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Abby Israelite Dolliver, NFA Class of '71

Congratulations to the Class of 2021 on your graduation. It has been a year unlike any other in history, and despite all that everyone has been through, here you are ready to graduate and move on to reach your goals.

As a graduate of the Class of 1971, I am both thrilled and honored to address you. Thank you to my classmates for affording me this opportunity.

Thank you, too, to Dr. Kelly and the NFA family for inviting the Class of 1971 to have this partnership with the Class of 2021.

What could I possibly share that will make a difference to you based on what we experienced in 1971 and all that you have experienced over your years at NFA?

I could talk about who dated who, how we spent our weekends (I don’t think I would publicly share that), how our sports teams did and about the very liberal dress code that was finally passed during our third year. Our music and art programs were exceptional. This has not changed. NFA IDs were implemented and two security guards were hired, too! I wish I was still paying .40 for a gallon of gas. There were many environmental issues in 1971. And, it was during these years that we lost Main, MT and Commercial to Tirrell, Cranston, Shattuck and Bradlaw.

So, really, what do we possibly have in common?

During this time of unprecedented need in our country, both due to the pandemic and civil unrest, I see the importance and connection of where we started here in 1971 and where you are now 50 years later. In 1971, Project Outreach was started. Today, due to your hard work and a strong commitment, Project Outreach is an award-winning student organization helping the hungry, the homeless, the elderly, the disabled, the school community and more. Community Service is a critical need, then and now.

In 1971, we had marches to feed the hungry. So many today are struggling with food insecurity. Racial unrest was evident, too, in those early days of the 1970s, and we had what we called the Intercultural Committee to promote general understandings between all groups of people at NFA and in the community.

We had marches through town to address some of these critical issues. We were aware, but maybe not quite as vocal and well-spoken as you are today. I am sad to see that racial bias and unrest are larger concerns today. Together, we must continue to address the injustice and stand up for equality.

We had basic struggles in our day, but they have certainly grown over these past 50 years. These are the challenges that you have and are experiencing now. So much has changed over 50 years, yet so much stays the same. Your struggles have been so very tough. The social isolation, learning without regularly being in a classroom with peers and teachers, giving up sports seasons and music programs. The list is long. I am thrilled that you can celebrate graduation together this year and that we are here with you and your friends and families.

The Class of 1971, has had reunions regularly and, though not huge in numbers, we dance and sing to our favorite band Melaena. We catch up on old stories and try to recognize each other. Wearing yearbook pictures as our reunion ID is humbling for sure!

With every story comes a learning opportunity. One never would have guessed that our worlds would stop in March 2020. Take a moment to think about what these times have taught you about yourselves and each other. These are life’s lessons and even with all the disappointments along the way, changing traditions and developing new ones continues. For example, who would have thought you would have your graduation in a baseball stadium instead of on the beautiful NFA campus?

What you must remember is really what my classmates and I have experienced while at NFA and in the 50 years that followed, and as hard as it may be to see it, everything is a learning opportunity for each of you and all of us. We must look at where we have been and where we want to go and pick our paths, even though they often change. It is more important now than ever to get involved in your communities and in using your voice to speak about what is important to you. Pay it forward, even if you are the only one.

In 1971, and those exceptional four years before that, my class developed many of our own stories, ones that we continue to tell some 50 years later. What has not changed over these 50 years is our need for each other, the need for love and kindness, the need for acceptance of our differences.

Now more than ever, the Class of 1971 asks that you continue to advocate for yourself so you can reach your North Star. Never forget the person behind, in front or beside you. Even getting registered to vote or encouraging someone else to is a way to serve. Thanks to those of you who have decided to serve our country in the Military. Our country needs you. Our world needs your compassion, your knowledge and your energy. Remember all that NFA taught you, even if you were in front of a computer screen on Zoom.

NFA has been here for us throughout these 50 years, in different ways, and I know it will be here for you, too, as will the Class of 1971.

I close with this quote from a book called “Maybe” by Kobi Yamada. “Do everything with love. Follow your heart and see where it leads you. Because there really is more inside you than you know. And the world needs your gifts, your talents, your big ideas.”

From the Class of 1971, congratulations! We are so excited to see how you will change the world!

Abby Israelite Dolliver is a member of the Norwich Free Academy Class of 1971 and was chosen by her classmates to address this year’s graduates.

 

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