DEVENS -- Standing before her graduating class, senior Annika Quinones gave a heartfelt thank you to the older members of Francis Parker W. Charter Essential School.
"You taught me what it meant to be part of the Parker community," she said. "When you told me that I should join the mock trial team, you introduced me to the extracurricular activity that would consume so much of my time."
She said those older students gave her rides to weekend practices, and stayed with her afterward when her parents were late.
But she had an interesting message to the younger ones following her: Don't thank me.
"I don't want your gas money," she said. "When I drove 40 minutes out of my way to make sure that you could get to mock trial practice, I wasn't looking for a few bucks. When you needed a ride to the after-prom party, I was more than happy to drive you."
She urged younger students to continue the tradition of kindness at Parker.
"I don't want that time back," she said. "I want you to give someone a ride home."
Unlike most high school graduations, the students at Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School get to speak -- and the Class of 2014 had a number of reflections on their time at the school.
Sean Ernst said that he always wanted to go to the University of Oklahoma to study weather.
"As a 5-year-old, I could've told you that it was O-U or bust for me," he said to a giggling crowd.
"To be honest, I saw school, especially high school, as a great swamp filled with hidden pitfalls and dank water, standing between me and my academic paradise," he said.
But he said he later learned that high school isn't a swamp -- it's a proving ground.
"Parker is where I had the chance to work out all the kinks in my academic manner, to capitalize on my strengths and to overcome my weaknesses," he said.
He said high school really allowed him to grow as a person.
"I often wondered why I couldn't just study weather," he said. "But I never expected to be glad I learned about everything else."
The small class of 64 students also heard from a few faculty, including Principal Todd Sumner, who thanked the seniors for all they offered the school this year.
"I hope that you continue to be inspired from within by the dignity of your own independent journey," he said.
Justin Desjardins, who came to Parker as a shy student, said the tight-knit community brought him out of his shell.
"Parker has taught me that none of us should be scared of what the world will think of us," he said. "We're ready to take it on."
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