They began their high school careers four years ago to the bouncy optimism of Pharrell Williams’ Happy. On Wednesday, they ended it on a sober note more familiar to the Class of ’69, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.
On cue, Morristown High School Principal Mark Manning exhorted 461 graduates-to-be to rise inside the steamy Mennen Arena and sing along to the Rolling Stones’ hit from a half-century ago.
If a theme flitted through the commencement speeches, it was this: Finding oneself may take time, and the journey won’t always be pleasant. But making it this far is a pretty good start.
CELEBRATION: Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover on images for captions:
“Together, we were Neanderthals, easily confused, ignorant of the customs of MHS society, and oblivious to the challenges that lay ahead,” said Valedictorian Anna Cliche, remembering freshman days.
Yet the Class of 2019 gradually started “to grow into the people we wanted to become.
“Every challenge that we faced, no matter how seemingly insignificant, taught us something. When they locked the bathroom at lunch, we learned to plan ahead. When phones became contraband, we were no longer distracted from learning by our phones, but by socializing with each other,” said Cliche, who will study engineering at Cornell University.
Coping with an ever-changing world is tough, said Morris School District Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast, noting parental pangs over his own child’s recent graduation.
He advised gratitude, and holding onto life lessons learned at Morristown High.
“Taking care of each other is timeless,” Pendergrast observed.
“If you anchor your life, in taking care of each other, taking care of your family, and taking care of your community…if you make positive relationships, you’re a constant. Then, navigating change will not only seem much more possible, but certainly much less daunting,” the superintendent said.
GRADS: Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover over images for captions:
Salutatorian Abby Gringeri, who is bound for biochemistry studies at the University of Pennsylvania, searched for metaphors to describe “four years of wandering around the halls looking for answers.”
She concluded with a wish for her classmates always to “keep high school in your back pocket,” focusing on the future while “keeping the good memories tucked in the recesses of your heart.”
The MHS Chorale sang Time of Your Life (Good Riddance), and band director Michael Russo conducted Pomp and Circumstance for the last time. Retiring after 18 years at the high school, Russo was honored along with fellow retirees Kathleen Wood (40 years), Barbara McNally (21 years) and James Vincent (11 years).
School board members were joined behind the speakers’ podium by dignitaries from the high school’s three sending municipalities, Morristown (Mayor Tim Dougherty), Morris Township (Deputy Mayor Cathy Wilson) and Morris Plains (Mayor Jason Kaar, Morris Plains Schools Superintendent Mark Maire).
Seated in front of Dougherty for the first time was his town attorney, Vij Pawar, elected to the board of education last fall.
The packed Morris Township rink heard welcomes and class reflections from Student Government President Isabella Galinkin and Class President Alexander Arenas.
After the 90-minute commencement, many students were headed to the Cosmopolitan banquet hall in Wayne for an all-night Project Graduation party featuring laser tag and a hypnotist, said parent and organizer Tracy Matalon.
POMP: Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover over images for captions:
But first, there was that golden oldie sing-along, in front of eight alumni of the Class of ’69.
Principal Mark Manning, whose son Sean was among Wednesday’s graduates, reminded the Class of ’19 that, believe it or not, “no one expects you to know everything, or to be clairvoyant. No one expects you to have your future entirely figured out.”
Humans “need to see beyond the impediments that always seem to imprison us,” Manning insisted.
You can’t always get what you want, in other words. But like that septuagenarian Mick Jagger put it during the Summer of Love…
…if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.