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Courage, speeches, tears and tributes, all before the rain came down

  • Kearsarge Regional High School Commencement 2016 June 10, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Kearsarge Regional High School’s new graduates toss their caps in the air in celebration. JENNIFER MELI / Monitor staff

  • Kearsarge Regional High School Co-Valedictorian, Aidan Terhune, giving his valedictorian address at the Commencement Ceremony June 11, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • students from Kearsarge Regional School District Kindergartens who will become the future class of 2028 performed "God Bless America" (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Saff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Kearsarge Regional High School Commencement 2016 June 11, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Kearsarge Regional High School Commencement 2016 June 11, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Kearsarge Regional High School Commencement 2016 June 11, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Kearsarge Regional High School Co-Valedictorian, Devon Fortier giving her valedictorian address at the Commencement Ceremony June 11, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Kearsarge Regional High School Choir performing at the Commencement Cermony 2016 June 11, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Kearsarge Regional School District Superintendent, Winifred Feneberg, Commencement 2016 June 11, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI



Monitor staff
Sunday, June 12, 2016

Robert Bennett, the principal at Kearsarge Regional High School, kept his word at Saturday’s graduation.

“We are going to beat the rain today,” Bennett proclaimed to the 133 graduating seniors, assembled on the school’s football field, as the sun fought the clouds for supremacy above.

Somehow, Bennett’s timing was perfect, which gave family and friends just enough time to hear singing by high schoolers and grade schoolers, speeches by the co-valedictorians, tributes to loyal faculty members and lessons meant to last a lifetime.

Before the ceremony, math teacher Randy Wormald and two of his colleagues stood in line waiting for the event to begin. Asked to name a student with an interesting background, all three agreed with what Bennett had said the day before, that a girl named Devon Fortier, who will attend the University of New Hampshire this fall, would make a great story.

Fortier shared valedictorian honors with Aidan Terhune, both completing their four years at Kearsarge with 4.0 grade point averages. Fortier had to beat cancer, which she did, and manage her diabetes, which she’s doing.

During her speech she said, “When people hear I’m a co-valedictorian, they assume I’m some wildly intelligent super human. In reality, I don’t have extreme intellectual powers. I just worked the hardest I possibly could.”

Then she moved into her personal story, which she expanded on after the ceremony. She was diagnosed with leukemia at age seven, too young to grasp the seriousness of her illness.

“I didn’t fully know what it meant,” she said as the crowd milled around the track that circled the football field. “I was more concerned with losing my hair.”

The drugs Fortier took killed half her pancreatic cells, causing diabetes. She never mentioned that illness during her speech, but spoke about a condition created by chemotherapy, calling it “chemo brain.”

“Mental cloudiness and memory issues that accompany many sick cancer survivors,” Fortier explained to the crowd. “And since I was so young, that meant I would probably struggle in school for the rest of my life. I promised myself I could not let this happen to me and I had to do everything in my power to fight it. It has not been an easy task.”

Fortier’s father, Tim Fortier, listened to his daughter. He cried and knelt, unconcerned about grass stains on his sharp pinstriped suit. He gave a thumbs up several times when his eyes met Devon’s.

Devon, according to Tim, donated 9 inches of her hair to help cancer victims. He described her as “fearless,” with a “dry sense of humor, relentless worker, fearless.”

Terhune’s speech was laced with inside jokes, such as the one about Harriet Tubman being the “greatest astronaut president this country has ever seen.”

He also had advice about individuality, saying, “There will be a lot of people out there who want to make your life theirs and who want to live through you, but this is your education, this is your high school and college experience, this is your future. They’ve made their choices, and don’t you dare let anyone take yours away from you.”

Elsewhere, a special chorus made up of Kearsarge Regional School District students, Class of 2028, sang “God Bless America,” with the voice of 5-year-old Maryn Sherman, wearing pigtails and a polka dot dress, rising above the rest. Her mother Aimee Sherman watched, her 25th high school reunion at Stevens High School scheduled for later in the day.

The little kids’ chorus was led by Laura Adams, a teacher whose first-ever class of kindergarten students in the school district graduated Saturday. Those students raised their hands in a tribute to Adams, who retired Saturday and dabbed her eyes while sitting under a canopy.

Assistant superintendent Pam Stiles, who will work for the Alton School District in the fall, also received applause. “This is your day,” she told the graduating seniors.

Bennett wrapped things up. “Never let a job define you,” he told college-bound students.

Then the seniors moved their tassels from right to left and tossed their caps in the air, fireworks exploded overhead and it began to rain as the crowd filed out.