AYER -- "A famous artist once said, 'We started from the bottom, and now we're here,'" said Senior Class President David Dodge, standing before his fellow classmates of the Ayer Shirley Regional High School Class of 2014.
Clad in bright orange sunglasses, Dodge recalled memories throughout high school -- debating over sports, moving to the middle-school wing, and watching the construction at the new high school while staring out the window.
"By the time of prom, everyone was totally ready to get out of here," he said. "But that was one last thing that brought us together, and it was one of the best nights of high school."
Principal Brian Haas told the class of about 70 students that each member really beats to their own drum.
"I have a hypothesis about you all -- that you have a characteristic that will lead you to success," he said. "And that characteristic that I've seen is that you are your own person."
He highlighted a few members of the class for the accomplishments and interests.
"Jason Mills -- a robotics rock star, a published poet, and a theatrical sensation in 'Footloose,'" he said.
Emily Goodman, he noted, was a representation of hard work both in the classroom and in athletics. Tyler Warila, he mentioned, plays for the junior Bruins.
"Ralph Go -- someone who came to us speaking limited English in his earlier years," he said. "Senior year he played the principal in the school play 'Footloose.
Valedictorian Emma Sheils began her speech with a question asked in a Kurt Vonnegut novel: "Why you? Why us for that matter?"
"I prefer to ask why not you, why not us," she said. "Why can't you be a doctor, teacher, or an engineer? What's stopping you from achieving something great? The answer: Nothing."
Sheils told her classmates that mistakes are crucial to learning, advising them not to let their fear or nerves hold them back.
"Learn from mistakes and keep on going, because something great could be waiting just around the corner," she said.
She said each of her classmates will go on to do great things.
"I can't wait to see what the future has in store for me and for you, my fellow graduates," she said. "Why not us?"
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