With cheers, a phone call from Florida, and cannon fire, John Stark celebrates its graduates

  • Brynna Newcomb hugs her dad, John Stark School District Board Member James Newcomb, after he presents her with her diploma. Patti Osgood—Courtesy

  • Delaney Forrestall rides with her grandad in the parade that followed graduation through both Henniker and Weare held by each town's police department. Patti Osgood—Courtesy

  • John Stark senior Victoria Drake. Patti Osgood—Courtesy

  • John Stark senior Elizabeth Downing. Patti Osgood—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 6/12/2021 2:57:03 PM

John Stark Principal Gary Dempsey began his opening speech with a simple thank you.

“What a year it’s been,” remarked Dempsey. “I am not going to go through everything or we’d be here all day. But I wanted to say thank you to the class of 2021.”

And then his phone began to ring. The three chimes of FaceTime rang, as Dempsey assured guests this was all part of his plan.

“Jake, can you hear me alright?” he asked.

On the other end of the line was Jake Garside, a graduating senior at John Stark Regional High School. While his classmates gathered to celebrate their past four years, Garside was celebrating from afar.

Dialing in from Sarasota, Florida, Garside is racing in the USRowing Youth National Regatta. On Sunday, he competes to cement his place as one of the top six rowers in the country.  

“I’m basically living in paradise. All we do is eat, sleep and row,” Garside told the crowd of 1,000 over the loud speaker.

With royal blue caps and gowns, National Honor Society sashes, chords and decorations, the graduation ceremony took place on the school’s football field Saturday.

White spray painted boxes, with nine chairs, one ahead of two rows of four, specifically arranged for graduates and their designated eight guests. Although not physically present, Garside was not the only senior able to share their own words with the group.

In his salutatory address, Nathan Chasse, had one final request of his classmates.

“I have one simple challenge for each of us: go forth and fail,” he said.

Growth follows failure, Chasse explained. It’s something each graduate knows to be true whether it is in the classroom, on the field or on stage.

“Musicians, you know how many times you had to play a difficult passage poorly to make music,” he said.

And he reminded graduates that they aren’t alone in these endeavors.

“By choosing the harder road, you will fail. But we’ll be right beside you,” he said.

And lastly, sometimes reward following failure requires a little patience.

“Our parents know how long you have to root for a New England sports team before you can have the best in the league,” he joked.

Stephanie Rodonis reminded the class of lessons learned and challenges faced throughout their time at John Stark.  

“We improved our parking skills, learning to fit into tiny spaces between trucks,” she joked. “We even survived remote learning, working through all of the mishaps and technical difficulties along the way, which gave most of us a new appreciation for school and each other.”

And to find the words for her valedictorian address, Delaney Forrestall turned to her classmates. Ahead of graduation, Forrestall asked each of the 165 graduates to share a lesson learned with her.

“It showed me just how much a close caring hometown can impact the perspectives coming out of it,” she said, reflecting on reading the responses.

Don’t stop dreaming, it’s okay to not be perfect, find the people who make you feel your best. These were some of the 10 passages Forrestall shared as her takeaway message.  

“Remember to encompass your own advice as you move forward, where more lessons are awaiting,” she said.

Under a few of the gowns, baseball players reminded the crowd this was one of two celebrations for the school on Saturday. Later that afternoon, the General’s played in their first-ever Division II championship game.

As graduates walked one by one across the stage, smiling for a photo, receiving their maroon diplomas, the football field erupted. From cheers, to confetti to graduate’s faces on posters, the celebrations carried across all 100 yards.

And one last time, graduates plugged their ears as the Molly Stark cannon sounded to celebrate the class.


Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.

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