One word to describe John Stark’s Class of 2020: resilient

  • Kathryn Reph attaches balloons to her car with her family.

  • From left: Ashton Clow, Sydney Talbert, Trinity Cozby and Richard Phipps show off their custom graduation caps at the John Stark Regional High School graduation Saturday. MARY STEURER photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/13/2020 5:16:13 PM

Avery Forrestall took the stage to cheers and applause.

A surprise student speaker at the John Stark Regional High School graduation Saturday morning, Forrestall shared what resiliency means to him – and what it should mean to those graduating during a global pandemic.

He stood before a crowd of about 140 fellow John Stark students and their guests, each partitioned into neat white boxes on the school’s football field to ensure proper social distancing.

As a two-time leukemia survivor, resiliency is not a new concept for Forrestall.

“The word ‘resilient’ chose me,” he said. “I had to be resilient when it was my only option.”

But this year, resilience took on a new meaning to him. In the face of worldwide crisis, the John Stark community taught him to embrace resiliency on a deeper level.

“Today, I and we chase resilience. We grab resilience,” he said. “And we wear the word ‘resilient’ like a badge of honor.”

The ceremony featured four additional student speakers, who shared their favorite memories of John Stark and paid tribute to class victories both big and small.

Delivering the ceremony’s introductory remarks, senior executive council member Eve Caplan celebrated the class’s persistent commitment to the John Stark community.

“You were so invested in the community that you wanted it to improve,” she said.

Lauren Zervos, another student speaker, said it’sthe little things that make a high school experience great – and little things that she missed the most when John Stark switched to remote learning.

“There were times I felt robbed of my senior year – high school is not just academics,” she said. “It’s not.”

High school is about Spirit Week, about lunch with friends and about exchanging smiles and nods in the hallway, Zorvos said.

“This time, being away from the school I thought I would never leave made me realize how much I took advantage of the wrong things,” she said.

Salutatorian Hailey McKillop celebrated the obstacles the Class of 2020 overcame as they transitioned to online learning in March.

“We have faced an unprecedented event – and we surpassed it,” she said.

In the valedictory address, Camryn Plaza called on her classmates to embrace the future ahead of them – and to always remember to use their talents as tools for good.

“Every person in this class has something unique to offer the world,” Plaza said.

After the student speakers, senior Jillian LaBrecque performed an original song – a coming-of-age piece dedicated to her peers in the class of 2020, as well as to the memory of Roger Sarette, a classmate who died in the third grade.

“Look back on memories made under a brighter moon, never knew how good we had it,” LaBrecque sang.

John Stark Principal Gary Dempsey took time to recognize five students in the class of 2020 entering the United States military: Cordell Drabble, Jacob Ridenour, Aram Fowler, Jackson Ugarte and Kyle Gendreau.

He also extended thanks to the school’s four exchange students, who came from Italy, Slovakia, South Korea and Denmark. Each of the four students arrived home safely to their families, Dempsey said.

Assistant Principal Brian Emery announced class scholarships. This year, more than $70,000 from the communities of Weare and Henniker were awarded to John Stark students, Emery said.

The 2020 class gift, presented by senior executive council member Madeline Fitts, was a new water bottle filling station.

John Stark sent its graduates off to cannon fire, a school tradition nearly 30 years old. Smoke billowed into the air as the crowd sang the John Stark fight song.

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