By Stephen E. Lipken
Janet Knight, President, Mamaroneck Teachers Association, conferred the Boothby Award, honoring Arthur Boothby, Superintendent of Schools, 1917-1941 on Jenner Velasquez at the Mamaroneck High School Commencement Exercises on Monday, June 24, witnessed by 388 of his fellow students.
“Four years ago, at the age of 15, Jenner arrived from Guatemala and spoke no English,” Knight noted. “He did not let being a new student, learning a new language deter him from his goals, taking STEM classes and participating in robotics competitions. He arrived at school at 7:40 a.m. and worked at an outside job until 11:00 p.m.”
After jocularly discussing the Senior Prank, popping balloons in the overpass, Principal Elizabeth Clain referred to Marty Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology who, “challenged psychologists from around the world to study why people are happy, satisfied and fulfilled in life rather than focus on why people are depressed, insecure and anxious. This speech signaled a shift in attention in psychology from a deficit model to one where psychologists researched the effects of positive emotions and how happiness can be taught and learned.
“After many years of research Seligman came to the conclusion that there was a distinction between those who lived a pleasant and good life and those who lived a meaningful life. His research demonstrates that people who live ‘meaningful lives’ use their strengths and virtues in the service of something that is much larger than just themselves…and it is my sense that you are well on your way to living meaningful lives…so keep on blowing up those balloons…”
Instead of speaking, Salutatorian Haruki Gonai gave an unusual Salutatorian Address, playing an arrangement of Claude Debussy’s song Beau Soir (French, “Beautiful Evening,”) on his string bass, accompanied by fellow student Grant Tucker, signifying the end a day and for the Class, end of an era.
In her Faculty Address, Sophia Andrews relayed the parable of Laura Thomas’ Lessons of the Dandelion, citing its tenacity to grow anywhere, returning even after being mowed down; also nourishing bees. “You too, can grow and thrive in less than stellar conditions.”
Andrews concluded with the late Israeli author Amos Oz’s example of pouring a teaspoon of water on a raging fire. “Each of us have teaspoons, pouring water on hatred and bigotry.”