Merrimack Valley graduates reminded to take time to disconnect

  • Merrimack Valley student Derek Mills walks in the processional line at the school’s commencement on Saturday at the high school. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Adam Hodge reaches out for a low five to his daughter’s friend Ellie Taylor during the processional of Merrimack Valley High School graduates as they enter the commencement ceremony on Saturday at the high school. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley High School graduates file in to the football field at the commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 17, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Derek Mills poses for a photo Saturday following graduation at Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook.

  • Merrimack Valley High School seniors wait to file in for the start of commencement at the football field on Saturday behind the high school.

Monitor staff
Saturday, June 17, 2017

It’s not often kids land their dream job straight out of high school.

While Derek Mills may be mucking horse stalls at first in Merrimack, eventually he will be helping to train the famed Budweiser Clydesdales. By the time Mills turns 21, he hopes to be on the road, traveling up and down the East Coast with the hitch of horses as they make appearances in parades and at events.

“I am pretty excited and I am nervous more than anything,” said Mills of Webster. “It’s what I have always wanted to do for my entire life and they are giving me the opportunity to do it.”

Tall, in a dark blue gown and bright white sneakers, Mills was one of nearly 200 students who walked across the stage beneath cloudy skies Saturday to get a diploma from Merrimack Valley High School.

Mills is one of several who is starting a job or taking over a family business right out of school. Others are going off to college, and a few are entering the military.

Teachers and school leaders urged the graduates to take time away from social media and their cell phones to connect with friends and family. Principal David Miller told the students to never measure their success by the number of followers or likes, but by the impact they have on others.

“Take a moment to disconnect from social media and make it a point to connect with people face to face,” he said. “As you grow through each experience … always remember to pay it forward.”

That message was echoed by the graduation speaker, teacher Jeffrey Neilsen, who told students the path forward is to understand the past. At the dinner table, he told them, don’t just keep the conversation to what happened that day. Ask grandparents about their first jobs, dads about their first cars, he told the students.

“Until we know where we came from, we don’t know where we’re going,” Neilsen said, as graduates’ family and frends watched on from the bleachers or seated under nearby tents.

Student Isabelle Carr focused on the importance of friends, telling the class that the “P” in Merrimack Valley Pride stands for people. Speaker Kylie Lavoie echoed that sentiment, calling on her classmates to surround themselves with a “good group of people who motivate and inspire you to do great things.”

Graduates of Merrimack Valley include students from Boscawen, Loudon, Penacook, Salisbury and Webster. Several speakers thanked long-time assistant superintendent Chris Barry for her 43 years of service at the school district, from which she is retiring on June 30. Barry received thunderous applause when brought up on stage for recognition.

Instead of recognizing the top 10 in the class, administrators announced students who had graduated cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude.

Administrators outlined accomplishments of the senior Class of 2017, including Elizabeth West earning the Girl Scout Gold Award.

Richard Ward won a congressional art competition for a graphite drawing titled “Inspiring Opportunities,” which is now on display at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., administrators announced.

Meriah Metzger told her fellow students not to worry about planning out their entire futures or knowing exactly where their lives might lead. She cautioned no one can predict what will happen, when car trouble will make someone late to a job interview or when an offer may come in. Take it in stride, she told them.

“There is freedom in the uncertainty of the future, do not take that away from yourself,” she told the students seated before her. “If you decide to plan for your future … be entirely, unapologetically yourself.”

Mills has been planning for a career with horses for the last few years, when he got a job helping at an old dairy farm in 8th grade. He began exercising the horses and then training them. Before long, Mills was showing the animals at fairs all over the state, where he won the teamster award twice in a row. For his senior project, he spent 2,500 hours training a two-year-old mare to walk on a harness and hook onto a wagon and drive.

Three years ago he went to the Budweiser facility in Merrimack asking about a job. He will start there this summer, he said.

“I just guess hard work pays off in the long run,” he said.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)