For CHS graduates, the end is just the beginning

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  • Bailey Byrne flashes a peace sign during the march in at Concord High School’s graduation ceremony Saturday. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

  • Gracie Banzhoff (left) and Ennosen Yen talk about the significance of the "memory chair " -- left empty with a rose to signify someone who cannot be at the graduation -- during Concord High School's Class of 2019 Commencement on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Gracie Banzhoff (left) and Ennosen Yen talk about the significance of the "memory chair " -- left empty with a rose to signify someone who cannot be at the graduation -- during Concord High School's Class of 2019 Commencement on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Salutatorian Eli Duggan speaks at Concord High School's Class of 2019 Commencement on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Caitlin Andrews

  • LEFT: Valedictorian Mckenna Anderson gives her address.

  • FAR LEFT: Class president Rebecca Bamidele speaks during the commencement.

  • Teacher and Rundlett Middle School assistant principal Chrigus Boezeman gives the speaker's address during Concord High School's Class of 2019 Commencement on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • A medley of motarboard designs could be seen at Concord High School's Class of 2019 Commencement on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • A medley of motarboard designs could be seen at Concord High School's Class of 2019 Commencement on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • A medley of motarboard designs could be seen at Concord High School's Class of 2019 Commencement on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • A medley of motarboard designs could be seen at Concord High School's Class of 2019 Commencement on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • A medley of motarboard designs could be seen at Concord High School's Class of 2019 Commencement on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Caitlin Andrews Monitor staff

  • Graduates toss their caps in their after receiving their diplomas during Concord High School's Class of 2019 Commencement on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Caitlin Andrews

Monitor staff
Published: 6/15/2019 6:29:18 PM

There are some days when Bailey Byrne’s Lyme disease makes walking or getting up in the morning difficult. But the Concord High School senior never faltered as she strode across the stage to graduate along with her classmates during CHS’s commencement Saturday afternoon.

Byrne is not quite done with her education – she’s about a half-credit short of the 20 credits needed to graduate. But after missing a year of high school due to complications with her disease, she was able to rework her schedule to take later classes and took extra classes during the school week and on weekends to finish on time. Her last credit is due in August.

Lyme disease can cause anxiety and depression, as well as debilitating pain in a person’s joints and feet. Byrne was diagnosed when she was a teenager; at times, her disease made her feel isolated from her peers.

Walking was a way to join them in an important rite of passage, she said. “It’s a picture I want to have,” she said. “It’s going to be important to me later that I was able to do it.”

After graduating, Bryne said she plans to take her first two years of classes at NHTI, which will give her time to figure out her next move and indulge in her love of baking.

Bryne’s high school story was one of many coming to a close, reflecting the diversity of the roughly 370 students graduating.

Some struck bittersweet notes. Gracie Banzhoff and Ennosen Yen spoke about their personal views of the Memory Chair, a lone seat occupied with a single white rose always present at CHS graduations. The chair is meant to represent someone important in a graduate’s life who wasn’t able to be there.

Both agreed the chair ultimately stood as an open invitation to seek joy even in moments of grief.

For Banzhoff, the chair was a reminder of her sister, Molly, who died three years ago from an undetected brain tumor.

“It is an open invitation for our missing loved ones to come and still be a part of the celebration,” Banzhoff said. “Molly is right here as I enjoy my high school graduation.”

For Yen, a refugee from South Sudan, it was a symbol of those who supported her silently or helped her come to this country – including those who were left behind.

“I am here today at the top of the mountain, not reflecting on the pain that it took to get here, but to feel grateful for the slight wind pushing me forward,” she said. “For the birds that kept on chanting for me to continue forth even when I felt I couldn’t.”

But without sometimes painful moments, the students wouldn’t have gotten to where they are today, said salutatorian Eli Duggan. He encouraged his classmates to hold that in mind as they went into the world.

“If failure is not fatal,” he said, quoting Winston Churchill, “then we will always have the freedom to pursue our goals and passions with the knowledge that we should not give up. Even if things don’t go our way on the first, or the second, or the third or even the fourth try.”

Continuing their story doesn’t necessarily mean creating a big impact, said valedictorian Mckenna Anderson.

“This year, I’ve come to realize that leaving your mark does not have to mean something tangible but inspiring others,” she said. “...Each person seated before me has something important and unique to share with the world.”

And class president Rebecca Bamidele said the students had, in fact, been slowly graduating throughout the school year, even if they didn’t realize it. For her, that realization came in hearing the orchestra practice “Pomp and Circumstance” in the weeks leading up to the event. It came when family members from Nigeria called her that morning to tell her they were proud of her.

“We refer to today’s ceremony as graduation, but really, graduation is a long-term process, the culmination of little moments and actions that we might not even realize,” she said. “It’s in small steps along the way: through all the different ways we say good-bye, let go, look to the future, we are graduating.”




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