Graduation Speakers Urge Class of ’24 to Embrace an Uncertain Future

June 7, 2024

Speakers at Thursday’s 67th Bedford High School commencement didn’t collaborate on their messages, but the theme was nevertheless consistent: Embracing an uncertain future.

Almost 200 new BHS alumni emerged from the almost-90-minute ceremony at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell’s Tsongas Arena.

It was a personal milestone for Heather Galante, BHS principal since 2016. Her daughter Cate was president of the Class of 2024, and thus was the last of the 199 seniors called to receive a diploma from School Committee Chair Sarah Scoville – who stepped aside so the principal could make the presentation, followed by a mother-daughter embrace.

Neither Galante made a specific reference, but the principal, in her welcoming remarks, acknowledged that this commencement is “pretty emotional for me. I have known so many of you since your elementary years.”

In her main address, Heather Galante told the graduates that “life is not like a GPS. It’s not like we can put ‘destination: future’ into Google Maps. That would be too easy and less interesting. Your journey to success, your story, can be messy.”

She provided some examples of “people who traveled in unexpected paths,” including her own. Galante said she was a math major anticipating a career in a business path, but a course that brought her inside a classroom inspired her to become an educator.

Cate Galante’s focus was to “look at failure as a path to success.” She cited a couple of her own failures: playing lacrosse and taking the driver’s license road test.

“In order to grow and explore yourself further, you must grant yourself permission to fail, and surround yourself with others who give you permission to do so,” she told her classmates. “You cannot and will not be perfect in everything you attempt. But the goal is that you will not fail again.”

“I hope you approach every success and failure with that same sense of enthusiasm and grit,” Galante said.

Aleksandr Ryabinkin’s graduation essay was titled, “The Unique Truth and Clichés.” He said he planned to embrace individuality in his message and avoid the familiar clichés. But he said he discovered that “life will lead us back to the same universal truths.

“In a world that increasingly turns inward on itself, why was I so against writing something that we could all resonate with?” Ryabinkin asked. “Clichéd phrases are truths worth repeating until they are a guiding principle.”

He urged classmates to “actively challenge your mind to become someone not only enriched by intellect and self-awareness, but also by profound kindness. Even though we may have our own struggles and aspirations, we are bonded, united by our shared experiences.”

Social studies teacher John Wysokowski, the faculty speaker chosen by the graduating class, advised the group that “there are many times in your life when you won’t know.”

He recounted his personal story: a college major in saxophone performance that came to a crashing stop when during the second semester of his freshman year, “I pushed myself too hard and suffered a nervous breakdown. I was a failure. What would I do now? The truth was: I didn’t know. I hit a dead end and it hurt.”

But “I didn’t know then that this end was a beginning,” Wysokowski continued. “When it comes to the future, the bad news is we can’t know what the future will bring. The good news is we can’t know what the future will bring.” Beginnings, he said, are both exhilarating and terrifying. New is how you grow.” He concluded, “You have given our community countless reasons to be proud of the graduating class.”

Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang offered the seniors three recommendations. “Make time to explore the world. Consider new places, people, perspectives. Through exploration, you will also learn more about yourself.”

His second point was “Contribute to something you care about.” That can include “simply being kind and compassionate. Finally, remember you are not alone. A whole village played a part in helping you get to this moment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

One new feature was “walk-up music,” snippets of appropriate songs introducing each speaker. The arena’s Jumbotron was busy in the hour before the ceremony, interspersing video messages of congratulations from teachers and staff with photographs of groups of the seniors.

Most graduates decorated their mortar boards, some quite ornately. Although most of the motifs were collegiate destinations, there were a few messages – “Always stay gracious” and “Now it’s time for a nap.” Some of the seniors wore traditional Ashante kente cloths, tassels, flowers and other items over their robes.

“Tonight is a celebration of personal growth, achievement, and perseverance,” Galante said to the senior class. “Soak in the love and admiration you’ve earned.” 

Galante and the seniors also saluted Assistant Principal Thomas Casey, who will be returning to the classroom.

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