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AHS graduation speeches: Bourassa, students inspire

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What did some of the speakers at Arlington High School graduation on June 5 have to say? Read the available speeches here:

Introspection: 'Thinking a lot about the ground lately'


Faculty speaker Justin BourassaAHS graduation 2018, with addresses logo

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the ground lately. I’ve been thinking about … Antaeus.

Not how Mr. Cincotta might think about Antaeus: wisely, scholarly, knowledgeably ...  not just about the Classics, but everything else, likely dreaming in Ancient Greek; I’m so fortunate to be his neighbor and friend. Not like the equally esteemed Mr. Richardson, who reads the Heaney poem before a cross-country meet every year.

Source of strength

Antaeus. Son of Gaea, Mother Earth, from whom he drew his strength. The team knows, but so long as he made contact with her, so long as he could touch the ground, he remained invincible. So strong, and so cocky, he’d challenge random passerby to wrestling matches, daring them to pin him, knowing he’d win. And then he’d use their skulls to erect an altar to his father, Poseidon, the tempestuous god of the seas ... and earthquakes. 

It took Hercules finally wrapping him up in a bear hug and lifting him off the ground before someone could finally defeat him. And he crushed him. Like Dionysus would: a grape on a Friday afternoon. Antaeus. 

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the ground lately. When I bring my son, Miles, into the day care every day, he asks to ride the (MOTION) alligator up to watch the trucks building “my school,” as he likes to call it.

Of course, when it’s time to ride the alligator back down to the day care, he announces, “we MADE it! Ground fyoor! Hooway!” – unable to fully understand how miraculous it is each time the alligator actually gets us there. 

Back to the ground. By the way, alligator is the most adorable malapropism I’ve heard in a long time, and I’ve been the victim of malapropisms my whole life, mostly thanks to my brother. A Marine, he’s one of the toughest people I know, not unlike ... Antaeus. He was the king of malapropisms when he was a boy, calling himself a carnosaur because he loved to eat meat, or describing quickly occurring events as happening in “rapid concession.”

Beehive Field

I still picture some sweaty hot dog and sausage race between innings at Beehive Field, where the Double-A New Britain [Conn.] Red Sox played their home games just minutes from the house we grew up in. The house my mother grew up in, the house my grandfather built. From the ground, up. When I settled on moving out of this house to attend Boston College, that same brother, jealous of my moving so close to our beloved Carmine Hose, said he wanted to live bi-curiously through me. I think I know what he meant …

I suppose it makes sense that I’ve been thinking a lot about the ground lately ... A lot of my childhood memories in that same home involved moving rocks and dirt from one place to another. Less because I was interested in it, as Miles seems to be… “I just wanna dig in the dirt all day yong” he’ll say, any time he can get his tiny fingers into any kind of scrap or scale of soil, but more because it was just ...what we were doing.

My parents always had a purpose to the dirt-moving - building an addition, putting in a pool, gardening - but it’s hard for a boy who isn’t particularly interested in moving dirt, to see the purpose, never mind understand it. Imagine - it probably isn’t too hard - an entire childhood of wondering, “When am I actually going to need ... to move dirt like this in my life?” I guess I’ve been thinking about the ground my whole life. 

Back to the present

So here we are: Commencement day. A day of endings, but named after beginnings. Just a few hundred feet from where the beams you signed will bear the heft and weight of decades of learning new things in new spaces. Just a hundred or so years after Fusco House climbed into the sky, an icon along Arlington’s main drag, a paragon of education alongside those other Mass. Ave. institutions of higher learning. And before hundreds of family members, friends, peers, teachers, coaches, parents, guardians, caretakers and malapropism-wielding siblings, we celebrate. Because this day, too, is for all of them, not just you, class of 2021. You may get the cool hats with the dangly bits, of course, but with the dangly bits comes anticipation -- that sense of completion but also of promise. That sense of “now what?”

In 12 years of teaching at AHS, I’ve had to change tack as a teacher a few times. As a younger teacher, some things I had to work hard to wedge into the curriculum and class discussion are now things students don’t need to be taught, like how to disagree politely, respect everyone and understand that the world, in spite of its best efforts, in spite of what it screams at you, isn’t actually ... binary.

