Anyone who volunteers anywhere knows that it is an often thankless task…but then something happens that makes it all worthwhile!  Such an event happened just recently at the CAHS museum.  What has now become an annual tradition took place with an added twist.  Each year the seniors from Chelsea High School’s AP History class walk over for a private tour of the museum.  Knowing they were coming prompted me to get out something “new” to our collections.

We have received many wonderful additions to our collections of late and among these are the donations of local resident Virginia Visel – the great-great-granddaughter of one of the early pioneers of Chelsea – Elisha Congdon II (1799-1867).  The donations consist of many documents and photographs related to the Congdon family and I knew among the items was an original program from the graduation ceremony of the Chelsea High School class of 1896.  I was looking for that program in the box Virginia recently donated when I came upon the rolled-up diploma of a member of the class of 1896 – Nellie Grant Congdon, granddaughter of Elisha.  And rolled up within Nellie’s diploma was a real find – her handwritten, 8 page Valedictorian speech!

Literally moments later I was in the “Timeline Room” of the museum sharing some of these finds with these class of 2018 students when it was mentioned that the Valedictorian from this year’s class was among them – Josephine Surel.  Josephine was thrilled with this connection – and below you see the Chelsea High class of 2018 Valedictorian holding the original, handwritten speech of the Valedictorian of the class 122 years previously!  To me, this is what it is all about – bringing our past to life for those here today.  Another irony, without intending to, I see that I had Josephine posed just a few feet from a photo of Elisha Congdon (bottom left of the panel of 3 sets of photos in the background).

Not surprisingly, Nellie Congdon went on to become a teacher.  She passed away in 1966 and likely thought her speech, written 70 years previously, was long forgotten.  Chelsea’s rich history lives on and all of us who make up the Chelsea Area Historical Society family will continue to work to ensure it is remembered and shared for generations to come….


Bill O’Reilly
CAHS President


Click on the link to read Nellie Congdon‘s 1896 Valedictorian Speech.