BAR HARBOR — “Bittersweet.” That was the word class speaker Charlie Parker used to open his speech – and encapsulate the moment – to the graduating Class of 2022 during Sunday’s ceremony at Mount Desert Island High School. It was a sentiment expressed by many of the 117 graduates as they reflected on their time at MDI High.
“When I put this (cap and gown) on, it just kind of all hit me at once, like it went by so quick,” said Henning Reinholdt, who is attending Endicott College in Massachusetts in the fall.
“It’s like happy-sad for sure,” chimed in Julian Walls, who will be attending Oberlin College in Ohio.
“It’s bittersweet,” Reinholdt said. “That’s the best way to describe it,” Walls added.
Parker, a recipient of the 2022 Maine Principals Association Principal’s Award and founding member of the school system’s Anti-Racism Task Force, continued his speech, “Within the past week, I think the word ‘bittersweet’ has been added to every senior’s vocabulary. And honestly, I can’t help but feel the exact same way.”
Shannon Smith, a senior advisor and Spanish and special education teacher at MDI High School, said, “It’s a day where I’m looking at a lot of people with tears in their eyes, but they’re also laughing.”
Students gathered in the school library an hour beforehand to prepare for the big moment. They chatted with friends, took pictures and signed yearbooks. June 5 would be the last time they would be together as a class.
Emrys Miller also described his mix of emotions about the day as “bittersweet,” saying, “There’s a lot of people that I’ll just have small talks with in the hallway or just in classes, and I know those are people that I’m probably not going to talk to again. That’s the thing that hit me the most, I think.”
For every senior who walked across the graduation stage to receive their diploma during the first in-door commencement since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, their four years at MDI High School were anything but normal.
“It does feel kind of weird graduating,” Miller said. “I had a year and a half off, so it almost feels like I’m a junior right now.”
The Class of 2022 entered freshman year unaware of how their high school careers would be upended. As sophomores, they adapted to a new normal, which meant attending “Zoom University” for virtual lessons instead of meeting with friends and teachers in a real-life classroom.
“It made it go by faster,” said Bella Brown, a recognized scholar for Family and Consumer Sciences who will be attending the University of Maine at Orono in the fall to study athletic training. “We had so many lack of experiences that we could have had.”
Brown lamented that she was only able to have one Spring Carnival during her entire time as a Trojan – one tradition of many that students had to sacrifice during their time away from in-person learning.
But the upheavals of COVID presented a silver lining that some students would have missed if not for those changes.
“It taught us a lot about each other and how important being in school is,” Reinholdt said. “You don’t really realize how much you appreciate your classmates and your teachers and being in school until you don’t have it.”
Through the ups and downs, the MDI Class of 2022 made memories that will last a lifetime. Parker recognized those special moments as the reason a bittersweet feeling could be felt among the collective.
Notable were memories made during sports seasons as teams like soccer, cross-country and swim persevered through the playoffs and made it to finals. Even after a tough loss, the comradery of riding to and from games and matches forged a lasting bond between teammates.
Jacob Lurvery, who will be studying computer science at New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall, recalled this year’s jazz band tie for high score in the state as his most memorable time in high school.
During her speech, Class Speaker Grace Munger listed some of her favorite memories, such as “going to Sand Beach to play tackle football, bonfires at Hadley Point and our awesome senior pranks.”
Munger, a member of the school’s Civil Rights Team and participant at Patterson Hill Wilderness Camp, will be attending Columbia University in New York in the fall.
Whether it be pivotal memories on the athletic field or at art competitions, or small moments like seeing friends in the classroom every day, as Sadie Sullivan and Claire Sanner noted as they took their last lap around the school’s hallways, it was the support and guidance of parents and teachers that made the last four years possible.
“Growing through these past few years has not only been the result of our efforts, but the extraordinary dedication and support of our teachers, mentors, parents, coaches and siblings,” Munger said. “We are so lucky to live on an island and in a community that supports us as learners, activists, athletes, artists…and gives us the freedom to explore what we love.”
Despite the unusual circumstances during the last four years, Sunday’s graduating class members could end their high school career on a high note, having a “normal” ceremony in the school gymnasium.
“I’m not worried at all about what life is going to toss at them. They’re fine,” Smith added. “Watch them adapt.”
Dawn Burgess, a math teacher and senior advisor, said, “I think they’re probably more ready than any class I’ve ever seen to go out there and do it.”