Some 344 students walked across the stage at Chelsea High School on Sunday, June 10, as part of commencement exercises – becoming one of the largest classes to graduate in decades.
The Class of 2018 followed an unusually large class in 2017 as well.
At Sunday’s commencement, Supt. Mary Bourque said the class had distinguished itself by not only its overall numbers, but also its successes.
“All of you standing here are the living and breathing reason why we say our mission is to ‘We Welcome and Educate,’” she said. “No matter when you entered the Chelsea Public Schools, we wrapped our arms around you and moved you along the road to graduation. Class of 2018, I want you to know that we are so very proud of you and your accomplishments.”
Of the graduates, 64 percent are attending a two- or four-year college next year. Bourque listed off 79 colleges where students have been accepted, including Wellesley College, Williams College, Tufts University, UMass-Amherst, University of Maine, Hamilton College, Drexel University, Denison University, Bryn Mawr College, Boston University and Boston College – to name a few.
Scholarship awards from those schools totaled $4.4 million, the largest amount ever at Chelsea High.
The rest of the class plans include:
- 4% are entering a certificate program.
- 2% are entering a Trade School.
- 6% are taking a Gap Year.
- 2% are entering the Military.
- 20% are going directly into the work force.
- 2%, are still working on their plans.
The Class of 2018 was also special in that 180 of its students enrolled in the dual enrollment/early college program with Bunker Hill Community College.
“Together you earned 1,374 college credits equaling approximately 458
courses,” she said. “You saved over $250,000 on tuition and fees and saved another $40,000 on books.”
The average numbers of credits earned was eight, but Bourque said on student, Samir Zemmouri had earned 33 credits, the equivalent of a full year of college.
“Most impressive is that 69 students completed English 111 College Writing I course, a required course that often acts as a prerequisite for college coursework; and 15 students of the 69 entered our country and began their educational career at CHS as an English Language Learner,” she stated.
There were also seven members entering the military, including: Pedro Barrientos, Krishell Chacon-Aldana, Adrian Diaz, Nelson Hernandez Jr., Denis Martinez Pineda, Carla Romero and Melinen Urizar Perez.
Bourque closed out her comments about the Class of 2018 on Sunday with five points of wisdom. More than any achievement, she advised to live a life of purpose.
“Choose to live a life of purpose,” she said. “A life of giving back. Knowing our purpose in life empowers us, strengthens us, grounds us. It gives us the courage and conviction to fight the good fight and for the good reasons. A life of purpose is a successful life.”
The Chelsea High School Class of 2018 will hold its Commencement Ceremonies Sunday at 1 p.m. at the high school.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Bourque will address the large gathering and offer her official congratulations to the graduates.
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino and School Committee Chairperson Jeanette Velez will also be part of the ceremony.
Former CHS director of athletics Frank DePatto said he is looking forward to attending the ceremony for the first time in his capacity as a member of the School Committee.
“I know this class very well and they are an accomplished group academically and athletically,” said DePatto. “I look forward to being present as our graduates attain this important milestone in their lives. Graduation represents the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another. I wish the graduates continued success as they move on to college, the military, and the work force.”
The silent protest that was begun last season by former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in which Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem before football games, exemplifies what freedom of speech and freedom of expression mean in our country.
Kaepernick, and his fellow players who have joined him this year, have been very clear from the outset that their sole motive behind their protest is to express their view that racism is alive and well in America at all levels of our society and that this problem needs to be addressed immediately.
Although no one can doubt the truth of that assertion, we realize there are many who believe that a football game is not the place for political protests and who are upset that the players are kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem.
That’s their opinion and they, like Kapaernick, are entitled to express what they believe.
However, those (such as President Trump) who are attempting to discredit the protesters by asserting that the protesters are disrespecting those who have served in the military are off-base for two reasons.
First and foremost, the protesters never have made any negative statement about anybody in the military or that their protest is aimed at the military. Rather, it is clear that Trump and others are making this claim solely to discredit the protesters as a means of ignoring the serious issue of racism that the protest is all about.
Second however, the playing of the National Anthem before a game never has had anything to do with honoring the military. Rather, the tradition of playing the Anthem prior to the start of a sporting event has been to show our unity as a nation — every single American — and not limited only to past and present members of the military.
The Anthem before a game makes us realize that although we may be cheering for rival teams on the playing field, at the end of the day, we still are one people, one nation.
Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem — which has resulted in his career being ended (at least for now) — truly was an act of courage and stands as a shining example to all Americans, especially our young people, of their right to protest peacefully in our country.
There is perhaps no event or occasion in the life of a community that is greeted with such universally shared joy as a high school graduation.
Even for those of us who may not have a direct connection to a graduate, graduation season evokes deep memories from our long-ago youth, when our lives were carefree and lay before us with the promise of limitless possibilities and better things to come.
A high school graduation reminds us of the investment that we as a community have made in the education of our children in the expectation that they will make the world a better place. Their teachers, coaches, and others who have mentored the grads for 12 years can feel justifiable pride in knowing that their pupils will be well-prepared for whatever may come their way.
For every parent of a graduate, watching their graduate walk across the stage to receive a diploma is the epitome of a bittersweet moment. We are proud of what he or she has accomplished, but we are reminded of how quickly time has flown by — and that our graduate no longer is a child, but is a young man or woman set to embark upon the world. It brings to mind the sentiment expressed in that song from Fiddler on the Roof:
“Where is the little girl I carried?
“Where is the little boy at play?
“I don’t remember getting older,
“When did they?”
For the graduates themselves, the receipt of a high school diploma marks as sharp a transition from one aspect of their lives to the next as any they will experience. Whether our grads are pursuing higher education, work, or the military, they no longer are considered to be children, but are full-fledged adults who can vote, enter into contracts, and fight wars — and who will be held to the higher standard of adult behavior.
We know we join with all of our fellow residents in offering our congratulations to the members of the class of 2015 and in wishing them well in their future endeavors.
Decorated Army Specialist Stephen Leon – who is originally from
Chelsea – has been transitioning to Civilian life in America after
being wounded during his last tour in Afghanistan in 2011 amidst
an act of tremendous heroism. For stopping an attack on Camp
Phoenix, he was given numerous commendations, as shown here.
He is also from a very well-known Chelsea family, and his brother
is actually a Chelsea Police Officer.
There are no tears on the warpath.
In fact, soldiers aren’t allowed to cry or mourn in the slightest for their fallen fellow warriors for fear that it may compromise their mission or disturb their mental focus.
That’s a pretty solid rule in the military, save for one exception.
That exception is Memorial Day.
“That’s the only day I have for crying and mourning and remembering all the loved ones who perished while they were serving with me,” said decorated Army Specialist Stephen Leon – a Chelsea native who now lives in Revere. “As soldiers, we’re not allowed to show our emotions and we don’t, but Memorial Day is our day to cry and mourn and open all the old wounds for a time. That’s what it is for a soldier, and that’s what I’ll do on Monday. After that, I’ll go to the Soldiers Home and then visit as many ceremonies as I can so I can also show respect.”
Leon, 54, has served three tours of duty in Afghanistan as a specialist, and has been in the military since 1978 – saying he knew he wanted to be a soldier every since he got a GI Joe toy as a kid.
He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with a ‘V’ and the Purple Heart and so many other citations that he can’t even find a place to keep them all.
He also has three brothers – including Chelsea Police Officer Robert Leon – who all served in the military for a time as well.
Stephen Leon, though, made a career out of the military, and his service shows through the triumphs and battle scars he carries.
However, last Friday he was at the Senior Center not to show off his achievements, but to say ‘Thank You’ in advance of Memorial Day.
His gratitude comes from the fact that – coincidentally – Leon’s unit received care packages from the Revere Senior Center through Operation Troop Support each time he went over to Afghanistan. Recently, after having met Revere veterans advocate Morris Morris, Leon put two and two together.
“I wanted to come here and thank everyone here for all the packages we got when we were over there,” he said. “I met Morris and he was telling me about Operation Troop Support’s care packages from the Senior Center here in Revere. I said, ‘Wait a minute. That’s the same people my unit has been getting packages from since 2008 when I first went over.’ What we see is ugly. You don’t realize what a package can do to lift a soldier’s spirits in the field. A package can change your week. There’s no music in the field or TV or radio. Any little thing you get is just a tremendous relief. They’re packages to us were such a blessing.”
And there was plenty to need relief from – especially during Leon’s last tour, which ended for him in 2011 after he was injured while stopping the attack of five suicide bombers on a sleepy military camp near Kabul, Afghanistan.
It was the middle of the night on April 2, 2011 when – out of the darkness – a planned attack came knocking at the main entrance of Camp Phoenix.
Leon and another soldier were the only ones standing in the way.
Raining down on them was small arms fire, hand grenades, rifle-fired grenades and suicide insurgents. The attack was meant to get the suicide bombers past the entrance and into the barracks of the sleeping soldiers – where five bombers planned to detonate exploding vests.
“There were 8,700 soldiers behind us and they were all sleeping in the middle of the night, so we figured it was going to be our time to die because we weren’t going to let them get to those 8,700 sleeping soldiers,” recalled Leon. “My partner got hit and I said to him, ‘Just keep shooting because if they get by us, it’s all done.’ I got blown up, but we stopped them.”
According to his commendation letter from the Army, despite being rocked by multiple explosions, Leon was able to gather himself and deliver lethal shots to the attackers and to the suicide bombers who had not yet detonated their vests.
“While disoriented from a series of explosions, Specialist Leon refused to surrender ground and delivered accurate and lethal fire which prevented insurgents from gaining entry to the base,” read the citation. “His exceptional courage, dedication to duty, care for fellow soldiers and personal sacrifice directly contributed to the successful defense of the main entry control point. His actions saved lives.”
He was originally awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism, but it was bumped down to an Army Commendation Medal. However, he said he thinks they’re going to move it back up to the Bronze Star.
Due to the injuries he sustained in defending the camp in that 2011 attack, Leon had to be hospitalized, and following that, his tour ended. He said he was never so grateful to be back on U.S. soil.
“It’s like the ‘Wizard of Oz’; there’s no place like home,” he said. “You miss the States so badly and when you see the country on the plane coming in, it looks so beautiful. I’ll never forget my brother inviting me to the Chelsea Police Station and all the officers giving me a huge ‘Welcome Home’ party. It was wonderful to be home.”
And Leon said it has been wonderful being back for the last year or so, but the transition has been hard. He said it helps to go around and thank people who helped him while he was overseas – such as the Revere Seniors – and to just keep easing into Civilian life.
“I was at such a high level of vigilance for so long,” he said. “I have to let my guard down and to try to learn to be a human being again. The transition from being a soldier to being a Civilian is a huge difference. I’m just starting to go to sleep regularly again. When you’re out there in Afghanistan, you don’t sleep. Now, those kinds of things are starting to come back to me. They call it transitioning, but I call it becoming a human being again.”
Despite that, Leon said he’s ready to go back if his unit – the 182nd Infantry – is called back to serve in Afghanistan. That is, if his body will cooperate.
“I’ve been healing now for close to two years,” he said. “I’m about 60 percent, but I’m ready to go back and do whatever needs to be done. My mind wants to keep going, but my body can’t keep up with it. I have traumatic brain injuries from the explosions, loss of hearing and nerve damage in my arms. Those were my gifts from Afghanistan.”
But Memorial Day will be America’s gift to him.
The deadline passed last Friday when mandated cuts to the federal programs started to take place. While many entitlements that are the budget busters were spared, the across the board budget cuts hit programs in public schools, transportation, the military and Head Start. City Manager Jay Ash is assessing the impact of the cuts to the Chelsea budget.
The exact fallout from this impasse between Republicans and Democrats cannot be assessed at this time. Economists agree the longer this issue stays unresolved the more disastrous it will be not only for the economy but also for our fellow citizens who depend on many of these programs .
We agree that the federal deficit and the way programs are administered and funded need to be changed.
We agree that our country seems to be losing its way in addressing how to deal with these issues.
However, the present impasse is not the way to deal with running this country. Nobody in this debate is totally right or totally wrong.
President Abraham Lincoln’s greatest attribute was that he was able to see an argument from both sides and strike a compromise.
Today nobody in Washington seems to have that ability.
We find that if one makes a problem complicated, then solutions are that much more difficult to find. We also find that several small steps in a solution are better than one large step.
We hope that our elected leaders will not let this impasse linger until September as has been rumored by political pundits.
We agree with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino when he said, “The people in Washington just need to be sensible.” Perhaps this is the starting point to end the impasse.