One week after a devastating tornado ripped through their town, the seniors of Monson High School are now graduates. Their graduation was supposed to happen last weekend, but they have spent this past week helping out those among them who lost their homes. On Wednesday night, much of the town gathered on a hill overlooking a soccer field to honor the graduates.
The whole town knew that Gov. Deval Patrick would be with them to celebrate the class of 2011, and people were split on whether his visit was appropriate.
Graduating senior Luke Sullivan thought it was a great idea.
"I think it shows that our government cares about our town, even though it doesn’t seem like we’re on the map most of the time. I think it shows that we’re not really ignored," Sullivan said.
For some people, graduation was the first chance they had to reconnect with friends and recount what happened to them the day the tornado came.
But others felt that the students deserved this day to themselves, free of interference from the political world. And for a while, the world did interfere.
"There has been a suspicious device left on the field. As soon as we get the clearing, we will let people in," a voice announced through the loudspeakers.
Everyone had to wait for the bomb squad to finish checking a package before heading onto the soccer field.
Once the suspicious device was found to be harmless, Chris Haley found a seat. He wore a kilt and on his knees, held the bagpipe he would play later for his son’s graduation. He, too, found the governor’s visit was an unnecessary intrusion.
"It’s just been crazy all week long, and that craziness today could have been a little less crazy, I think," Haley said.
Everyone brought memories of the tornado. Ann Scirocca wore one.
"I’m actually wearing the dress that I wore on the tornado day when I had to climb up the hill over trees and mud and stuff to get to our house," Scirocca said.
"Our house only had minor damage, but all the trees around it, the road was closed. All the big maples had fallen down and taken down all the electrical lines."
It took several washings, but the yellow dress was spotless for Scirocca to watch her daughter Amelia graduate.
For some people, graduation was the first chance they had to reconnect with friends and recount what happened to them the day the tornado came. Nick Joseph was telling his friends about coming home to find his house destroyed.
"There’s a lot of people here, a lot of the town coming out, and obviously this kinda means more to the town than just graduation," Joseph said.
As the graduating class president, Nick’s brother Alex got to address everyone.
"Being a victim myself, I’ve had friends, family, even teachers stop by to lend a hand. As a class, we have made great strides to help others whom we do not even know. The same selflessness is evident throughout our community, and I am proud to know these people, for they are good people doing great things for others," Alex said.
Monson High School’s principal was clearly moved by the volunteerism that the senior class demonstrated over the past week. Andrew Linkenhoker told them that the graduates of previous years are elevated by having the class of 2011 join their ranks.
"Tonight, I stand next to a group of graduating seniors, and I am proud to call them Monson High School’s greatest class," Linkenhoker said. "The events of this past week transformed these graduates from mere high school graduates to mature young adults. Students banded together and started distributing meals to residents who lost their homes. Students gathered chainsaws and other equipment to clear total strangers’ property."
Patrick seemed mindful that some people thought he might be intruding, and he stuck around just long enough to offer the students a word of hope.
"What you have experienced this week in this place, in your homes and in your lives, is not just about devastation. It’s also about the power of kindness, and if you pass that on, the world will be better," Patrick said.
Throughout the ceremony, it seemed that Monson just couldn’t get a break from the weather. Storm clouds threatened and fat raindrops fell as if to warn of a downpour. They remained occasional raindrops until the ceremony concluded, the students had a chance to hug their proud parents, and everyone had time to find shelter.
This program aired on June 9, 2011.