MONMOUTH — Monmouth Academy seniors who gathered for Sunday’s graduation were encouraged to remember where they come from regardless of where they are bound.

“To treasure ourselves, we must treasure our stories,” Valedictorian Adriana Ortiz-Burnham told her 58 classmates, as well as family and friends who packed the academy’s Stuart L. Foster Memorial Gymnasium. “We were nurtured by this small town, and it deserves our gratitude.”

Ortiz-Burnham was one of four student speakers, a group that also included honor speakers Hayden Koller and Melisa Brassard and Salutatorian Danielle Bumann.

Interspersed in between were a rousing rendition of “City of Lights” by the Monmouth Academy Concert Band and a stirring performance of Rufus Wainwright’s version of “Hallelujah” by the Class of 2013 Chorus members.

Later the seniors stepped down off the stage to present flowers to their parents in a tradition that is, at times, emotional. The full high school chorus fittingly followed the presentation with Corey Smith’s “I’m Not Gonna Cry.”

Brassard offered an extended allegory of high school played out as a basketball game.

“You’re in middle school, and the 15 minute warm-up clock starts to tick down,” Brassard said. “Across the court are your opponents, called high school. They’re extremely difficult. However, you have our teammates beside you.”

Each quarter represented a year that brought less fear, but more challenges, as the students struggled to keep up with whatever high school threw at them.

“Those missed open lay-ups, the wide-open three that circled the rim and bounced out, don’t let that discourage you,” Brassard said. “You will pass this quarter like you passed junior year.”

Sunday marked the final buzzer, and Brassard said she and her classmates had won the game.

“Unfortunately, our next game is against college, and they’re number one in the league,” Brassard said. “”But I know, in my heart, that each and every one of us will be champions.”

Bumann told her fellow graduates that entering the next phase of life will be challenging. She recalled an accident that damaged her car and left Bumann pondering the fragility of life.

“That remarkable moment of realization that nothing in life should be taken for granted,” she said. “It opened my eyes to the reality that it all could be gone in an instant.”

She encouraged her classmates to live every moment and to enjoy the beauty of creation around them.

“Be brave enough to savor each moment,” she said. “String them together to create a life worth living.”

Keller reminisced about his time helping teach science classes. Keller said he discovered that teachers have a difficult job and that their greatest reward comes when the students no longer need their help.

“It made me sad to think these kids didn’t really need me anymore,” Keller said. “That’s what this graduation represents to our parents and teachers. It is a moment in time letting them know that their job is done.”

Principal Richard Amero, who spoke briefly before handing out the diplomas, said he had watched many of the graduates grow up from little children. Amero, who has been principal for just two years, had many of the students as a teacher and a coach.

“If I tried to express how much your class means to me, I’d become an emotional basket case,” Amero said.

He said his years with the students, whether it was working through challenges or celebrating together, have taught him the young men and women are ready to move on and succeed.

“I know you’re all going to be just fine,” Amero said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
[email protected]

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