ANDOVER — Thursday evening, as the golden sun light spilled across the stage on Greater Lawrence Technical School’s football field, Dalvin Morel did something that just a year ago, many thought may never happen: he walked across the stage with his own two legs.
When Morel’s class graduated last June, “we were not sure if he would live or die,” said school Principal Elizabeth Freeman. “Nobody has ever so deserved his GLTS diploma.”
After he was severely injured in a car accident in Worcester last April, Morel fell into a coma; but he eventually woke, and through months of physical therapy, regained the ability to use his right side.
“My dream was to walk” across the stage, Morel said Thursday. How did it feel, to finally hold that diploma in his hands?
A massive grin spread across his face and lit up his eyes. “It feels great,” he said.
The grins, cheers and applause continued for the next half hour as 313 of Morel’s fellow graduates received their high school diplomas. Screams, whistles and air horns permeated the periodic roll call of names.
The graduates had chosen from one of 18 vocational paths, from culinary arts to cosmetology, and while some were headed off to college, others prepared to enter the workforce or join the military.
Valedictorian Dianny Lora Reyes, who plans to study biology at UMass Amherst and eventually go to medical school, commended her classmates Thursday for taking “the road less traveled.”
“What makes us different is that we don’t let where we come from define us,” she said, before reading the famous Robert Frost poem. “He took the road less traveled, just like most of us have been doing for years.”
Many of those who spoke at the ceremony reflected on the diversity at GLTS — not just in the courses, but in the students — and how the student body and school community created a place where the differences among the members were celebrated and embraced.
Freeman drew upon words she had heard from a student: “‘Our time here,’ she said, ‘will not be remembered by grades, popularity or favorites, but by how welcoming we were, and by the community we had as Reggies.’”
“‘GLTS has its own culture. Knowing that you’re different, you don’t feel different here.’”
Freeman encouraged the graduates to “use (their) voices and change the world.” Superintendent John Lavoie reminded the students to maintain a positive attitude and remember to laugh at themselves.
“I know and expect you will smile every day and keep people around you happy,” Lavoie said. “It’s what you can control and must always live by. It means everything.”
Also at the graduation were state Reps. Frank Moran and Juana Matias, and keynote speaker Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera.
Using humor and speaking somewhat off-the-cuff, Rivera — sporting GLTS black and orange on his suit and tie, respectively — encouraged the students to remember five things: work hard, take care of yourself, don’t quit, be self-reliant, and remember where you came from.
“Wherever you go, just remember this place, this place on the Merrimack: the voc,” he said.
Signing off, Rivera encouraged the graduates to celebrate; but he asked that once they had danced, smiled and eaten to the point of exhaustion, they do one more thing.
“Take a deep breath,” he said, “and get back to work.”