WHS Class of 2024 Overcame Many Obstacles to Become a Group of ‘Great Human Beings’

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Watertown High School’s Class of 2024 celebrates graduating on Friday at Victory Field. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

The journey to graduation day for the Class of 2024 was filled with obstacles and hardships, but Watertown High School’s senior class navigated through the challenges and emerged as seasoned scholars, athletes, performers, and “great human beings.”

The seniors celebrated the end of their career in the Watertown Public Schools during the graduation ceremony at Victory Field on Friday evening.

High school started not in the halls of WHS, but in their bedrooms sitting in front of computers during COVID. Sophomore year they returned to school, but did behind N95 masks. Junior year was the “normal year,” with no pandemic restrictions and attending class at the school on Columbia Street. By senior year, they said goodbye to their old school and hello to the “double wide, double high” trailers of the temporary high school at Pvt. Richard Moxley Field.

Valedictorian Nina Paquette compared her high school career to following the steps of a baking recipe: mixing together as a class during freshman year, adding more complex ingredients sophomore year, junior year could get more messy as the ingredients go into the mixer, and senior year involved waiting for everything to bake: “waiting for college decisions, waiting for the last day of school, waiting for the oven timer to go off and have all of our hard work rewarded either in the form of a sweet treat or a much deserved diploma.”

Watertown High School’s Valedictorian Nina Paquette. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

She also remembered the rock that sat on her history teacher’s desk with the word “Believe” engraved on it. Paquette said it took some time, but she now understands the rock’s simple message.

“At first, I dismissed it as mere decor questioning its significance. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh, believe in what exactly. However, returning to class each day, I began to understand the meaning of this simple yet profound word,'” she said. “Belief in oneself is key to success. Have confidence in yourself and in your abilities to succeed. ambition and perseverance will help us achieve our goals. You will find challenges and hardships wherever you go. But trust that the habits of hard work and determination that you have cultivated here have prepared you to overcome those obstacles. Our parents, teachers and mentors have always believed in us, let’s share that same belief and carry it with us into the future.”

Sidney Hackett, the Class of 2024 Salutatorian and Class President. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

Salutatorian and Senior Class President Sidney Hackett noted that the Class of 2024 ended its career at the temporary high school, which is just steps from where they came together as fifth-graders at Watertown Middle School. But they have changed so much since the day when the Hosmer Huskies, Lowell Leopards and Cunniff Cougars first met.

“It is the events that have occurred since it all started, those unique and difficult times that we’ve had to deal with, that have brought us together in a way we couldn’t have possibly imagined seven years ago, at that fifth-grade socially,” Hackett said. “Graduating today, we are leaving the school with far more than just an education. Through our time together, we’ve developed a collective sense of resilience that I’m sure we will all carry with us. As we move through the next phases of our lives, we’ve learned how to be adaptive to any situation and to make the most of it. We’ve learned how to be resilient in the face of hardship and uncertainty. We’ve learned to make lemonade out of lemons.”

Superintendent Dede Galdston addresses the Class of 2024. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

Superintendent Dede Galdston said the Class of 2024 faces a challenging future, including “to restore and protect our beautiful planet for future generations.”

“But I have faith that you have the power to make meaningful change. Your education at Watertown high school and all of the Watertown Public Schools has equipped you with the tools to get things done, make things happen and change the world. I encourage you to embrace the unknown with courage and curiosity,” she said. “Your education has prepared you to navigate this ever changing landscape. Embrace the challenges as opportunities for growth, and never shy away from pursuing your dreams. As you pursue your dreams always remember the importance of community and connection. No one achieves success alone. Cherish your support networks, your Watertown family, friends, mentors and teachers. They have been your cheerleaders, role models and sounding boards throughout your journey. Remember to pay it forward and be a source of support for others wherever you go.”

She encouraged students to consider returning to Watertown to join the Watertown Public Schools as an educator.

Watertown High School Principal Joel Giacobozzi shares his memories of the Class of 2024. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

No one is a bigger fan of the Class of 2024 than Principal Joel Giacobozzi. Like the seniors, he arrived at WHS four years ago, and little has been normal about the past for years, with classes on Zoom, sticking Q-tips up noses during COVID testing, and when things seemed to be normal in the third year they had to pack up and move out of the old high school.

