Merrimack Valley High School graduates credit friendship and community

As family and friends wave and take videos, the 2024 Merrimack Valley graduating class file into the athletic fields behind the school on Saturday morning, June 8. 2024.

As family and friends wave and take videos, the 2024 Merrimack Valley graduating class file into the athletic fields behind the school on Saturday morning, June 8. 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Members of the 2024 Merrimack Valley graduating class look out and wave at their friends and family during the commencement ceremony on Saturday morning, June 8, 2024.

Members of the 2024 Merrimack Valley graduating class look out and wave at their friends and family during the commencement ceremony on Saturday morning, June 8, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Merrimack Valley High School seniors throw their caps in the air after graduating on June 8, 2024.

Merrimack Valley High School seniors throw their caps in the air after graduating on June 8, 2024. JEREMY MARGOLIS—Monitor staff

By JEREMY MARGOLIS

Monitor staff

Published: 06-08-2024 3:49 PM

Modified: 06-08-2024 6:34 PM


When Edward Amonor Jr. arrived at Merrimack Valley Middle School in 2019 from Ghana, he knew no one and spoke only broken English.

At first, he sat alone at lunch. But then a boy named Abhi Karki introduced himself.

“He was the first person I felt comfortable talking to,” Amonor said on Saturday after he, Karki, and 147 other students graduated from Merrimack Valley High School.

That fateful introduction in the middle school cafeteria blossomed into a best-friendship that is set to endure past high school. Next year, the young men will both head off to Plymouth State University, where they will be roommates. Amonor, who hopes to one day play in the NFL, will compete on the football team, while Karki, the fourth-place finisher in the discus at last month’s Division-II state championships, will compete on the track team.

Their bond was one of many celebrated on Saturday during an at-times deafeningly windy, but mostly dry ceremony on the fields behind the high school.

“My favorite moment was just overall spending time with my friends that I’ve had since elementary school,” said Derek Strand, an aspiring electronic music creator from Boscawen who is also heading to Plymouth State in the fall. “Hanging out with them just feels special because it just brings back memories, and I know I’m going to be friends with them for the rest of my life.”

For senior graduation speaker Calli Gray, Friday night football games epitomized a sense of unity that the class of 2024 never took for granted after graduating eighth grade from the comfort of their cars and starting high school online and behind masks.

“Here we are, four years later, sitting side by side,” Gray said. “We made it.”

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Owen Piper, the second senior graduation speaker, encouraged his classmates to find purpose as they move forward from high school, a pursuit he has dedicated himself to since receiving a fateful fortune cookie while eating Chinese food on New Year’s Eve during his sophomore year.

“I made it my goal to find purpose from that day forward,” Piper said.

While Merrimack Valley did not name a valedictorian or salutatorian, Alyssa Ishii was honored for being a National Merit Finalist, an award given to only 15,000 high school seniors nationally. Andrew Surprenant, the D-II state champion in golf, and Olivia Seeley, were named the Athletes of the Year.

Teacher Richard Rathbone delivered the commencement address, a comedic retelling of the last several years of the graduating class’s journey that began – like Amonor’s and Karki’s friendship – in the middle school cafeteria.

“It was a perfect place for a rite of passage: the blissfulness of bad behavior,” Rathbone recalled. “I remember crates being thrown, toppling milk cartons, … and towers filled with lunch trays.”

The graduating class has come so far, Rathbone said, enduring the pandemic during freshman year, driving tests sophomore year, and the SATs as juniors.

“You all should be extremely proud of your accomplishments,” Rathbone said. “. . . Whatever path you choose, make sure you follow it with your whole heart.”

Jeremy Margolis can be contacted at jmargolis@cmonitor.com.