LOWELL -- Billerica Memorial High School alum Peter Coppinger was all pumped up for the 1979 Harvard/Yale rivalry football game, but he suddenly lost his team.
Coppinger missed the Harvard bus to Yale's stadium, and panic set in as the biggest game of the year was fast approaching. A wild-goose chase ensued with two other players, but the defensive back for the Crimson made it in the nick of time.
"Despite the unique challenges we faced, we did everything in our power to overcome unexpected obstacles," Coppinger told Billerica Memorial High School graduates Tuesday night, adding that Harvard prevailed against Yale despite being a 21-point underdog.
"You will face unexpected obstacles, and you have to do what you can to overcome them," added Coppinger, previous chairman of Billerica's Board of Selectmen and an experienced business litigator.
According to the program 352 graduates received their diplomas at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell on Tuesday.
Coppinger, who graduated from the high school in 1977, also advised them to be like Abraham Lincoln and persevere through challenges.
"Lincoln was born into poverty, lost many elections and was bankrupt. He could have quit but did not," Coppinger said. "The courage to continue is what mattered most.
"Everyone experiences failure, and what's most important is how you handle it," he added. "Get better and try again."
Principal Thomas Murphy said the Class of 2014 has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. He emphasized they all can make a difference.
Murphy ended his address with words from President John F. Kennedy, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them."
"You are our future leaders. You will have many tomorrows. You will have many opportunities to invent the reality of our world. I ask you to make a difference in the world around you," Murphy added.
Class of 2014 President Raj Patil also told the graduates to improve the world.
"Try to be the best so it means something good for the world," Patil said. "We'll need to find cures for deadly diseases. We'll need to stop global warming and put an end to gun violence."
Valedictorian Nikila Vasudevan and Salutatorian Daniel Spencer also gave remarks. Vasudevan said the inside of the high school is more important than the school's condition.
"Having been a Billerica student since first grade, I can look beyond the physical condition of the school, whatever it may be, and see that what's inside counts," she said. "And what's inside is all the people who make BMHS a truly great school."
On the eve of officials learning from the Massachusetts School Building Authority about the next step for a new high school, Superintendent of Schools Tim Piwowar also addressed the age of the school, which opened in the 1950s.
"Many of you think it's hard to believe the high school was ever new," Piwowar said. "In 2074, your grandchildren will wonder how their building was ever new.... But what makes the school special is the strength and passion of the people within."
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