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Advice for graduates: Floss, overcome adversity, be thankful

Liz Cyr graduated from Pittsfield Middle High School yesterday with plans to become a vet technician. Life coach might be another option – even at 18.

First, Cyr knows how to manage a demanding schedule.

She’s maintained high honors while playing soccer, performing in plays, twirling flags with the winter color guard and mentoring an elementary school student for three years. She’s served on two community groups focused on improving the school, done an internship at a local animal hospital and infiltrated all school cliques so successfully that her classmates gave her the school spirit award.

Second, she’s already learned how to put disappointment in perspective.

Cyr was accepted into the vet technician program at Mount Ida College in Newton, Mass., but even after bringing the $42,000 annual tuition down to $14,000 with scholarships, Cyr can’t afford to go.

“I have six siblings,” she said. “I can’t cover the last $14,000.”

So, Cyr is off to NHTI in Concord, where there are no vet technician classes, without dwelling on what she isn’t doing.

“I will take my (general education) requirements,” she said, “and then hopefully transfer to the University of New Hampshire.”

Cyr was one of 42 Pittsfield students to graduate yesterday; 32 of the students will be going on to college, many of them to NHTI. They left high school with plenty of advice, ranging from “floss” to “focus throughout your life on how lucky you are.”

And nearly 20 of them picked up scholarship money from the Richard and Lois Foss Scholarship established in 2007 with a gift of $1 million. Awards ranged from $750 to one for $4,000, which went to Cyr. In addition, 15 Pittsfield Middle High School alumni received awards totaling nearly $12,000.

Valedictorian Rebekah Adams urged her classmates to see life ahead as an opportunity to make choices. “We are free to choose the type of person we become,” she said. “We are free to choose our values. Though the values of the world are ever changing, we don’t have to change ours to match.”

Brandon Guida, a Pittsfield High graduate and former state representative, continued that theme in his keynote speech. Guida, an attorney and business owner from Chichester, began with a lesson in overcoming adversity.

When Guida was a high school junior, he learned his parents had been killed in a car accident. He said he and his brother cut wood and did other jobs for their room and board. He went on to the U.S. Naval Academy and, later, to law school.

“I had depressing periods,” he said.

“I was out in the woods one day feeling sorry for what I didn’t have. I didn’t have parents. I didn’t have any money. But it came to be that I had a lot. Going forward, I thought about how much I had and not how much I didn’t have.”

That brought Guida to his first lesson: Remind yourself each day how lucky you are. And if that’s difficult, he said, imagine what it must be like living in a third-world country or being a young soldier coming home from duty without all your limbs.

Guida also recommended hard work and continued education in college or in life. He also told the students to delete the word “can’t” from their vocabulary.

Student Janice Negron, chairwoman of the graduation committee, offered practical advice – “wear sunscreen” –and inspired advice: “Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. And don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.”

She told her classmates to get to know their parents, to keep their love letters and toss their bank statements and to never read beauty magazines. “They will only make you feel ugly.”

Following Pittsfield tradition, the students stepped off the stage midway through the ceremony to present carnations to one or two people who made a difference in their high school lives. At least one dad struggled to keep tears back as his daughter gave him a red flower.

The school community also said farewell to three school employees who between them have given the district 78 years of service.

Leslie Bergevin, the guidance counselor, is retiring after 20 years. Louise Sawyer, who works in the main office, is leaving after 25 years. And Joyce Roberts, who also works in the guidance office, is retiring after 33 years.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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