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‘The world will never fix itself’: Monument Mountain celebrates class of 2024

"You began your high school career online, but you found a way to push through, and you did more than just rise to the occasion," retiring Principal Kristina Farina told graduates. "You've each demonstrated resilience in getting to this day. And it is this resilience that will enable you to find more successes and joys in your life ahead.”

Lenox and Great Barrington — Monument Mountain High School celebrated the accomplishments of 104 graduates in its commencement ceremony at Tanglewood on Sunday, June 2.

“So, you’re the class that started high school with [the pandemic],” Superintendent of Schools Peter Dillon told the graduates at the beginning of the ceremony. “We were quite nervous that you wouldn’t be grounded or connected. In spite of, or perhaps because of your unusual start, you’ve really come together as a class. You’ve impressed us with how you stood up for what you believe in and each other.”

Dillon shared a quote from the late basketball player and sports broadcaster Bill Walton: “Life is easy when you’re hot. But what happens when the ball bounces the other way? You just keep getting back up and climbing up.”

“We will miss you,” Dillon said. “The resilience and determination you’ve all shown will continue to serve well. Thank you for being you, for being good to each other, and for all you have contributed to Monument Mountain.”

Some of the many graduates at Monument Mountain High School’s commencement ceremony on Sunday, June 2. Photos by Shaw Israel Izikson.

This year’s Salutatorian, Madeleine Rocheleau-Holmes, will be attending Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, majoring in English and musical studies. “Recently, I listened back to my eighth grade graduation speech,” Rocheleau-Holmes said. “Throughout [the speech], there’s a palpable feeling over [being overwhelmed]. I hear a kid trying to compartmentalize her world into neat solutions. She’s scared and filled to the brim with stories on Instagram in the news and in daily statistics of death and loss. I tell my class that our generation can be the one to fix things, but I’m still standing on tiptoe to reach the microphone. Looking back, I’m nostalgic for a kind of simplicity I lost amidst the pandemic. And I want to reach into the scene to give myself and my classmates a hug.”

Rocheleau-Holmes’s speech was filled with nostalgia for her time at Monument Mountain, but she also spoke about moving forward into the world. “Good friends are worth the world,” Rocheleau-Holmes said. “You carry pieces of each other that otherwise would have been buried a long time ago. Pay attention to the right sort of stuff. With any luck, you’ll be brought back to simpler times and save some for later. Often, great power is harnessed partaking in the tiniest acts of curiosity. Joni Mitchell sums up this whole business of endings beautifully: ‘We can’t return. We can only look behind from where we came.’ And ‘don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ In the end, we hang on to these snapshots because it’s harder to say, ‘I really don’t know life at all.’”

This year’s Valedictorian, Ariel Caine, will be attending the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., to study Biology. Caine is an admitted “huge nerd and if you couldn’t tell a murder-mystery enthusiast,” lending the framework for her speech as a “murder mystery.” “So, someone or something has died, and the death of empathy and human connection is a frequent topic of conversation these days,” Caine said. “We’ll be exploring that death. Let’s look at some evidence: The main suspect in this death by many is social media. In the age of the internet, our facades are more important than ever. We are told to be our best selves, not for us, but to be admired by others. There’s a lot of moral panic around social media for the death of empathy, especially regarding the recent TikTok ban. And while I agree with some of the points made, I’m afraid that I’ve actually pulled a fast one on you. I don’t believe that we’re losing our humanity at all. I believe that we, as teenagers, have been more successful at resisting this pull than we are given credit for.”

“We are human. We have the inherent capacity for immense empathy even in the face of our mistakes,” Caine told the audience. “During my time in high school, I have experienced momentous highs and terrible lows, as I imagine many of us have. I’ve seen people here say absolutely vile things, get angry, defensive, and fight with each other. God knows I’ve said and done my fair share of nasty things, but I’ve also seen understanding. I’ve been complimented by students I barely knew, and I’ve had some of the most encouraging, passionate teachers ever. And even if I don’t always agree with them, arguments strengthen my own resolve. The discoveries I’ve made and things that I’ve learned have shaped me into the person that you see before you, and I know the same has happened with all of you.”

“The world will never fix itself,” Caine added. “We, as humans, have a duty to everyone else, or none of this works.”

The commencement ceremony was Kristina Farina’s last as principal, having announced that she would be retiring at the end of the school year. “Commencement is literally the beginning,” Farina said. “Beginnings can be exciting, but they can also be intimidating, scary, and overwhelming. I happen to share this new beginning with all of you as this chapter comes to a close. Regardless of what your experience at Monument was—one of many hurdles, many successes, many sorrows, or many joys, or more likely some combination of those—we are now leaving it behind to embark on our new journey. All of us will face hurdles and sorrows ahead, but I am confident in your ability to face these challenges. When I look back at my time spent with all of you, I’m not the same person that I was when you all began at Monument. And I’m sure that you are not the same people that you were when you began your journey. It is one of growth, and your growth will continue long beyond this experience. You began your high school career online, but you found a way to push through, and you did more than just rise to the occasion. You’ve each demonstrated resilience in getting to this day. And it is this resilience that will enable you to find more successes and joys in your life ahead.”

Some of the many graduates and audience members at Monument Mountain High School’s commencement ceremony on Sunday, June 2. Photos by Shaw Israel Izikson.
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