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Penacook charter school grads celebrate milestone, look to tomorrow

  • Branden Mills, 20, (right) hugs his girlfriend Shea Fortier while also greeting his mom Tracy Walker (left) following the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Branden Mills, 20, (right) hugs his girlfriend Shea Fortier while also greeting his mom Tracy Walker (left) following the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Amarrah Madejo, 18, (center) laughs while posing for family photos with her mother and siblings following the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Amarrah Madejo, 18, (center) laughs while posing for family photos with her mother and siblings following the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Graduates listen as the ceremony wraps up at the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Graduates listen as the ceremony wraps up at the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • With 22 graduates this year, the CSI Charter School set out a sheet cake and refreshments for their graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    With 22 graduates this year, the CSI Charter School set out a sheet cake and refreshments for their graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Graduates listen as the ceremony wraps up at the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Graduates listen as the ceremony wraps up at the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Branden Mills, 20, (right) hugs his girlfriend Shea Fortier while also greeting his mom Tracy Walker (left) following the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Amarrah Madejo, 18, (center) laughs while posing for family photos with her mother and siblings following the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Graduates listen as the ceremony wraps up at the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • With 22 graduates this year, the CSI Charter School set out a sheet cake and refreshments for their graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Graduates listen as the ceremony wraps up at the CSI Charter School graduation in Penacook on Thursday evening, June 5, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

The clouds parted yesterday afternoon over CSI Charter School in Penacook – just in time for the orchestral refrain and the march of 22 beaming young graduates. The Class of 2014, robed in crimson, proceeded slowly toward the outdoor stage.

For many, it was a moment of celebration after an especially arduous journey. The school, founded in 2007, is an alternative for students who, for a multitude of reasons, have fallen behind in traditional settings. Some come for disciplinary reasons, others for health or other personal concerns. Some have simply struggled academically and need a nudge to complete those final requirements.

That includes students like 20-year-old Branden Mills of Concord, who plans to study fire science at Lakes Region Community College. Mills said

he has dreamed of becoming a firefighter since he was a toddler.

Taking hold of that diploma yesterday, he said, “means I can move on and actually pursue things and goals that I have.”

Amarrah Madejo, 18, of Barnstead intends to someday open her own cupcake bakery. She said she arrived at CSI last fall after becoming overwhelmed in her math courses.

At the charter school, Madejo said, she “got so much help – more help than I could have asked for.”

Students at CSI set their own schedule and often have full- or part-time jobs on the side. They work through an individualized program, progressing through competency levels rather than conventional credits. Few graduates go on to four-year schools, but many enroll at local community colleges and vocational schools.

It’s a small program with only a few dozen graduates each year. But that didn’t seem to make it any less special for those who walked onto the stage yesterday afternoon, as a crowd of more than 200 family and friends cheered and snapped photos.

Guest speaker Mike Martin, the longtime superintendent of the Merrimack Valley School District who helped create CSI eight years ago, offered the graduates three tips: “Don’t believe everything you think”; “Don’t let others give you a ceiling”; and “Think about who you take advice from.”

“Do your thinking,” Martin said, “because if you do your thinking you can change ‘I wish’ to ‘I can’ to ‘I will.’ ”

“And tonight,” he added, “you’ve done ‘I will.’ ”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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