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Concord High graduates celebrate four years of hard work and overcoming challenges

  • Kyle Cushman hugs a family friend after graduating at the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014. Right after graduation, Cushman packed up to leave for boot camp. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Kyle Cushman hugs a family friend after graduating at the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014. Right after graduation, Cushman packed up to leave for boot camp.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Students listen to instructions while lined up before the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Students listen to instructions while lined up before the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Students pause on the field while walking up to their seats during Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Students pause on the field while walking up to their seats during Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Dylan Nahler (left) walks on stage to recieve his diploma during the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Dylan Nahler (left) walks on stage to recieve his diploma during the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Members of the Concord High School football team pose for a photo in the end zone of Memorial Field after their graduation. <br/><br/>Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Members of the Concord High School football team pose for a photo in the end zone of Memorial Field after their graduation.

    Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Kyle Cushman hugs a family friend after graduating at the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014. Right after graduation, Cushman packed up to leave for boot camp. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Students listen to instructions while lined up before the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Students pause on the field while walking up to their seats during Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Dylan Nahler (left) walks on stage to recieve his diploma during the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Members of the Concord High School football team pose for a photo in the end zone of Memorial Field after their graduation. <br/><br/>Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Concord High School Class of 2014 graduation at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 21, 2014.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Like many graduates at Concord High School’s commencement ceremony yesterday, Kyle Cushman was feeling excited and anxious to move on from his senior year and begin the next phase of his life.

And for the 18-year-old that next step starts today at 1 p.m., less than 24 hours after he walked across the stage planted on Memorial Field to accept his diploma from Principal Gene Connolly.

This afternoon, Cushman will ship off to a three-month boot camp in South Carolina, his first step in becoming a U.S. Marine.

“I am excited, but I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work,” he said. “I think I will definitely come out a better person.”

It’s been exactly a year since Cushman decided to enlist. Around this time a year ago he was on the fence, debating between joining the Marines or going straight to college. So, he went to see his recruiter, they talked it through, and Cushman made his final decision. He signed up for four years of service and hopes to go to college afterward.

“The adventure, the camaraderie they all have, I just wanted to be a part of that,” he said.

And graduating yesterday is letting it all happen.

“I need the diploma to get into the military, that is pretty important,” he said. “And graduating high school shows that if you stay with something for long enough and put in the work, you can complete it.”

For many Concord High students, they too are beginning to see the hard work and time they put into high school start to pay off.

“I believe all of us have had some obstacles along the way whether big or small,” said graduating senior Ashish Bhattarai during a speech yesterday. “We are here all at Memorial Field and this would not have been possibly if we stopped trying.”

For Claire Celestin, that message is clear. During yesterday’s ceremony, Celestin stood confidently in front of the graduates, parents and teachers to sing “For Good” with three other students. But four years ago, the 18-year-old quit theater because she was too scared to try out for a play at the high school level.

Celestin had always loved singing and performed in all kinds of shows in elementary and middle school, but she was too nervous to try out in high school.

“I would get the packet every year and say ‘I don’t know, there are just so many talented people’ . . . I felt insecure,” she said.

During her junior year, she finally decided to give it a try when she learned that the school would put on the musical Rent. Celestin ended up getting a lead role and this fall, she is going to Northeastern University in Boston with hopes to minor in theater.

Performing has helped her learn that it is “okay to be myself, to go out there try new things,” she said. “Now that is my new thing, to try new things. . . . It will help me make friends in college, try clubs, try new sports, make my experience better.”

‘That’s my thing’

George Feliz will follow up on his hard work at the high school track when he attends Bethune-Cookman University in Florida this fall, where he will compete in the hurdles. Feliz found the sport by chance during his freshman year, when the coach asked him to pick a track event, any event. “I glanced at the hurdles and I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ Now that’s my thing,” the 19-year-old said.

Over the past four years, the hurdles helped to keep Feliz focused during challenging times at school and at home. It “was my escape, every time I stepped on track I was happier, in a better mood,” he said. The sport also helped his confidence, said Feliz, who is a state champion in the hurdles.

“It makes me happy I am proud of myself for achieving so much,” he said.

The achievements of the class of 2014 make it stand out, Connolly said yesterday. “They have proven themselves to be outstanding leaders, setting a wonderful tone for underclassmen,” he said during his speech. “It has been a pleasure working with them. They set the bar very high for future classes.”

Rise for recognition

Yesterday, Connolly presented 393 students with their high school diplomas.

Midway through the hour-and-a-half hour ceremony, Cushman was one of a dozen who stood to be recognized for entering military service after graduation.

As he and the others rose from their chairs, the crowd in the bleachers behind the field cheered and whistled. Cushman and the students remained standing, as student speaker Alison Quinn thanked them for their service.

“These graduates are dedicating their lives to protecting our countries . . . for that I feel we cannot thank them enough,” she said. “Whether they serve one contract or continue on to make a carer in the armed forces, they are going above and beyond what I and many others are not willing to do.”

After her speech, the entire crowd and a sea of students rose to stand together with Cushman and the others to sing the national anthem.

This afternoon, Cushman will report for duty and then head to Portland, Maine, before flying south and ultimately heading to boot camp in South Carolina, a state he has never visited before. But the service is not unfamiliar to him. His dad was a Marine, his grandfather and uncle in the airforce, his cousins in the navy and army.

“I think it’s going to be good for him,” said Kyle’s father, Tim Cushman, after the ceremony. “He will learn a lot of life experiences just by being in the service, more than he will just staying in Concord.”

“It’s hard, but he is doing something he wants to do,” said Deanna Cushman, Kyle’s mother. “I am totally proud of him.”

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

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