I spend three years wondering why Genevieve pretends not to know me before realizing Louisa is her equally rad twin sister. Dennis and Kaeden don’t actually have to pick one sport - they can play both volleyball and track and field, apparently. My homeroom and advisory can be filled with the most compassionate and caring human beings in the school, and Luca can be in it, too. Sometimes. When he’s not busy. 

Not one thing or another

In all seriousness, though, while some things are actually black and white, and some people are actually black and/or white, everyone isn’t simply one thing or another. Knowing that hasn’t made your journey so far any easier. And that journey won’t necessarily get any easier. But you’ve handled it thus far with incredible grace. As Maggie Stiefvater writes in “Mister Impossible,” “people who are one thing have a hard time with people who are more than one thing.” 

But you, class of 2021, each of you so much more than one thing, you’ve always seemed to know that. And I’ve seen it in so many ways. Teaching you as freshman (yikes), to sophomores (ugh), to seniors (hooway!), but like Zoom seniors, which was like, yanno, what we had to do, but like, you kinda rocked it …

Speedily traversing the ground, as a cross-country team to win three league titles in four years, a team comprising musicians and actors and singers and dancers and folks who listen to poetry and meditate together before the races ... Treading new ground by earning the Kathleen Roberts Creative Leadership Award for the outstanding advocacy work you’ve done with the AHS Asian American Coalition.

And breaking new ground by forming the Anti-Racism Working Group and branching out into the community in ways that perhaps didn’t seem possible before, doing real, important work to fight racial injustice but all kinds of injustice by advocating on behalf of yourselves and others with poise, with power, and with purpose. And, you know, beating back this whole global pandemic. Just to name a few. Every single one of you here. Has broken ground. But now what?

What now?

What happens after you break ground? What will you do? 

Will you build? Will you lay a foundation? A foundation from which some home, some haven, some holy place will reach towards the sky, sheltering others from all the blows and buffets of the world?

Will you irrigate? Will you bring some sort of catharsis to the land you’ve upset in a world where, let’s be honest, it’s about time some land was upset ….

Will you observe? Will you study? Will you get your head in the gutter for a change? Check out the flora and fauna that’s always been hangin’ out down there? Because if you haven’t done that yet, you should! Talk to Liam Nokes! You wouldn’t believe the mycorrhizal connections going on down there in the dirt. It’s fertile! Stuff grows down there! 

Will you plant? Will you foster further growth? Will you encourage roots to spread and take hold around you and others? Will you blossom?

Will you be Antaeus? Will you claim this newly broken ground as your own and protect it, a giant in your own realm. Will you challenge passerby to wrestle over the very soul of everything you’ve worked for thus far, and everything you’re going to work for in the future, and everything you hope for and dream of? For everything you believe in and stand for, even if Hercules looms on the horizon?

So. Go forth, with your concrete mixers and your masonry, your micro-sprayers and your mini-bubblers, your microscopes and your magnifying glasses, your mowers and your mattocks.  Go forth and stay rooted, both to here, and to Gaea, both places from which you’ll draw your strength, and remain invincible.  

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the ground lately. And what a privilege it’s been watching you break it these last four years. I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do next. Thank you.

Introducing Bourassa was Maia Patel-Masini, vice president, class of 2021:

Not many people in this world can be described as fuller than life; someone who lights up the room with their positive presence and warm smile the moment they walk in. Arlington High School is immensely lucky to have a teacher like this devoted to all of the school’s students. Known for going the extra mile, Mr. Bourassa, an English teacher and the cross-country and distance coach, has earned the respect and trust of all students thanks to his respect and trust in us. 

What makes Mr. Bourassa so special is that he remembers the names of all students and builds a relationship with them regardless of having them as students or runners- not to mention being the loudest voice cheering for them across the turf during track meets with little Miles. Through something as simple as acknowledging our individuality, Mr. Bourassa inspires our confidence, pushing us to be better while also making us want to be better. Many students literally HOPE to get him as a teacher, which, let’s be real, is unheard of in high school. 

He engages his students, creates an enjoyable learning environment, and went above and beyond this year to try and keep our love of learning alive. As a welcoming, compassionate, and amiable person, Mr. Bourassa is someone we should all aspire to be more like. 

A student in our class said Mr. Bourassa can make even the driest of Charles Dickens novels enjoyable. So, it’s only fair that he has to share some words with us- though not as many as Dickens! 

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