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John Stark Regional graduation speaker: ‘Stay alert, alive and involved’ with others

More than monetary success, those who came to say goodbye to the Class of 2013 at John Stark Regional High School yesterday hoped the graduates would find real happiness in the little things and in service to others.

Yesterday marked the 26th graduation ceremony for the high school whose 163 graduates hail from both the Henniker and Weare communities.

Principal Christopher Mosca said that while he still had them as a captive audience, he wanted to be sure he left them with parting thoughts on what would really make them happy in life.

He told them to be themselves, even though it’s easy to get sucked into conforming.

“The world is filled with people who will want you to conform,” he said. “Stay true to your own compass.”

Taking a page from Jimmy Buffett’s songbook, he encouraged them to lust for the future but treasure the past, including remembering how they all came of age together. And finally, he told them not to fear the pains and disappointments in life, saying, “That which hurts you isn’t necessarily bad.” Because it’s in those moments, he said, that they will discover their true character and who they are.

Salutatorian Marina Rioux, who will attend the University of Chicago in the fall, recalled one of those painful times. She told a story of being alone on a bench in the middle of Saint John island while on a family vacation in the Caribbean last year. She was having an allergic reaction, had sun poisoning and was dehydrated. She didn’t have the strength to get off the bench and shivered in 90-degree heat. Several people walked past her, looking away, keeping their distance from the sick stranger. But one woman smiled at her and stopped to see whether she needed help. The woman pointed out a nearby pharmacy to Rioux, who was then able to get well enough to get back on a boat to go to her family.

“Whether or not we realize it, every single action of ours shapes the world we live in,” Rioux said. She said she’s sure some of her classmates will go on to do grandiose and important things. But even those who don’t, those who have work-a-day jobs, can effect change in their lives and the lives of those around them.

“The truth is, the majority of the time, it’s not the actions of a few powerful people that change the world, but rather the daily actions of ordinary people,” she said.

Valedictorian Keith Galli of Henniker, who will attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall, similarly found a lesson in the little things in his life. He told the story of showing up late for school, yet again. Knowing he was already late, he tried a door that was closest to him but that he knew was locked. With the other option being to walk around the building to the only open door, he instead chose to force the locked door open. Judging by the knowing laughter of the crowd, and his joke about school officials trying to “fix” this door a hundred times to keep it from locking, it seemed this was a fairly common occurrence among the tardy. But, he assured the crowd, he wasn’t advocating breaking doors, he was encouraging them to do so metaphorically speaking.

“Look for new doors to open,” he said. “And don’t be afraid of failure.”

After all, he said, Col. Sanders went to 1,000 food outlets peddling his blend of 11 herbs and spices before starting Kentucky Fried Chicken. And if he’d quit, KFC would not exist.

“And we wouldn’t want that, would we?” he asked.

But it was English teacher William “Bill” Babine who got the crowd to its feet with his graduation address. He told the students that in striving for success, it was important not to get caught up in an “I got mine” mentality. Instead, he said, he hoped they would make it their life’s work to build trust with those around them and to take the time to look out for the people in their communities and the world.

He implored them to discover their sense of empathy, to “stay alert, alive and involved with the people around you,” and to “serve empathy,” as opposed to money when making life decisions.

He told them to do what they love and recognize that while that means their mothers and fathers may worry whether they’ll be able to make a living, “mom and dad will have to trust you know what you want.”

And lastly, he told them to live below their means, so that they would not only always be comfortable, but could afford to travel and explore all the world has to offer.

“Share your service to others,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “Go get your life’s work. Seek the values that are priceless.”

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