“Now, you’ve spent your senior year in a temporary building with little common space, trying to preserve the special experiences that come with being a senior. And you know what? You didn’t complain. Not to me, at least,” he said. “You kept moving forward. You kept making the best of the cards you were dealt. I gotta say, you are amazing.”

Daniel Negrini Rogge performed a song on guitar during the 2024 graduation ceremony. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

One of the most profound moments for Giacobozzi came the first day back after December break, when he was performing one of his new duties as Principal of the high school at Moxley Field: monitoring Dunkin’ Donuts during lunch. Giacobozzi shared with the crowd at graduation that his father passed away at the beginning of the school year, and he did his best to keep working and continue like it was business as usual, but one student noticed he was not his normal self.

“One student walked by me gave me a fist bump and he said, ‘Hey, Mr. G, have a good day.’ I didn’t think anything of it. Thirty seconds later, I hear the door open, letting in with it the winter. And I felt a tap on my shoulder. As I turn, the same student just left standing in front of me. And I said, ‘Hey, man, what’s up? You good?’ It was a long pause. And the young man said to me, ‘Yeah, I’m good. Are you?'” Giacobozzi said. “I began to launch into a scripted lie that I’d come up with over the last three months: ‘Yeah, I’m fine. Work is really busy. But I’m good and just staying busy.’ All of these things while avoiding eye contact with the student, so he couldn’t see the truth. He stopped me mid-sentence. And he said the following. ‘Hey, Mr. G. I know it was your first Christmas without him. I bet that was really hard. I was just coming back from school to check in to see how you’re doing, not what you would say, but truly how you doing?’

“Man, we have good kids. I paused and I told him the truth. ‘You’re right. It was hard. And I’m doing the best I can.’ His face was sad. And he responded. ‘I guess it’s all we can do.’ He shook my hand. He patted me on the back and he walked back to school probably completely unaware of the power of what he had just done.”

While it is common to hear people talk about today’s youth with concern for how they will handle the real world, Giacobozzi said he has great confidence in their ability.

“I see in front of me a group of kids that have been forged in the fires of the strangest time in educational history,” he said. “I see a group of students in front of me that have learned what it is to be scholars, musicians, athletes, creators, and most importantly, great human beings.”

Leanne Centola sings during the 2024 Watertown High School graduation. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

During the graduation ceremony, the Class of 2024 paid tribute to Barbara Barry from Cunniff Elementary School, Anthony Spano at Lowell Elementary School, Hosmer Elementary School’s Eileen Doherty, and James Kirkcaldy from Watertown Middle School.

Graduates, their families and friends were entertained by musical performances by Daniel Negrini Rogge and Leanne Centola, accompanied by Nathen Godoy DeLa Cruz, Avery Macdonald and Christopher Papazian.

2 thoughts on “WHS Class of 2024 Overcame Many Obstacles to Become a Group of ‘Great Human Beings’

  1. Charlie,
    Thank you for your outstanding article outlining the obstacles and hurdles the Graduating Class of 2024 had to go through. Covid during a school term is a past memory for those of us without school age children. We did not have an appreciation of the change in instruction modality necessitated, along with preventive health measures not seen since 1918. As stated in your article, on the way to normalcy, the class has had to adapt to modular units. The Students of 2024 displayed extraordinary flexibility, reserve and perseverance. Our City could not be more proud of them.

  2. Congratulations Class of 2024! Great article Charlie! We happily awarded two students $2500 each from the Richard Marcus Scholarship. The two students exemplified the civic-minded spirit of Richard the most. We always wish that we could award more because Watertown produces amazing citizens and the financial need for postsecondary education is enormous. The essays over the past two years have demonstrated this, and that the future looks bright because these young adults will make it so.

    The Richard Marcus Scholarship Committee
    -Anthony Kelley
    – Caroline Bays
    – Diane Tiernan
    – Kurt Kaletka
    – Will Pennington
    – Rita Colafella

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