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Father and son

Graduation day hits home for Mohawk superintendent and valedictorian

  • Father and son, Robert Buoniconti and Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, share an embrace during this year's high school graduation. (Submitted photo)

    Father and son, Robert Buoniconti and Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, share an embrace during this year's high school graduation. (Submitted photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti speaks at the high school graduation. His son, Robbie, was among this year's seniors. (Recorder/Micky Bedell)

    Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti speaks at the high school graduation. His son, Robbie, was among this year's seniors. (Recorder/Micky Bedell) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Robert Buoniconti, son of Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, speaks at the high school graduation. He was this year's valedictorian. (Recorder/Micky Bedell)

    Robert Buoniconti, son of Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, speaks at the high school graduation. He was this year's valedictorian. (Recorder/Micky Bedell) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Father and son, Robert Buoniconti and Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, share an embrace during this year's high school graduation. (Submitted photo)
  • Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti speaks at the high school graduation. His son, Robbie, was among this year's seniors. (Recorder/Micky Bedell)
  • Robert Buoniconti, son of Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, speaks at the high school graduation. He was this year's valedictorian. (Recorder/Micky Bedell)

SHELBURNE — Like other superintendents during this graduation season, Michael Buoniconti took the podium last weekend to deliver a commencement address to Mohawk Trail Regional School graduates.

But unlike most school leaders, the Mohawk superintendent had someone special sitting among this year’s graduates: his 18-year-old son. Robert Buoniconti, who has attended Mohawk schools since 2006, was this year’s valedictorian and class president.

“My wife Barbara and I are stunned that our child is about to graduate from high school,” said the superintendent to the crowd. “How did that happen?”

Buoniconti can still remember worrying in 2006 that his son, small in stature, would be bullied because of his size. Already one year on the job as superintendent of the Mohawk, Hawlemont and Rowe school districts, Buoniconti liked the “kind and caring school culture” he had found in the West County districts.

So, Robert, who goes by “Robbie,” started attending the Mohawk schools in the 5th grade — beginning an eight-year journey that ultimately led to him finishing first in his class.

Although ultimately a rewarding experience, being the “superintendent’s son” made the journey harder, not easier, for the young Buoniconti, both father and son said.

“I needed him to know as superintendent’s son (that) he would be living in a fish bowl and his behavior would have to be unquestionable,” said the superintendent.

Young Buoniconti said it was challenging at times, especially in the younger years, to forge his own identity. His teachers expected a lot from him and students sometimes kept him out of the loop because of his connection with the administration.

But as he grew older, it became easier. His classmates won games with him on the soccer field and performed on stage together in “The Hobbit.” He became more confident and developed his own relationships with teachers, some of whom he had met and gotten to know outside of the classroom.

“By the time Robbie reached graduation ... I was Robbie’s dad (more than) he was ‘the superintendent’s son,’” said the elder Buoniconti.

The pair said that it also allowed them a father-son relationship in a way that not many superintendents, who spend long hours running their districts, are able to have with their children.

During the tough moments that come with being a high school student, Buoniconti said he felt relief knowing his father’s office was near.

“It was nice to be able to walk down the hallway ... (and have that) safe space in school,” he said.

And for the past three years, the two have commuted together from Ludlow. The younger Buoniconti tried Ludlow High School as a sophomore for one week before knowing he wanted to return to Mohawk.

“It gave me an opportunity to participate in my son’s life,” said the superintendent. “It’s brought me incredible joy.”

The new graduate will attend the University of Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Honors College in Amherst this fall to study psychology. He’s also considering joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps with the goal of someday joining the Air Force. His father is an Air Force Reserve officer.

Michael Buoniconti knows his son will do well. After serving as valedictorian of his own high school class, the superintendent saw his son set, and achieve, that same goal. His son one-upped him by becoming class president.

On the eve of graduation, as the hour passed midnight, the Buonicontis each sat in their own rooms drafting the speeches they’d deliver the next day.

Robbie Buoniconti knew that the superintendent’s speech would remain a secret until the ceremony. But he walked down the hall and asked his father, one more time, to read over and edit his speech.

“We have been working toward (this) ever since that day when we were bundled down with a backpack that dwarfed us, hugged and kissed by our parents, and nudged along to our dismay into a new and foreign life of being a student,” said the valedictorian to his peers.

“We are leveling up, leaving the minor leagues and entering the life of adulthood,” he said. “We will be going into the world on our own.”

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264. On Twitter, follow @RecorderShores

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