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Hillsboro-Deering graduates speak of unity, appreciation for simple gifts

They came marching at half past six: 109 high school graduates in red gowns, each holding a white flower and walking from the school they had for four years called home toward the massive white tent erected for this day.

Minutes later, when the Hillsboro-Deering Class of 2013 was seated, with hundreds of beaming friends and family members watching, their principal stepped up to the microphone.

“A couple weeks ago, the senior class went around and did a video, going around and asking students for one word they had that describes their class,” Jim O’Rourke said. “The word I have for them is ‘unselfish.’ ”

“The change in culture this class has motivated in our entire school community is nothing short of remarkable,” O’Rourke continued. “This class has truly inspired me to be a better person, personally and professionally.”

Class President Sarah Egner then welcomed guests, leading them in the Pledge of Allegiance and offering a few words about what the graduation signified to her.

“As a class, we have spent the majority of our lives anticipating and preparing for this day to come,” Egner said. “We have spent hours upon hours, day in and day out, working in the classroom, onstage, the playing field and beyond . . . to become the best we can become in our short time as students. But today brings the end of all this work of this nature. Today brings change.”

Egner then signaled to her classmates, who rose and dispersed throughout the crowd to hand their flower to someone special, whoever it might be.

When they returned to their seats, Superintendent Robert Hassett spoke.

“Tonight I have a gift for you all: My speech will be short,” he said to laughs and cheers from the crowd. “I’m keeping it short because I fully realize how eager you are to get on with this. You are ready to get those diplomas for which you have worked so hard. You are ready to join your family and friends to share your joy with them. You are ready to get started with your plans for your futures. And this is how it should be, for a graduation, far from being an end, is the beginning of all your tomorrows.”

Hassett then announced the recipient of the district’s annual Withington award, which he said is bestowed to someone who has proven an “ambassador” of the school in the community, someone who has “strived for and achieved excellence,” and someone who has gone “above and beyond” in helping students. This year’s award went to Assistant Superintendent Patricia Parenteau.

“She is here in the schools at 6 a.m. and often doesn’t head home until late in the evening,” Hassett said. “When something needs to be done, there is no question who will be first to volunteer.”

Salutatorian Sarah Holdner was the next speaker. Holder said she had just returned from a semester sailing with other young people aboard a 134-foot schooner.

“I gave up running water, personal choices, alone time and sleep,” Holdner said. “In four months I traveled from Trinidad to Maine, and I saw some of the most beautiful things and also some of the ugliest. In all of the places I’ve been, I’ve never been in a place as wonderful as right here.”

Holdner explained that the trip, especially her visit to the Dominican Republic where she witnessed unsanitary conditions, had taught her to appreciate where she came from.

“The rest of the world is not as safe or clean as it is in Hillsboro, New Hampshire,” she said. “It is also not as fair.”

Holdner cited what she called “extreme social injustices” in the Dominican Republic, and its historic conflict with neighboring Haiti.

“We may have our own problems here. This town, this state, this country is not perfect,” she said. “There are times we are crippled by our own privilege and blinded by our own richness. It’s easy to take for granted what we have here. But standing in front of you all today, I can honestly say that we are extremely lucky to live where we do.”

Valedictorian Kassidy Snair followed with an equally heartfelt speech, which began with a quote from religious leader and author Thomas Monson: “The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live in it.”

Snair talked about her experience growing up in the tiny town of Washington and coming to Hillsboro-Deering for middle school from a class of just 12 students.

“Quickly, everything changed,” she said. “We melded together, as one. We went through the awkward stage of middle school and transitioned to high school, as one.”

Snair praised her former teacher Marc Payeur, who she said is struggling with cancer. She described him as her “school dad – always giving me advice when I needed it.”

“My junior year, Mr. Payeur was diagnosed with cancer,” Snair said. “The word still burns like acid on my tongue as I speak it.”

“Through his struggles I have learned things about myself,” she continued. “Not only have I learned to have strength in him, but also to have strength in myself. The sickness taught me how to deal with challenges. It taught me how to turn sadness into motivation.”

At the end of Snair’s speech, she asked fellow classmates to rise, lift their arms and display the hand signal for peace.

“I love you guys,” she said.

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

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