heard Pomp and Circumstance before, these 22 repeated tones will surely stick to your eardrums now and forever.
“I learned how to have fun from Allie (Emrick),” Amanda Novak said in her speech, “from Lauren (Perkins), how to express herself. Julia (Dobson) told me how to listen, Tanner (Valentine) showed me there’s no limit to the number of bad jokes…”
Class president and co-salutator Maisy Dyer brought quantum mechanics into her speech, suggesting that the pandemic that broke out in March 2020 “could be viewed as a negative burden. The lack of laughter in this group was difficult. But we were part of a large group of 40 people that held us all together. On Senior Skip Day we went to the beach and dug a hole. All day! We could always make something out of nothing.”
Co-Salutatorian Lila Guzowski echoed that, saying, “In adversity we found strength.”
“Omigott!” exclaimed Valedictorian Sofia Pantlilio, realizing for the first time that her tenure at Smith Academy would be six years. “It seemed insurmountable. Now, for the first time in my life, four years of college feel like nothing.” Pantlilio had planned to spend the final 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 routinely achieves academic and athletic excellence — most of these seniors are graduates of Pro Merito and the National Honor Society — but the secret may lie in community support. Principal Conor Driscoll awarded no fewer than 72 scholarships, including the Hatfield Ancient Fyfe and Drum Award and the Edmund “Shipwreck” Jaworski Scholarship.
“You were my first class of kindergarten, adorable five-year-olds,” said Riley Malinowski, the school’s administrative assistant, choking on her opening remarks. “31 years ago I was exactly at this point. I was where your parents are now – both my boys graduated from here. Funny being alive,” she said, turning straight to the graduates, “It’s not just about what you know, it’s who you know. When you enter a room, light it up! But never forget where you are from, always remember to tell them how wonderful this place was.”
As for all of that ancient tradition, three young women wore purple – Panlilio, Lauren Perkins and Crista Kemp. “I’m non-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 first,” Perkins said. Meanwhile, a young man, Benjamin Carpenter, chose to go all white. “You wanted to say no,” said Panlilio, “but we had this letter!”