Bishop Brady graduates urged to be thankful, pay attention, live with hope

  • Bishop Brady graduate Merci Ngabo reaches out for an air hug while social distancing at the school’s graduation ceremony on Friday evening in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Bishop Brady graduates and their families sit outside and in their cars as they wait for graduation to start on Friday evening, June 12, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bishop Brady Senior Class President Lydia Philbrick and her father Dan try to tie down the cap that was floating in the wind before graduation on Friday evening, June 12, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bishop Brady graduate Jacob Marshall makes hamburgers and hot dogs for fellow graduates in the back of his family’€™s truck in the parking lot before the graduation on Friday evening, June 12, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bishop Brady graduate Jacob Marshall and his family wait for the school's parking lot to open before the graduation ceremony on Friday evening, June 12, 2020. MARY STEURER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/13/2020 7:41:43 AM

For Bishop Brady High School’s 86 seniors, graduation was a hello as much as it was a goodbye.

Friday’s commencement ceremony was the first time many in the class of 2020 had seen their classmates in months, since the novel coronavirus swept through the country and forced schools everywhere to switch to online learning.

Social distancing protocol inspired a unique setup for the event. Instead of gathering in the gym like usual, graduation was held in the school’s parking lot with cars facing an outdoor stage. Guests were asked to stay in their vehicles for the whole ceremony, which was broadcast over FM radio.

The graduates and their families made the most of the unfamiliar circumstances. Cars were painted with words of congratulations and adorned with balloons and pennant flags in the school’s colors. Some attendees lounged in truck beds with food and drink.

Graduating senior Erik Bishop performed two songs at the ceremony: the national anthem and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

Dr. Joseph Favazza, president of St. Anselm College in Goffstown, was the event’s guest speaker.

Drawing from his decades as an educator, Favazza gave the graduates three instructions: First, to be thankful – especially to those who supported them throughout their time at Brady. Second, to pay attention to the world around them. This is particularly important now, Favazza said, in a country fractured by a pandemic and societal ills like racism and police brutality.

“It will cost you your comfort zone,” he said. “But to remain inattentive at this moment is not an option.”

Third – echoing the words of Saint Paul – Favazza called on the seniors to live with “faith, hope and love.”

Building on Favazza’s words, salutatorian Marcus Simoes said he wanted his speech to focus on what he was thankful for this year, rather than what his class had lost. While the pandemic forced the seniors apart physically – taking with it many cherished spring semester rites of passage – he felt they had weathered the chaos with solidarity.

“Now that the world has been turned on its head, this notion of our differences dividing us has been shattered,” Simoes said.

Simoes invited graduates to be grateful for life’s small blessings, reading aloud the poem “Don’t Hesitate” by Mary Oliver.

“I know it’s hard to believe that joy can be found right now, but it is possible,” he said.

Valedictorian Peter Bittman called on his fellow classmates to find strength in the community they built at Bishop Brady as they prepare for the next chapter of their lives. They are like branches of a tree, Bittman said – their pathways diverging, yet still bound at the root.

“No matter how far away from here we go, no matter what we choose to do, a small part of us will be anchored here in this moment of our lives,” Bittman said.

During the ceremony, Principal Andrea Elliot provided a short reflection on the class’s accomplishments. Among them, Elliot recognized senior Mark Galvin, who enlisted in the New Hampshire Army National Guard last year and will depart to complete his training for military police next week. Elliot also celebrated Brady’s handful of international students from China, Korea and Russia. The flags of all three countries were displayed alongside the American flag on the stage.

Elliot offered her own parting words to the class of 2020.

“More than 45 years ago, on the day of my high school graduation, my father gave me some advice that I have lived by ever since,” Elliot said. “And tonight I share his words with each of you. He said, ‘Work hard, stand up for what you believe in and whatever you choose to do, be the best you can be.’ ”

Graduates approached the stage in groups of about eight to 10. Honks and cheers rang out as each received their diploma.

At the tail end of the ceremony, class president Lydia Philbrick presented the senior class gift: a new sound system for the gymnasium. Money left over from the funds will be donated to a charity in Concord, she said.

As the ceremony closed, the seniors were sent off with a long chorus of honks, air horns and rattling cowbells. Taking advantage of the open air, spectators popped confetti and threw bang snap firecrackers.

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