At Merrimack Valley graduation: ‘This is all where it really starts’

  • Students throw their hats in the air at the end of Merrimack Valley High School's commencement ceremony, June 11, 2022. EILEEN O'GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Students throw their mortarboards in the air at the end of Merrimack Valley High School's commencement ceremony on June 11. EILEEN O'GRADY / Monitor staff

  • Souleymane Sangare waves while walking in the student processional at the start of Merrimack Valley High School's commencement ceremony June 11, 2022. EILEEN O'GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Diego Lizotte walks in the student processional before Merrimack Valley High School's commencement ceremony June 11, 2022. EILEEN O'GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Souleymane Sangare (right) walks in the student processional at the start of Merrimack Valley High School's commencement ceremony June 11, 2022. EILEEN O'GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Diego Lizotte walks in the student processional before Merrimack Valley High School's commencement ceremony June 11, 2022. EILEEN O'GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Student process in at the start of Merrimack Valley High School's commencement ceremony June 11, 2022. EILEEN O'GRADY—Monitor staff

  • Student process in at the start of Merrimack Valley High School's commencement ceremony June 11, 2022. EILEEN O'GRADY—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/11/2022 3:15:54 PM
Modified: 6/11/2022 3:13:36 PM

When anyone asks Merrimack Valley High School senior Diego Lizotte where he is from, he answers “multiple places.”

Since childhood Lizotte, 18, has divided his time between New Hampshire and Honduras, due to a parental custody agreement that has him spending half the summer and every other winter holiday season with his mom’s side of the family in Honduras, and the rest of the time in Loudon with his dad. While it’s allowed him a rich opportunity to experience both cultures, it’s also been a challenge to navigate high school at the intersection of many disparate identities: Honduran and American, Catholic and gay, and a Hispanic student at a school where few others speak his first language.

“Bringing it all together, it’s a struggle trying to figure out who you identify as -- that’s taken me the better part of my high school career to figure out,” Lizotte said. “How do I bring all these things together to be my authentic self? It’s hard, but by the end it’s kind of like very interesting Jackson Pollock painting.”

While in New Hampshire, Lizotte has found a passion for legal studies in the criminal justice program at the Concord Regional Technical Center. In Honduras, he has been learning his family’s business – a petroleum business and a wine business – knowing he will be carrying it on someday.

“I want to be the one who continues it because it’s their dream, their successes,” Lizotte explained. “Learning about that business helps me learn, not just of my family, but also what does it mean to run a successful business in a developing country? And what does that mean for the people who are working for you, and how you’re changing lives, impacting people and impacting the community?”

Merrimack Valley senior Souleymane Sangare also knows a lot about moving between cultures. When Sangare, 19, came to the United States from Guinea in February 2021, he spoke French, but no English. At the time, his father was dying and his mother sent him to live with relatives in Penacook to distance him from the emotional distress. Sangare had enough credits from his old high school to be placed in eleventh grade, but found himself plunged into total language immersion, at school and at home.

“My biggest success was to learn English so fast because it’s not easy,” Sangare said. “I know some people, they’ve been here for a long time, but they don’t speak English at all. But I mean, nobody can speak French here. You don’t have a choice. You have to learn.”

Over the next year and a half, Sangare learned English, made friends through his ESL classes and the varsity soccer team.

On Saturday, Sangare was one of 177 students to graduate from Merrimack Valley High School in an outdoor ceremony on the school athletic fields. Friends and family members sat in bleachers and under white tents on either side of the field, while the graduates sat in rows of folding chairs in the center.

One chair was left empty in memory of Merrimack Valley student Zach Lacy, who died in 2020. Lacey, who would have graduated Friday, was honored with a moment of silence and his name was read aloud during the presentation of diplomas. His twin sister Zoe Lacy crossed the stage next and received her diploma to thunderous applause.

“We all wish we could have seen what Zach would become in year 2022,” said social studies teacher Zachary Stephenson, who gave the commencement address. “Potentially an all-state athlete, a best friend, a New Hampshire scholar, the prom king, the list is endless. But we must remember the good times we had with Zach and understand he is with us here today in spirit, and supporting each and every one of you.”

In her student address, Rylee Boucher shared some of her classmates’ favorite high school memories: attending prom, playing basketball and having band pizza parties. Boucher reminded her classmates that while the future is uncertain, they acquired important skills in high school like how to turn defeat into victories.

“Each and every one of us has gone through personal struggles during our time here,” Boucher said. “I’m so proud of all of you for not giving up even when we could have, for being here another day and continuing to fight through trying times.”

In his student address, Samuel Becker reminded students that they have to live their lives as individuals, as everyone’s experience is inherently personal and subjective.

“Over the years, I’ve discovered that the happiest people in life have a career they love or are passionate about,” Becker said. “I’ve discovered that the happiest people in life found a balance between careers and personal life. I’ve discovered that the happiest people in life are leading positive change and I’ve discovered that the happiest people in life can develop the ability to overcome obstacles.”

Student Edward Morrill recognized the senior class’s accomplishments, including joining the National Honor Societies, earning CRTC certificate, winning athletic titles and receiving awards in auto tech, computer engineering, cosmetology, culinary arts and agriculture.

After graduation, Sangare plans to join the United States Army. He is looking forward to the opportunities the military will provide him, like financial assistance for college and the opportunity to travel and see more of the U.S.

Lizotte will go back to Honduras for several months to study the family business, and then attend Clarkson University in the fall where he plans to double major in political science and economics with a minor in pre-law.

“A lot of people say ‘this is just the beginning’ and they’re actually pretty right,” Lizotte said. “It goes by really fast and you realize, I have so much ahead of me. And this is all where it really starts.”


Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.



Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy