Hurricanes forever: 215 Amherst Regional High School graduates celebrate accomplishments, get ready to work for the future

Higinio Cruz shares an emotional embrace with his father after the Amherst Regional High School Class of 2024 graduation ceremony last Friday.

Higinio Cruz shares an emotional embrace with his father after the Amherst Regional High School Class of 2024 graduation ceremony last Friday. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Graduate Zola Higham takes photos with her family after the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Graduate Zola Higham takes photos with her family after the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Talia Sadiq hugs her father, Principal Talib Sadiq, after receiving her diploma during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony last Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at UMass.

Talia Sadiq hugs her father, Principal Talib Sadiq, after receiving her diploma during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony last Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at UMass. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Graduate Jaden Caraballo take photos after the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Graduate Jaden Caraballo take photos after the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Liza Beigel receives her diploma from Principal Talib Sadiq during the Amherst Regional High School Class of 2024 graduation last Friday.

Liza Beigel receives her diploma from Principal Talib Sadiq during the Amherst Regional High School Class of 2024 graduation last Friday. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Members of the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 take the stage for their graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Members of the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 take the stage for their graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Graduates Maia Velez, from right, Layla DaSilva Askew, Sonisai Loeung Rinehart and Celma Correia take photos after the Amherst Regional High School Class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday.

Graduates Maia Velez, from right, Layla DaSilva Askew, Sonisai Loeung Rinehart and Celma Correia take photos after the Amherst Regional High School Class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Graduates Annabel Ogden, left, and Pearl Strong after the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Graduates Annabel Ogden, left, and Pearl Strong after the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Darius Cage crosses the stage to receive his diploma during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Darius Cage crosses the stage to receive his diploma during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Amherst Regional High School graduates of the class of 2024 throw their caps at the end of their graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Amherst Regional High School graduates of the class of 2024 throw their caps at the end of their graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Mattias Foster receives his diploma from Principal Talib Sadiq during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Mattias Foster receives his diploma from Principal Talib Sadiq during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Principal Talib Sadiq speaks during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Principal Talib Sadiq speaks during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Science teacher Michael Thompson delivers the commencement address during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Science teacher Michael Thompson delivers the commencement address during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Class President Neil Cunniffe speaks during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Class President Neil Cunniffe speaks during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Principal Talib Sadiq speaks during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Principal Talib Sadiq speaks during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Graduates cross the stage to receive their diplomas during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Graduates cross the stage to receive their diplomas during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Class President Neil Cunniffe speaks during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Class President Neil Cunniffe speaks during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Members of the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 take the stage for their graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Members of the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 take the stage for their graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Members of the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 take the stage for their graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Members of the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 take the stage for their graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Graduates stand to receive their diplomas during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Graduates stand to receive their diplomas during the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Members of the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 take the stage for their graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts.

Members of the Amherst Regional High School class of 2024 take the stage for their graduation ceremony Friday in the Tillis Performance Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Bromery Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-13-2024 7:43 PM

AMHERST — As members of the 2024 class graduate from Amherst Regional High School, they will likely face adversity and be pushed to their limits in the years ahead.

But Class President Neil Cunniffe, speaking during last Friday’s graduation ceremony, told his classmates they will also be given endless opportunities, and they only need to remember the two things that every person can control: attitude and effort.

“Keep the mindset that you will overcome, believe in yourself even if no one else does, be the change you wish to see in the world,” Cunniffe said.

Cunniffe reflected on how the 215 members of the class have been through a lot together, from the pandemic remote learning to fires being set in the school building to bathrooms being locked, and even the adoption of a block schedule. “Definitely some classes shouldn’t be 80 minutes,” he said.

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“There is only one ARHS Class of 2024,” Cunniffe said. “I’m so proud of how far everyone has come. I know we’re all destined for greatness.”

The graduation ceremony marked a return to the Bromery Center for the Arts at the University of Massachusetts, where the graduates were seated on the stage facing a full auditorium, even in the overhanging balconies, and offered applause to their families for reaching this point. There were also performances by the high school Chorale and Hurricane Singers and the Wind Ensemble.

Cunniffe talked after the four valedictorians, Noa Chambers, Cristina Hayes-Mendez, Miguel Pinero Jacome and Korinna Spirko, reflecting on what it has meant to go to Amherst Regional.

Pinero Jacome began with a “once upon a time” fairy tale about how the students had come from the depths of Amherst Woods to the hills of Shutesbury, and everywhere in between, and sprinkling in references to classrooms being portals to different worlds and sports events taking place in enchanted arenas, prompting Hayes-Mendez to crack, “you mean our track, where we haven’t had a track meet in years?”

The valedictorians then got serious about their experience, with each day starting in the parking lot, crossing a rainbow crosswalk into the building and moving through the various halls.

“We celebrate our accomplishments in the last 12 years, knowing that we will always be Amherst Hurricanes, but our work is not done,” Chambers said. “The future that we hope for is the one we will work for.”

Michael Thompson, a chemistry teacher, was chosen to give the commencement address. Thompson said that the class holds a special place in his heart, indicated by his willingness to make the address. He observed he met the students during remote learning in fall 2020 and then last spring joined the class in a walk to the middle school to support trans students there.

Upon returning to the high school, “I thought to myself: this is what it’s like to be part of a true community,” Thompson said.

Thompson offered three words of wisdom: to work hard, be kind and be humble. “I think these three simple rules will put you in the best position to be happy and successful human beings,” Thompson said.

High School Principal Talib Sadiq was named to the position when the graduates were ninth graders, as they were in remote learning, one of the challenges for what he called a talented group of students.

“Another reason you’re special is the resilience you’ve shown,” Sadiq said

Like others who spoke, Sadiq mentioned the loss of classmate Anna Burns, who died from a cardiac event during a cross country meet in fall 2022. Sadiq referenced Burns’ fiercely competitive spirit, love for nature and passion for activism. The school is now awarding an annual scholarship in Burns’ name for the first time.

Before people entered the auditorium, many gathered in the lobby, holding flowers, balloons and even large head cutouts of some of the graduates.

On the plaza outside the center before graduation, Zola Higham of Amherst said she appreciated her time at the high school. Higham is heading to Bentley University to study finance.

“It’s been a great experience, both the ups and the downs,” Higham said. “I think it’s a great school and I’ve made great bonds, including with many teachers”

Raye Hegarty of Northampton said she plans to be at Temple University to study media production in the fall.

“It’s a nice community we have at ARHS,” Hegarty said, pointing to students being able to explore a wide array of electives “Overall, it was a great experience.”