READFIELD — When Luca DeAngelis was drafting the remarks he would deliver at his graduation from Maranacook Community High School Sunday afternoon, he knew he didn’t want to give the “cookie cutter” commencement speech.

Instead, DeAngelis chose to highlight the way that fear — fear of climate change, of war, of the millions of forces seemingly beyond our control — can actually be a force for good, he said in an interview before the graduation ceremony.

What he didn’t know was that the worst mass shooting on American soil would take place early Sunday morning, when a gunman opened fire on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing at least 50.

Such a tragedy may have seemed like good cause to steer away from the subject of fear, but DeAngelis — the school’s valedictorian who will be heading to Bowdoin College in the fall — stayed the course. If anything, he argued, it’s a more relevant subject today.

He reminded his classmates that while some types of fear don’t make sense and can lead to awful things, others can drive us to be better, more productive and more ethical people.

“What the world is becoming frightens me. I’m talking bone rattled, can’t sleep frightened,” DeAngelis said. “I’m afraid we will have snowless winters in Maine. I am scared of rising oceans. I am scared of mass shootings and the police shootings and the school shootings. I am afraid of bombs and drone strikes and guns. I am afraid of divisive and hateful language.”

But while some of those fears can be “negative, irrational, poisonous,” DeAngelis went on, others can “lead us to work harder for change.”

He advised his classmates to “Leave today scared of the dark, but don’t leave afraid of your own power in this world. Nobody is fearless. Challenge yourself to admit your fears about the world and use them to sculpt your dreams of a brighter day.”

Dark though the backdrop for DeAngelis’ remarks may have been, he chose an appropriate theme for his talk. The class of 2016 was a risk taking bunch, according to Maranacook Community High School Principal Dwayne Conway. This year’s graduating seniors were not fearful of the work needed to make change in their lives and in the world.

“When I think of the Class of 2016, I think of a class that knows what they want and are not afraid to go after it,” he said in welcoming remarks during the graduation ceremony.

The 103 seniors who graduated Sunday morning were scattering to different destinations. Some were attending colleges and universities around Maine. Others were entering the workforce, Conway said, and many had taken advantage of a program with Thomas College that allowed them to get college credits while in high school.

For the first time in the school’s history, two students, Amy Lapierre and Reid Lanpher, were graduating with both high school diplomas and associate degrees in business from Thomas College.

“Reid and Amy are trailblazers in this area,” Conway said. “Just because it’s never been done before doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”

Almost 30 other graduating seniors have taken at least five classes for college credits, according to the printed graduation program.

Conway mentioned several other risk takers graduating this year: the football and basketball player who changed course his senior year and joined the Nordic skiing team, no matter how uncomfortable the one-piece ski suit was; the students who weren’t at the top of their grade academically, but raised awareness about issues such as substance abuse and pregnancy.

On a more lighthearted note, he mentioned the time a large dragonfly got into the lobby of the school.

“One student, Taylor Cray, took the greatest risk,” Conway said. “There was lots of screaming and yelling going on, but when I calmed down, I saw Taylor cup her hands around that dragonfly and set it free.”

As the graduating seniors were preparing to be set free, an art teacher who had been nominated to speak at their graduation, Linda Nichols, had other advice for them.

She urged the students to travel, even if it’s just to another part of the United States.

When you travel, she said, “The greatest thing you learn is that you are capable of doing it. Not only do you learn to appreciate the cultures of places you’re visiting, but more importantly, you learn about yourself. You learn you’re smart, courageous, you have the power to do anything you want.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker


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