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Mairead Baker – a shining beacon of hope

The COVID Class of 2020 missed out on all senior rites of passage. From proms to graduations, the pomp and circumstance was put on hold due to the pandemic. But this generation seems built to withstand hardship.  Most were born just months after September 11, 2001 and now they are pushed into adulthood when the world seems to be teetering on the edge. Mairead Baker is a member of this generation and she is a shining beacon of hope.

“I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. There is reason why we could not end the year the way we thought we would. There is a reason why our generation is currently living during not only during a time of a pandemic, but also of other historical events. Our class was destined for greatness. We were chosen to be the strong ones – the ones who see the problems that exist in the world, and not sit back and wait for change to happen. Rather, we will take the resilience we have been equipped with, along with the rest of the members of the class of 2020 worldwide, and take on the rest of the big scary world head-on, and with our hearts full.”  

This is an excerpt from Mairead’s valedictorian speech to the graduating class of 2020 at Boston Latin Academy.  Instead of standing in front of a live audience of classmates, family and friends, the 18-year-old from Dorchester read her speech in a quiet room while her aunt recorded it. A sign of the times of remote learning and zoom classrooms.

Mairead graduated from BLA at the top of her class. She is a member of the National Honor and her extracurriculars include the Crimson Summer Academy at Harvard and scientific research work at Northeastern and Boston Children’s Hospital.  In September, she will be a freshman at Harvard University where she will study neuroscience and focusing on a pre-med academic track.

In addition to being extremely intelligent, Mairead is an athlete. She played varsity soccer for BLA, softball for ADSL and RBI, in addition to being an avid runner.  She was supposed to run the Boston Marathon this year for Team MR8 – for which she is a youth board member.

Mairead also works in the neighborhood at the Mud House on Neponset Ave. and for Project D.E.E.P. at the Leahy Holloran Community Center.  She lives in Adams Village with her mother Kristine and her brothers Colin and Eamon.

To call Mairead exceptional would be an understatement. She is level-headed, hard-working, compassionate, strong and resilient. She is wise beyond her years. Representing the best of the bunch of this new generation, you can’t help but feel hopeful for the future.

Here is Mairead’s speech in its entirety below:

Good afternoon everyone. I just wanted to start off by thanking all the teachers, family members, and mentors that have supported the Class of 2020 throughout our time at BLA. We could not have reached this point without you.

I guess this speech is a little different than what it would have been if we were in normal times. But nonetheless, I think the same principles still apply.

I read a quote a while back about how dark times often make the strongest people. It has stuck with me during high school, and I thought it would apply well here. Written by Khalil Gibran, it reads, “Out of the suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Although we could be suffering much more greatly right now, this was supposed to be our time. We were supposed to be sitting in Matthews Arena, celebrating six years of hard work at a tough school. Yet, we are here, virtually, but we are still here.

That fact that we are here shows that we will not back down when dark times emerge. Whether that be a pandemic, or a time where hatred still exists in the hearts of many, we choose to come together, and try to make the best of it.

I find it funny how our class was the generation born during 9/11, and now we graduate during a pandemic. I was born nineteen days after 9/11, and the rest of my classmates were born during the wake of a terrifying and eye-opening period in America. Now, we sit here with everything stripped away – prom, an in-person graduation, senior week, senior breakfast, college shirt day, everything that we have been looking forward to since we were sixies. We are missing out on the “good ole days” your parents might tell you about. Although I admit it really could be worse, it is a punch in the gut that we will never have these experiences.

But I think that we have something else that no other class in history will ever be defined by – resilience. And resilience takes people farther than a night at prom or throwing your graduation cap in the air ever will. Many people have been saying, “Well, now your class will appreciate school and being with your friends more than you did before.” They say, “Never again will you take something for granted.” While I think part of this is true, I feel like we did appreciate times with friends. We did have fun at school, a lot of fun, and enjoyed every minute. That is what makes this so difficult. We had something we loved so deep, enjoyed so much, taken away before we could even say goodbye.

Resilience is when you take a reality, no matter how different or how difficult it may seem, and you run into it head-on, with a full heart, even if you are scared. For our class, our resilience is shown in ending high school not on a bittersweet note like it should have been, but on a darker, more lonely one. Yet, we accept this, unwillingly, but we accept it, and we will take on college or wherever you plan to go next year, filled with nothing but determination and true grit.

I could sit here and explain to you what I think it means to be strong and preserve through dark times, but instead, I think it is more meaningful to explain what I think will happen to the class of 2020 in the years to come and how we should move forward.

It seems as though every senior class says that the best of times are those senior springs, that last night at prom, and the week just before you end high school for good. We never had these times, so that must mean that the time we have had at BLA already has been the best for us. Think about all of the memories you have made at BLA, since seventh grade, or ninth for some, to the week before we switched to virtual classes. These memories as a collective form a really beautiful picture of high school and what is looked like for you, for us. We can choose to think that our “best times” were stripped away, or we can choose to think that they have already happened during these six years.

On a more serious note, I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. There is reason why we could not end the year the way we thought we would. There is a reason why our generation is currently living during not only during a time of a pandemic, but also of other historical events. Our class was destined for greatness. We were chosen to be the strong ones – the ones who see the problems that exist in the world, and not sit back and wait for change to happen. Rather, we will take the resilience we have been equipped with, along with the rest of the members of the class of 2020 worldwide, and take on the rest of the big scary world head-on, and with our hearts full.

When we look back, I do not think we will still be hurt by the fact that we did not get to dress up with our best friends and dance the night away at prom. I do not think we will be hurt by the fact that we did not get to spend the remainder of high school on Townsend Street. I do not think we will feel the depth and uneasiness of the uncertainty and pain this time has caused us. Rather, I think we will appreciate the fact that we were able to experience something not many can say that have. We will be stronger, more at peace, more open-minded, and capable to do anything we dream of. We won’t remember the pain, we will remember the way everyone slowed down and came together. We won’t remember what we lost, we will remember all of the good times we had together.

So, to my classmates, I encourage you to try not to dwell on how we had our senior year taken away. I encourage you to try not to think that we had everything stripped away – because we didn’t. We had so many amazing times here at BLA, moments we will take with us throughout the rest of our lives. There is so much ahead of us, so many memories we have not made yet. Look forward to those moments, and to a time where we get to come together again with our BLA community, which we will forever be apart of, and celebrate our class. Because that time will come. Thank you for all the memories. Your hard work and resilience will be forever celebrated.

Congratulations to the Class of 2020.

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About the Author

Maureen Dahill

Maureen Dahill is the editor of Caught in Southie and Caught in Dot and a lifelong resident of South Boston sometimes mistaken for a yuppie. Hockey mom, yoga enthusiast, lover of red wine and binge watching TV series. Mrs. Peter G. Follow her @MaureenCaught.