Fenway Park has seen a lot of memorable moments in its time: Pudge Fisk’s walk-off homer in Game 6 of the ’75 World Series. Big Papi’s grand slam in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS. Anytime the Yankees and Red Sox got into a full-on brawl in the infield.
Last Tuesday, another big chapter was etched into the history of the ballpark: The Boston Latin School Class of 2021 held its graduation ceremony at Fenway, in-person and without masks for those who were vaccinated, to finish off a year defined in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the ceremony, Thomas White, who GBH News has been following for our COVID and the Classroom series since the first day of a senior year spent entirely online, took in the scene with his classmates as they bid adieu to a year unlike any other.
"It was just really good and like a great culmination to kind of a bad year," he said. "Like one of our valedictorians said, it was kind of like a reunion at the same time as also saying farewell to everyone."
White sat among his peers, draped in shiny purple caps and gowns, as they and their friends and families looked down into the right corner of the outfield.
Rachel Skerritt, the head of school at BLS, noted to the graduates and audience just how much has changed since last year, when a graduation with handshakes, hugs and visible smiles was simply impossible.
“If anyone is currently lamenting about our cautious approach to the weather today, their seat proximity to this podium or the price of parking, hopefully taking in the full meaning of this moment and how unobtainable it was for our class just one year ago will bring us back to a place of nothing but joy," she said.
Among those in attendance were White's parents and siblings.
His mother, Anna, was going through all the emotions moms navigate on graduation day for their first kid.
“Thomas started as a little K-1 student at the Josiah Quincy School," she said. "Having to drop him off outside on Washington Street with the cars flying by and they would line up against the wall outside. And then to have him just be here, today, at Fenway Park, it’s just crazy. It’s just blowing my mind.”
Her son will be off to Bucknell University in the fall, where he'll be running track and cross country. If the past year has shown anything to Anna, it's that her oldest child is ready for the challenge. But she's still a little concerned about how the city boy from South Boston will do in rural Pennsylvania.
"Like I'm trying to explain hunting season to him and what you're supposed to wear if you're doing long runs outside!" she said.
Under normal circumstances, the Whites would have had more family come for the big event. Anna says she started planning invitations two years ago, but because of late scheduling and the lingering impacts of the pandemic, nobody outside their immediate family could attend.
White's dad, Langdon, has seen his son take a pragmatic approach to tackling challenges brought on by the pandemic, whether that was figuring out how to stay involved in volunteer programs outside of school or finding ways to keep running.
“It’s been really interesting but it’s weird in that none of it surprises me," he said. "It’s kind of like he took the next step in something that I expected him to do.”
Langdon knows his son is only 18 and just getting out of high school, but he can already see the through line from boyhood to the man his child can become.
That, more than anything, is what graduations are really about; the end of childhood and the transition to adulthood and real responsibility.
It’s why White couldn’t go ten feet without dapping someone up or posing for a picture with a classmate as a sea of purple streamed out of Fenway’s gates after the ceremony. The grads were celebrating leaving high school, yes, but really they were savoring their last moments of pure youth.
That youth got put through a speed cooker by COVID. Even in his final moments of high school, White couldn’t help but reflect on what having a graduation meant knowing that last year’s class never got the chance to have a proper ceremony.
“You know, we had so many things taken away but being able to keep these really important things like a graduation, it’s just so great," he said. "And I’m so grateful for everyone who did it.”
As the sun set on Fenway Park, members of the BLS Class of 2021 gathered for the first time as alums. But after a year where growing up was a necessity and not an option for so many, the real graduation for White and his classmates may have happened a long time ago.