LOWELL — A sea of blue filled the Tsongas Arena Monday night for what would likely be the last time the members of Andover High School's Class of 2019 would all be in the same place.
Seated in chairs lining the floor of the arena with decorated graduation caps atop their heads, it was time to reminisce on the past four years, acknowledge their accomplishments, and celebrate one of the biggest milestones in their young lives.
Andover High School sent off 446 graduates at the ceremony.
On the stage, school and town officials were among those seated, including members of the School Committee, Superintendent Sheldon Berman, Andover High School Principal Philip Conrad and Town Manager Andrew Flanagan.
"Throughout high school, we are quick to look into the future, yet tonight is a time to reflect upon the amazing things you, along with the entire Class of 2019 have done. Recognize where you started, appreciate where you are and embrace the unknown," Ariadna Vecchio said in her welcome remarks.
Shardul Joshi introduced Class Essayist Matthew Allen. Joshi gave a warm introduction about his friend, sharing kind words and noting his successes and impacts on the community, as well as his notable outfits in middle school.
In his speech, Allen reiterated to his classmates the immense privilege they have all been given by being provided a quality education.
"We often forget that many people don't have access to the levels of schooling that we do. ... Simply by the nature of our living here in the Untied States, we have access to at least 12 years of schooling. And by nature of our living here in Andover, we have access to a level and quality of education that is higher than most," he said.
But with the privilege of being able to call themselves "graduates," Allen noted the responsibility they now have of taking advantage of the opportunity they have been afforded and stepping up to lead on a global stage.
Recalling challenges the class has faced during their time in high school, a notable one being the Sept. 13 gas disasters, Allen said these obstacles proved that the members of the Class of 2019 have the impulse and ability to lead.
"History isn't written by those faint of hope. It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to continue to exemplify leadership and to do what the many generations before us have failed at: To solve challenges and to make change, rather than to just pass the buck," he said.
The class recognized West Elementary Principal Liz Roos as their Distinguished Citizen. Seniors Zoe Nepomnayshy and Jessica Shay spoke fondly of Roos and shared stories of how she has positively impacted them over the years. Roos recently retired from her role as principal after 34 years.
Superintendent Berman shared parting words with the class. He said the Class of 2019 was one of the most diverse classes to graduate from Andover High School, with students from Canada, China, Germany, Guatemala, India, Israel, Malawi, Nigeria, Russia and South Korea.
"You have come to appreciate each other personally and recognize the richness this diversity offers us in learning about and understanding different perspectives, cultures and religions. ... We hope your experiences over the past several years have given you both the skills and the courage to stand up, step forward and speak out on behalf of all people in the benefits our nation has to offer," he said.
Given everything the class has achieved in their lives so far, Berman said he believes the students are poised to become leaders of the future.
Principal Conrad said the seniors were already missed at school Monday morning. He pointed out the little things he missed that some specific students did each day, such as one student putting their bike away in the rack, the way another dressed and those that blasted morning announcements over the speaker.
"It's the little things that add up to be the big things, and so, on to the big things," he said.
Conrad congratulated the seniors on their long list of major successes and accomplishments, from academics to arts and sports. He recognized two students — Zachary Saab and Haley Traub — who have pledged their service to the United States. Saab will go on to the Army National Guard and Traub has enlisted in the AirForce ROTC program at the University of Miami.
"Today is your moment to pause, reflect on what you've done, and think about where you need to go forward. There's lots to be done in our world. ... And Class of 2019, the world needs you to change it," he said.
Each student promenaded across the stage to receive their long-awaited diplomas, before turning the tassels on their caps to mark their new status as graduates of Andover High School.