Through perseverance, Concord 2024 grads take life ‘by the horns’

Jillian Fox gets a reluctant hug from her son, Alexavier Hildreth, after the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field in Concord on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

Jillian Fox gets a reluctant hug from her son, Alexavier Hildreth, after the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field in Concord on Saturday, June 15, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Jillian Fox and her son, Alexavier Hildreth, after the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field in Concord on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

Jillian Fox and her son, Alexavier Hildreth, after the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field in Concord on Saturday, June 15, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Jillian Fox gets a reluctant hug from her son, Alexavier Hildreth, after the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field in Concord on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

Jillian Fox gets a reluctant hug from her son, Alexavier Hildreth, after the Concord High School graduation at Memorial Field in Concord on Saturday, June 15, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Concord High School graduates have to hold on to their caps as a strong gust of wind blew through Memorial Field as they entered to receive their diplomas on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

Concord High School graduates have to hold on to their caps as a strong gust of wind blew through Memorial Field as they entered to receive their diplomas on Saturday, June 15, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Concord High School graduates throw up their caps  at Memorial Field after receiving  their diplomas on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

Concord High School graduates throw up their caps at Memorial Field after receiving their diplomas on Saturday, June 15, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

One of the many decorated caps at the Concord High School graduation on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

One of the many decorated caps at the Concord High School graduation on Saturday, June 15, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Concord High School graduates have to hold on to their caps as a strong gust of wind blew through Memorial Field as they entered to receive their diplomas on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

Concord High School graduates have to hold on to their caps as a strong gust of wind blew through Memorial Field as they entered to receive their diplomas on Saturday, June 15, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Concord High School graduate Kendall Barton gets a hug from Administrative Assistant to the Principal Lisa Lamb after Barton received her diploma at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

Concord High School graduate Kendall Barton gets a hug from Administrative Assistant to the Principal Lisa Lamb after Barton received her diploma at Memorial Field on Saturday, June 15, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Concord High School graduates throw up their caps  at Memorial Field after receiving  their diplomas on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

Concord High School graduates throw up their caps at Memorial Field after receiving their diplomas on Saturday, June 15, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 06-15-2024 5:25 PM

When Alexavier Hildreth begins business classes at Southern New Hampshire University this fall, his mother Jillian Fox will also be enrolled. 

He’s the reason she’s there. 

“I didn’t get to do this,” Fox said, tears welling behind her sunglasses, as the Concord High School Class of 2024, cloaked in crimson, listened to the valedictory speech. Fox received her diploma, but not in time to walk at her own graduation 20 years ago. There were moments when she worried that her son wouldn’t either. But he did. 

“He doesn’t give up. He doesn’t get frazzled, even when the odds don’t look good,” Fox said.

His quiet determination, she said, inspired her to go back to school. 

Concord’s 2024 graduates recognize their own resilience: Beginning high school in the fall of 2020, fully remote, wasn’t easy. Their principal, Tim Herbert, opened graduation Saturday with a reminder that perseverance isn’t just about pushing through trying moments, but realizing the opportunities that lay on the other side of them. 

“Graduates, I ask you to promise yourselves, as your story unfolds, you will not focus on the problems you face,” Herbert said. “Instead, I ask you to focus on the possibilities that lie ahead of you when you overcome those challenges.”

It was a message echoed throughout the day, first by salutatorian Ellis White. 

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As both a group and as individuals, the class had faced down adversity and come out on the other side, White told their classmates.“Take this time to celebrate, reflect, be grateful and find peace in the fact that we are moving on — however ready you are as you walk the stage today.” 

For White, who is a survivor of sexual assault, the possibility that lay beyond their pain was the discovery of a new purpose — instead of pursuing acting, they realized they wanted to become a music teacher, to give other kids the kind of support and belonging they had found in the music department at Concord. 

Valedictorian Tyler Watt used mini-golf as a metaphor for navigating around life’s obstacles, “no matter how many strokes you take.”

The class would part ways, and life would throw them each into different sand traps and force them to line up impossible shots. But, Watt said, the class of 2024 entered the world knowing its own ability to persist. 

“When you were pushed out of your comfort zones, you grew and learned,” he said. 

Asked what advice they would give their ninth-grade selves, many graduates emphasized being present: Take the bad times seriously, they said, and don’t take the good times for granted.

They seem to have taken their own advice.

Watching from the crowd, parents, teachers and families saw a class that held one another, and every minute of the time they got to spend together, close: The forced isolation of the pandemic meant they returned to “normalcy” with a hunger to be involved and connected. 

“I see kids who really like being together,” art teacher Erin Martin said. “They’re enthusiastic. They’re excited.”

Melanie Doherty said her daughter, Morgan, “took life by the horns” when remote learning ended. The Dohertys — six of whom cheered from the top row of Memorial Field’s wooden bleachers — are no strangers to a CHS graduation ceremony. 

“It pushed her,” older brother Ryan said. “She wanted to do as well as as she could at everything.”

Recent Concord High alumna Madison Barton hooted and hollered in celebration of her younger sister Kendall. For Barton, who graduated in 2022, seeing the last class of grads who experienced fully remote learning at CHS get their diplomas was comforting.

“Its good to see them go out on such a positive note,” she said. “Because it was so dark there, for a second.”

Barton was impressed by her sister’s focus, straight to the end — a pole vaulter, Kendall hit a new personal best just last week.

Hildreth, laughing as he did so, said he would have advised his 14-year-old self to “actually go to class.”

“It’s not worth it to not do your work,” he said. It was a lesson he learned the hard way, he said, but he was intent on keeping his head above water. “No matter how far I let myself fall behind, not graduating was not an option.”

Hildreth’s favorite thing about his class, he said, is the diversity of paths they’ll take next year — from tattoo artists to truck drivers to firefighters. He hopes his own path will lead him into photography, snapping shots of rock and metal bands. 

In the meantime, he and his mother — one from a dormitory and the other online — will start their next chapters in parallel. 

“I don’t tell him I’m proud of him enough,” his mother said as he prepared to accept his diploma, lining up on the wing of the stage. “I should.”

Catherine McLaughlin can be contacted at cmclaughlin@cmonitor.com.