‘Finish what you start’: Concord Diploma Academy graduates 22

  • Concord Regional Diploma Academy graduate Peter Martell Jr. lines up for the graduation ceremony at Concord High School on Thursday, June 21, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The 22 Concord Regional Diploma Academy graduates line up to march into the auditorium at Concord High School on Thursday, June 21, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord Regional Diploma Academy graduate Peter Martell Jr. makes a rap presentation during the graduation at Concord High School on Thursday, June 21, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Diploma Academy Coordinator Carol Lundin hugs graduate Amanda Berube after her speech. Berube has a master’s degree in nursing but came back to receive her diploma after dropping out of Concord High School 18 years ago. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/21/2018 10:44:26 PM

A little over 30 years ago, six credits shy of graduating, Peter Allen Martell Jr. dropped out of Manchester Memorial High School.

His girlfriend was pregnant, and to prepare for his son’s arrival, Martell had taken a job at Moore Business Forms. For a time, he did both – school and work – and his bosses insisted he get his diploma.

But when the company offered him the opportunity for overtime, Martell gladly took it. He found himself working from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., sleeping for just a handful of hours, and making his way back to class at 7 a.m. The grueling schedule wearing him down, he quietly left school. In the 25 years that followed at the company, nobody followed up to make sure he’d actually graduated.

“I took care of my family. I did pretty good,” he said.

Still, Martell wanted his diploma – a feeling that intensified after his own son and daughter graduated from Concord High.

“I wanted to make them proud by showing that Dad can do it, too,” he said.

On Thursday, Martell achieved his long-deferred goal, walking across the stage at the Concord High auditorium festooned in a maroon cap and gown for the Concord Regional Diploma Academy’s graduation ceremony.

Martell said he’d deeply enjoyed going back to school, and getting to delve into history and economics. But he said his biggest motivation was his wife, who made sure he went to class even when she was badly ill.

“For all the days that she was sick, she was pushing me out the door to go to school,” he said. “She’s been an inspiration for me.”

The program graduated 22 people Thursday. Martell’s peers included teen parents, a mother who graduated alongside her two daughters and a woman who took 13 years before finally getting her diploma. And while teen pregnancies at first derailed the academic careers of several who walked the stage this year, many said it was precisely family who got them back on track.

Amanda Berube, who also graduated from the program Thursday, had gone to Concord High, but she hadn’t worked particularly hard, or done particularly well.

She’d long ago gotten her GED, her bachelor’s degree, and her master’s, but she never completed her goal of getting her actual Concord High diploma.

She told the crowd Thursday that her journey, like theirs, had been “long and winding.”

“I had big hopes of becoming a pediatrician, or a pediatric nurse, but I never really put the work into it,” she said.

Berube became pregnant her junior year and dropped out for the first time. She vowed to herself and her daughter that she would return for her diploma, and while she did re-enroll, she didn’t make it to graduation day.

With the support of her family, Berube said she was eventually able to create a stable life, with a reliable if unfulfilling career. For years, she put off returning to school.

“While watching a particularly frustrated customer yell at a co-worker over something completely menial one day, I decided it was time. If I was going to spend more than 40 hours a week away from my daughter, I needed to be doing something meaningful,” she said.

And so Berube got her GED. And then an associate degree from NHTI. And then a bachelor’s degree. And later, her master’s. She now works as a nurse manager.

“My job is amazing. I am so blessed,” she said.

But despite achieving her career goals, Berube said she’d had this nagging feeling that her work was incomplete. It’s why she reached out to the Diploma Academy in March. Her GED may have gotten her into college, but it hadn’t fulfilled the long-ago promise she’d made to her daughter to get her high school diploma.

Berube said she’d wanted to make good on that commitment to her oldest – and set an example for her youngest.

“In the place where my high school journey began, modeling to them my advice: Finish what you start. Embrace your differences and your journey. Know who you want to be and be that person. Don’t allow anyone else to determine who you are and what you’re capable of. Your past does not define you. What feels like a mistake or setback today may just turn out to be the best thing that happens to you,” she said.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)

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