As the second class to graduate from the newly-built $197.5 million Newton North High School, this year's senior class remembered the unity and accomplishments they shared together at their Wednesday night graduation.
The new Newton North High School is the most expensive public school in Massachusetts history, and opened after 10 years fraught with controversy and soaring costs as a $40 million renovation project developed into a completely new school.
But the students who enjoyed two years at the new high school cited the pride this year's senior class felt as Newton North students.
"We were involved - and not just in extra-curriculars," senior speaker Lena Golick said. "We are part of the community. But now we must separate; now we must leave the nest."
As the sole class who spent equal time in both the old and new high schools, for some, the new state-of-the-art building - complete with floor-to-ceiling windows, open hallways, technologically-savvy whiteboards and cutting-edge sporting equipment - defined happiness in the class of 2012's upperclassmen years.
"It was really big compared to the old high school - there were more windows, a lot of light, and it felt like a college campus," said senior Anastasia Mashtaler before the ceremony began. "We got to start over and leave our own mark. Everyone said they were jealous of our high school - they called it the Taj Mahal."
Ted Hess-Mahan, a Newton alderman, also touted the new school building and how it influenced the youngsters' education.
“Congratulations to the Newton North class of 2012 - you are worth every dollar of the $197.5 high school,” Hess-Mahan joked, adding a shout-out to his graduating son. “Corey, you gave us a real run for our money pal, but you made it, and your mother and I could not be any more proud of you as we are tonight."
Still, others referenced the old high school in tones of nostalgia.
Golick recalled how she spent the first days of her freshman year in a whirlwind as she tried to demystify a seemingly erratic schedule, met new students in her classes, and navigated the halls of old Newton North.
"We spent two years in the old building, and two years in the new building," Golick said in her speech. "The old Newton North was organized by color and was confusing as can be, but I know we all miss it a little bit."
Golick also touted the class’s achievements as a whole, and urged her classmates to approach college with the same tenacity as they approached high school.
"As upperclassmen and leaders, we not only got involved, but we went above and beyond," Golick said. "We were team captains, presidents of clubs, leads and directors in plays. Some of us even started our own businesses and charity… We own more orange clothing than any human being should be required to wear, and we’re OK with that."
Jonathan Paul Roby, the senior class president, said he felt honored to represent such an accomplished and unified class.
"I cannot count the number of times teachers approached me commenting on the unity in our grade," Roby said. "Our efforts and hard work have not gone unnoticed."
He said to commemorate the solidarity of this year’s class, the seniors will plant bushes spelling out "NNHS" on the hill overlooking the school's multipurpose field.
"Our gift will adorn the field and remind everyone how the class of 2012 truly embodied the NNHS spirit," Roby said to uproarious applause.
History teacher Elisabeth Scharlack, who is retiring this year after an 11-year run teaching at Newton North, told the students that it was okay to feel a bit lost as they embark on their future paths.
After all, Scharlack herself did not become a teacher until trying out two different professions first, she said.
“You don’t need to have a great life plan mapped out – it’s unrealistic to think we have that much control over life,” she told the graduates as they sat patiently, clad in all-black caps and gowns. “But what to do next, is attainable.”
Scharlack also urged the students to constantly identify their passions during daily work and life.
“Look for your passions… but don’t expect them to remain the same forever,” Scharlack said. “There’s a lot of stuff out there.”
Matt Hills, a School Committee member and parent of graduating senior Ben Hills, said the class has worked hard to graduate from one of the nation's best school systems – a school system that emphasized a well-rounded education to provide students with more opportunities.
“To all graduates, you have a lifetime to explore, and I hope your Newton education will help to make your possibilities seem limitless,” Hills said.
Newton North High School Principal Jennifer Price also touted the importance of the seniors' education, and told the students that while Wednesday's graduation might feel like an ending, it is actually just the beginning of the young teenagers’ lives.
“We are confident that you, class of 2012, are ready to begin this journey,” Price said. “You have learned from each other, your teachers and counselors, and we have learned from all of you. And in end, you have learned that learning truly sustains the human spirit.”
Newton Mayor Setti Warren also showered the graduates with advice, outlining how his Newton North education has helped him to succeed, and telling the students a story about his parents’ decision to move to Newton and fight for civil rights during a time of racial disparity.
“If there’s a difficult situation, make the choice to hang in there and tackle them head on,” Warren said. “Remember this day and the values that made this community what it is.”
And, according to students in the class itself, these young graduates should expect no less than to reap the benefits of the hard work they will undoubtedly perform in the years to come.
"Four years from now, when you look back on you college career, you should be proud," Golick said. "You should have accomplished something greater than the average students - because we are Tigers. We are anything but average."