NHS Class Of 2023 Overcomes Adversity For Final Time In Fitting End To High School Careers

David Creed •

2023 Graduation.
The Nantucket Class of 2023 Graduated Friday Evening. Photo by David Creed

The Nantucket High School Class of 2023 is no stranger to inconvenience. They’ve been forced to adapt to sudden change and less than ideal circumstances since their freshmen year in 2019-2020 as the COVID pandemic emerged.

So it was only fitting that this group of 143 seniors was tasked with managing an abrupt change in their graduation plans when they learned Thursday morning that their ceremony would be moved from Saturday morning to Friday evening due to poor forecasted weather over the weekend.

To the surprise of no one this group, as well as their family, friends, and loved ones, handled the situation perfectly. It made for a special night, and their ability to overcome sudden problems was a talking point amongst many of the speakers throughout the course of the evening who believe that ability will play a key role in each graduate's future success.

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Photo by David Creed

The night began with NHS principal Mandy Vasil thanking all of the graduates, their families, all of the teachers and helpers for their cooperation with the last-minute schedule change. She said that she felt this was ultimately the best possible outcome for this group, and the senior class voiced their appreciation for Vasil later on in the ceremony as they cheered her name during her closing remarks.

The Salutatorian Address was given by Ellie Kinsella, who was also named one of the two Nantucket Scholars by the Nantucket Golf Club Foundation in April alongside Wes Thornewill.

Kinsella said writing a speech was difficult because she didn’t know what the message should be. She told her classmates that there isn’t a singular message that pertains to each of them because everyone has their own unique story that got them to where they are today: a high school graduate.

She said the beauty of being human is being able to reflect on where you are on your own personal journey. She urged all of her classmates to reflect on their growth when they hit times of trouble to help them pave the path into their future.

“Whenever you feel like you’re trapped, reflect on yourself,” Kinsella said. “Who have you been in your past? I have not seen who you are on your own. I have not heard the voice in your head. Everything happens for a reason and when you find yourself lost, reflect on where you have been and every piece of yourself. Find a message that suits yourself best then.”

Ellie Kinsella
Salutatorian Ellie Kinsella after receiving her diploma.

Superintendent Beth Hallett followed Kinsella and told the class that they should be incredibly proud of themselves for getting through one of the most difficult time periods in recent memory. She told them that commitment to self and perseverance are like a dynamic duo of traits that will lead them to success.

“Believe in yourself. Trust your instincts,” Hallett said. “Things will not always be easy. That is where perseverance comes in. Dreams are those wild, audacious ideas that keep you up at night filling you with excitement. Don’t let anyone tell you they are too big or too impossible.”

“The world is waiting for you, your unique ideas, talents, and passion. Let your perseverance be your driving force. Go out and show the world what you’re made of – just don’t forget where you came from and who helped you along the way. Your family, your teachers, all of Nantucket. We are so proud of you.”

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Superintendent Beth Hallett addressing this years graduating class.

Sarah Swenson was the Valedictorian of this year’s class. She began by thanking her friends – calling them the bravest, kindest, most passionate people she knows. She thanked her teachers for always being there for her. She thanked her family, including her dog Tucker.

She reminded everyone that they all have people in their lives that they feel like they can’t live without. They have all had moments where they didn’t know what to do and leaned on others for guidance and assistance. She reminded her classmates that there will be plenty more of these moments awaiting each and every one of them moving forward.

“The rest of our lives wait beyond that fence,” Swenson said. “Together we are stronger than the sum of our parts. These next steps will be hard, but easier with those around you who love you. We all have the power to change the world, but the most important thing we can do is be that person for someone else to lean on. The most important thing you can be is kind.”

Sarah Swenson
Valedictorian Sarah Swenson receiving her diploma.

The commencement speaker for this year was Judine Somerville, who is a motivational speaker, singer, dancer, and performer. She quoted the Dr. Seuss’ book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! to begin her speech.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where to go.”

Somerville went on to explain a moment from her childhood where she was brought to tears as a 12-year-old while watching the Tony Awards on TV. When her mother asked her what was wrong, Somerville said “she had to be there.”

“She asked me where that is and I said Broadway,” Somerville said. Her mother responded by telling her that the sky is the limit to what she could achieve. She told the class that everything is possible when you believe and more importantly, when you believe in yourself.

She said for some their paths to where they want to go will be a straight line while for most it will be zig-zagged. She said her purpose for being at their graduation was to be inspirational, informational, and aspirational.

“Find out what you love to do in life, and you will never work a day in your life,” she said.

Judine Somerville
Commencement speaker Judine Somerville

Class President Lana Bresette and Co-President Kaleigh Flaherty-Washington gave closing remarks. They told their classmates that the world is constantly changing and evolving. It will present problems and setbacks for every one of them at some point in their lives – but both of them said they were proud to see classmates and teachers shine through some of the dark times of their high school tenure.

"We are proud to say we have been able to adapt to our circumstances, and they have us ready and prepared for anything,” Bresette and Flaherty-Washington said. “Never settle. Don’t get too attached to a plan. Let yourself make mistakes. Let yourself learn. Those moments are where you’ll learn the most.”

Lana Bresette
Lana Bresette celebrates after receiving her diploma.

They admitted that for the past 18 years, there has been a clear path for each of them as they navigated their way through school. Moving on, that won’t be the case. They’ll each pick their own unique paths. Some will go to college while other decide to enter the trades. Some will try one thing but move onto something else when that initial passion flames out or leads to failure. They said through it all, always remember your community.

“Nantucket is in us whether our next step is traveling or working, we will always have Nantucket with us,” they said. “Even if we never step foot on the Hy-Line or Steamship again, Nantucket will always be in you.”

Below are more photos taken throughout the ceremony.

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Ellie Kinsella
Salutatorian Ellie Kinsella after receiving her diploma.
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