SALEM — There were several references to a famous quote by Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress back in 1968 during Friday's graduation of the Salem Academy Charter School.
"If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair," Chisolm once said.
"We are a folding chair kind of school," he said in his speech to classmates — something that can be taken both literally at the 14-year-old school, and as a description of the ethos of his fellow students.
Friday's graduation was the 10th in the school's history, and the first in the school's new Norman H. Read Gymnasium, a milestone for the grade 6 through 12 public charter school, located in the Shetland Office Park.
"Our place at the table is not guaranteed, but make no mistake: every single one of us has value," said McLean. "I say this with complete sincerity. I am proud of all of you, of all of us."
A total of 43 students received their diplomas during Friday evening's ceremony. Each student first read a "legacy" to the school in the form of a favorite quote, from the serious to the silly, from Maya Angelou to Usain Bolt.
One quoted the line, "You can't start a fire without a spark," from Bruce Springsteen's 1984 song "Dancing in the Dark," then explained, "That was for you, Grandma." Others picked more recent musical icons.
"We are graduating proactive, informed and articulate young people who will change the world because of their time at Salem Academy," said executive director Kathy Egmont.
Nina Cohen, head of the school's board of trustees, told the graduates, "Being a graduate of Salem Academy is meaningful because it's hard."
There were references to current events during the ceremony.
"We who live here remember what happened in Salem whenever powerful people insist that facts don't matter," Cohen told the graduates.
State Rep. Paul Tucker of Salem was one of two speakers who drew comparisons between the students of 2018 and earlier generations.
"There may be times when you will be called upon to show courage, to stand up, not because others may be watching but because it's the right and just thing to do," said Tucker.
He urged them to "give your all, much like the greatest generation of World War II. You will need to rise to the occasion, to be a leader, to use your talents whether it be in science, politics, fighting for justice for all, or simply being there for someone in need."
Upper School Prinicpal Sean Gass told the students that their world "is changing really fast."
"The only constant that we know about is that the world is going to change, and it might change exponentially,"Gass said.
"The stakes for you guys are real," he continued. "This year, we again saw tragedy strike in our schools, but something very different happened this time. Kids like you took to the stage, took charge of that moment and you began articulating what so many of us have felt. You inspired us. Change feels very close."