SALEM — Compassionate, friendly, outgoing, spirited, caring and kind-hearted.
Those were some of the words that came to mind for Salem High School Principal Tracy Collyer when describing the Class of 2013.
The rainy skies cleared over Grant Field on Friday evening, just in time for the graduating seniors to march on to meet their final high school milestone.
That milestone meant different things for each graduate, Collyer said, noting that more than $6 million in scholarships was collectively awarded to members of the Class of 2013.
"While no two students' experiences at Salem High School have been the same, a diploma means you're well prepared to meet the challenges of the future," she told them.
Collectively, the accomplishments of this year's graduates have been impressive ones, with band members having marched in the Fiesta Bowl, the Student Council earning national recognition and three sports teams — gymnastics, boys' volleyball and girls' volleyball — winning state championships this past year.
"Clearly, you're a unique group of young adults," Collyer told her students.
Salutatorian Zachary Arnold, who excelled in his advanced science courses but still found the time to volunteer regularly coaching baseball players with special needs, urged his peers to pay it forward as they make their ways through the outside world.
Arnold, who will study neuroscience at the University of Rochester this fall, credited his family for teaching him the importance "of working hard and never giving up."
"I'm asking each of you to think of the person or event that helped inspire you," he told his classmates.
For Arnold, that person was his brother, Samuel. Diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, Arnold said it took his brother 16 years to learn how to tie his shoes, but despite all the challenges he faced he never lost hope.
"He taught me that anything worth accomplishing begins with hard work," Arnold said of his brother. "Follow your instincts and remain true to who you are, because a person's character is the most valuable thing they own."Valedictorian Noelle Castilla Ojo's passion for learning began at age 3, when her first day of pre-kindergarten coincided with a major snowstorm.Though her mother, who had just moved to Salem from California, didn't want to drive in the stormy weather, Ojo refused to miss out on her first day of school, Collyer said.
"So mother and daughter bundled up and walked to school together," the principal noted.
That passion for learning has served Ojo well: she plans to study neuroscience at Northeastern University this fall.
"Success isn't just an award or a prize — it's meeting a goal you've set for yourself," Ojo told her fellow graduates.
Class president David Rodriguez recalled his freshman days. A self-described "shy and goofy" kid, Rodriguez credited his friends and teachers for helping him navigate the path to self-actualization.
"You are not your scars, your GPAs or your past," he told his classmates. "You are anything you want to be."
Superintendent Michael Delahanty offered some words of wisdom to this year's graduates, noting the years have a way of going by faster as one gets older.
"You cannot predict your future," he told them. "But you can plant your future today."