Frankie Wells smiles as he enters the Bridgton Twin Drive In greeted by SAD #17 staff before the graduation program. Brewster Burns

BRIDGTON — The accomplishment of finishing high school amid a quarantine was a main theme as staff and student speakers said farewell Sunday to the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School graduating Class of 2020, as was their memories of each other as they move forward.

Principal Ted Moccia welcomed seniors and their families to the Bridgton Twin Drive-In Theatre to a graduation ceremony no one would have predicted before COVID-19 derailed life as they knew it.

“To the class of 2020, you made it,” Moccia told the class, via a pre-recorded speech projected onto the big screen. “As I thought what to say tonight, my mind went to the current pandemic. But then I thought, that is not what I’ll remember about you all. I think about our positive interactions in the hallways of OHCHS. I think about how kind and caring you are; how you have made a difference and made my school better every day … it’s on display every day throughout our community.

“You are role models to your siblings. You have become stronger young men and women. I am so proud to be your principal. The class of 2020 will make a difference. It will do great things. Plans will change along your journey, but what will not change is the impact you have had on everyone you have come in contact with during your time at OHCHS, especially me.”

Nadia Wielki takes it all in as she enters the drive-in. Brewster Burns

OHCHS alumna Allyssa Brooke, an actress who currently appears on Netflix’ series ‘Stranger Things’ and has had roles in several other movies and television series over the last 10 years, was the ceremony’s commencement speaker.

“There are three life truths I can share with you,” said Brooke. “Truth number one: no one has life figured out. I don’t. Your parents…and teachers don’t. There is not a single person in existence who hasn’t been blindsided by something completely unexpected. You have no idea what will happen in the very next breath you take, let alone tomorrow. So don’t waste time worrying about it. Find the beauty in this very moment, it’s the only thing you can be sure of.

“And your generation is unprecedented. You are the first generation to grow up entirely in the shadow of social media. Your very existence is documented moment to moment, which is great. But there is a darker side to social media, the pressure to always be living your best life.  It feeds a false sense of reality.  Remember this, everyone’s path is different. You are exactly where you  need to be … and no one has life all figured out.”

Brooke also promised as her second truth that graduates will find that life sometimes sucks, drawing analogies to movie heroes – Harry Potter against Voldemort, The Avengers versus Thanos, the plights of Buzz and Woody in the Toy Story franchise.

“Why do we sit on the edge of our seat as our hero faces his or her demise?” Brooke asked. “Because we can relate. It’s okay to be weary or feel lost or alone. We all will have moments where we must come face to face with our own villains … to overcome the seemingly impossible and forge ahead when life gives us more than we can bear.”

Brooke’s third truth to graduates is that all they need is love.

“It’s not a romantic kind of love, although that’s good too,” she said. “We need generous love, to see our fellow human beings and treat them with compassion and empathy. Regardless of who they are … every human being we encounter is someone who needs love … that is the thread that ties us all together. Everyone one yearns to feel love, the warmth of an embrace, the comfort of feeling like you belong, that you matter, that you are seen.

“Stand up against racism, sexism, hatred and bigotry. Big changes changes start in the seemingly insignificant moments of our daily lives. Love is contagious. So is hate. Words are powerful. Please choose them wisely. You don’t have to have everything all figured out. Sometimes it will suck. But at the end of the day if you do it with love, you will be someone’s hero.”

Salutatorian Marissa Paine spoke about when the Class of 2020’s educations began in kindergarten.

“That is where I discovered Dr. Suess’s ‘Oh, the Places you will Go.’ This book seems especially poignant, as we have spent the last third of our senior year in quarantine,” Paine said in her video speech. “One line stood out for me: ‘I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ’cause you’ll play against you.’

“His message sticks with me. While we were certainly alone thanks to the quarantine, as Seuss highlights, our most significant battles are often with ourselves. We faced personal challenges and metaphorical mountains to get here today …. But we haven’t had to face them alone.”

Paine recounted times when teachers and friends made her smile through tough times, and joked that members of the OHCHS Class of 2020 are graduating as movie stars. She thanked the school administration for seeming to move mountains to make it possible for the graduates to receive their diplomas.

“For all of us, our families, friends and teachers have encouraged us to this point of our journey,” Paine said. “We thank them. We share this unique ending to the end of our high school career. Dr. Suess knew we could do if from the minute we picked up his books as six-year-olds. ‘You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!'”

Cars roll into the Bridgton Drive-In on Sunday night for the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School graduation ceremony. Brewster Burns photo

Valedictorian Cecelia Dieterich spoke about the silver linings of finishing amid a quarantine.

“Our challenges and obstacles are what give us layers and depth, and make us interesting,” Dieterich said, quoting TV personality Ellen DeGeneres. “They aren’t fun as they happen but they make us unique. This is too fitting, as despite our set-backs we have made it this far. We’ve been in quarantine and apart from each other, but the bright side? We have been given this one last night to be together …. We can celebrate our accomplishments.”

Dieterich reminded her classmates that they all had individual achievements through their high school careers, listing a number of teachers and thanking SAD 17 and its communities for the care students have received.

“All of us have the strength, perseverance, determination and will to do and succeed at what we want,” Dieterich said. “This moment is only the first step to all the amazing things we are going to accomplish in our lives.”


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