Developing their voices: Hopkins Academy graduates diverse 37-member class with strong ties

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-08-2023 11:10 AM

HADLEY — In second grade she was quiet and had anxiety with public speaking, but by the end of that year earned an award as the most improved student in her class.

While still not completely comfortable addressing a large crowd, Pema Zidig took the stage Friday night as the valedictorian for Hopkins Academy’s 359th graduating class and reflected on how she, like her classmates, found their strong voice during their time in Hadley schools.

“As I’ve developed my voice, so has everyone sitting here on the stage tonight,” said Zidig, the daughter of Tibetan immigrants, who also urged her classmates to “take initiative, care about others and want to make a difference.”

“I implore you to all speak for yourselves, so you can speak for others,” Zidig said.

The theme of being able to speak out and be comfortable in who you are, no matter your background, was also important to Ashley Arriaga-Escalante, the class president. In delivering the farewell address, she reflected on how they had all gotten support from teachers and parents.

“I know every single one of you will do great things, because each one of you have shown you are fighters,” Arriaga-Escalante said.

The 37 members of the class appeared ready to heed the words of advice from U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, who gave the main address, urging them to fight for causes such as climate change, reproductive rights and gun control, asking them to stand up for what they believe in “whether halfway around the world, or halfway down the block.”

“The world will not get better on its own,” McGovern said. “We need you in the room. We need you in the conversation.”

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“It’s important each of you do great for yourselves. It’s just as important you each do good,” McGovern said.

McGovern also joked that he wasn’t much of a student in high school. “To those graduating with C’s and D’s, don’t worry, you can still be a member of Congress,” he said. That generated laughs and applause from the filled gymnasium.

Before the graduates’ procession, they gathered in the cafetorium for a class portrait and at the front of the school to have a class picture in front of the Hopkins Academy sign, as well as group photos.

Principal April Camuso began the ceremony just as heavy rain began pounding down outside, citing the many accomplishments of the class. “We are so proud of them,” Camuso said.

Kate Kelley, an FBI agent specializing in counterterrorism, whose work has taken her around the world, earned the distinguished alumni award, Kelley said a Hopkins education will give the graduates the tools they need to succeed in the world.

Graduates said class diversity was always a point of pride.

“This is a very diverse family,” said Martin Narus, who is heading to Bryant University to study finance.

Alex Pichasaca will be going to the University of Massachusetts in the fall, having come to Hadley with English as his second language.

“It’s been beautiful because my first language is Spanish,” he said.

That school family was also important to Ethan Wojtowicz, who will be studying engineering at Purdue University. “I’ve had a lot of great friends. I’ve known some kids since kindergarten,” Wojtowicz said.

“The teachers are very supportive and helped us become who we are in high school,” said Teagan Barry, who will be studying English with a concentration in creative writing at Bridgewater State University.

“It’s been great — other than lunches could have been better, it’s been great,” said Cameron Wade, who will be studying business at UMass-Boston.

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