Needham Graduates Turn the Tassel

June 3, 2024
• Needham High School seniors marked the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

Before a crowd of beaming loved ones watching from the hill, more than 420 Needham High School seniors became NHS alumni when they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas at Memorial Field Sunday evening.

The Class of 2024 reinstated old NHS traditions and created new ones, Assistant Principal Pierre Jean said, highlighting the pep rally and Senior Bike Day. The outgoing seniors worked together to address community issues and ensure NHS is “a more welcoming community for all,” Jean said.

“Your presence has been felt throughout the years, and you have left your mark on Needham High School for sure,” Jean said. “Through athletics — go Rockets — performing arts or beautifying the school, you gave it your all.”

Student speaker Mikayla Tow addresses her graduating class at the Needham High School commencement June 2, 2024. (Cameron Morsberger)

After commencement, the NHS graduates will also lose their convoluted and lengthy NHS email addresses, student speaker Mikayla Tow said during her speech. But within that string of numbers and letters lies two significant ones: “24,” signifying their graduation year.

That seemed far-off for Tow 10 years ago, but she said the last four years flew by. Those email addresses became synonymous with their “digital identity” as Needham students, she said, but they should all welcome the unknown and what comes after NHS.

A Needham High graduate shakes hands with Principal Aaron Sicotte before receiving a diploma. (Cameron Morsberger)

“We’ll be trading in our ‘’s to grow into the ‘’s, ‘,’ or even paving our own identities through our personal emails, like ‘,’” Tow said. “It’s bittersweet, for sure, but it’s also a reminder of how far we’ve grown and how far we’ve come.”

The Class of 2024 spent their freshman year in a hybrid format during the pandemic, which marked but one challenge the graduates faced to reach commencement, Principal Aaron Sicotte said. In an increasingly polarized world, Sicotte encouraged graduates to “lead with curiosity, long before you create your immobile beliefs.”

Student speaker Emerson Ward said she and her classmates encountered a “divided atmosphere,” due to the pandemic, when cohorts switched between in-person and remote learning and students watched social injustice, climate change, violence and a mental health crisis unfold.

Despite that, NHS students met the moment, Ward said.

“None of those things are easy to deal with or to accept, but we did not let the adversity we experienced stifle our achievements or growth. In fact, it did quite the opposite, motivating us to find our voices in tense classrooms, branch out to new people and redefine what our education is going to look like,” Ward said. “All of the noise around us, the culture of our environment, did not silence us as a group of students.”

A Needham High graduate walks across the stage after accepting a diploma. (Cameron Morsberger)

While interviewing a 2018 NHS graduate for an elementary teaching position, Superintendent Dan Gutekanst asked how she remembers his graduation remarks. The candidate, Gutekanst said, admitted she didn’t remember him even attending the ceremony, prompting laughter from the crowd.

Gutekanst, therefore, turned his attention to the family and loved ones in the crowd. Raising children, he said, “is a complicated, messy affair” and one marked by triumphs and tribulations, but those attending the ceremony should be proud of the child they helped to raise.

Needham High graduates wore blue caps and gowns on Memorial Field during their commencement ceremony June 2, 2024. (Cameron Morsberger)

“The act of nurturing human beings, these young people, has been challenging for sure, but joyful nonetheless. Take great pride in what you have accomplished,” Gutekanst said. “They sit before us eager and prepared, but they, like us, are unfinished. Unfinished but caring human beings whose energy, creativity, wisdom and spirit will conquer a world that desperately needs your innovation, civility, justice and love.”

Class President Brad Hamermesh presented the class gift: an improved portable audio system to be used at school functions.

Two NHS graduates will enroll in military duties, including Brendan Harding. His mother Tracy said he’ll be graduating from the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps in the coming days, after which he’ll join the US Army in the fall.

The last four years have been exciting and challenging, but his family expressed their overwhelming pride in what he’s accomplished.

“All of the adversity he faced and how he faced it and how he’s overcome it has just led me to believe that he is going to be a great man,” his uncle Fredua Boakye said. “This is a rite of passage that I’m proud to witness.”

A Needham High graduate smiles after accepting a diploma. (Cameron Morsberger)

Campbell Keyes’ four years at NHS were marked by “great friends, great teachers and great coaches,” his dad Ken said. He played soccer and basketball and received the NHS Athletics Excellence Award.

Come this fall, Keyes will be heading to the University of South Carolina, taking his memories of Needham with him. While the Keyes will have one more student pass through NHS in a few years, the end of high school for Campbell have been “bittersweet days,” Ken said.

“I think the teachers, the whole administration did a great job organizing everything. They treat these kids with real respect and did a great job, so we couldn’t be any happier,” Ken Keyes said. “He’s happy he got a great experience. That’s all you can ask for.”

Graduate Lea Gruen spent her time at NHS donned in blue and gold, demonstrative of her “tremendous amount of school spirit,” her mom Jodie said. She spent time on the dance and golf teams, student council, was inducted into the National Honor Society and served as the student representative for the School Committee this year.

This fall, Gruen’s blue and gold wardrobe will transition into a blue and yellow one when she starts class at the University of Michigan, where she plans to study biology, health and society, Jodie Gruen said.

Before the ceremony, Jodie remarked at the significance of the moment.

“It’s very emotional. We’re very excited,” Jodie Gruen said. “We’re excited for all the accomplishments she’s had, all the friends she’s made, and it’s been really great. But we’re excited for her to move forward and take the next step.”

To watch the full ceremony, visit The Needham Channel’s website.

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