Pembroke senior’s graduation a chance to reunite with old friends

  • On Mother's Day in 2007, Rich and Elijah St. Pierre plant trees in the backyard to memorialize Carolynne. Rich has talked to Elijah, then 5, about what happened to his mom, but he said it's hard for him to know how much the boy understands. Preston Gannaway—Monitor file

  • Carolynne St. Pierre watches Elijah play in the window in 2006. Preston Gannaway Monitor file

  • EJ St. Pierre, 18, walks with his family after his graduation ceremony from Pembroke Academy on Friday in Manchester. With him are, from left, his father Rich, uncle Joe and girlfriend Morgan Loomis. Preston Gannaway photographs /For the Monitor

  • EJ St. Pierre, 18, tries on his cap and gown at home in Chichester as his stepmom Kim York helps on Friday, July 24, 2020. (Photo by Preston Gannaway © 2020) Preston Gannaway

  • EJ St. Pierre, 18, hugs his girlfriend Morgan Loomis after his graduation ceremony from Pembroke Academy on Friday in Manchester. Preston Gannaway / For the Monitor

Monitor staff
Published: 7/26/2020 8:17:43 PM

Elijah St. Pierre emerged from a stream of celebrating seniors and their families, graduation cap in hand. His dad, Rich, his stepmom, Kim, and his girlfriend and uncle stood by his side.

“Today means that we made it,” he said. For Elijah and his family, the day was more than a reunion with classmates – it was also a reunion with photojournalist and longtime family friend Preston Gannaway, who has been documenting the family for 14 years.

They first met in 2006, when Gannaway and reporter Chelsea Conaboy followed the family as Elijah’s mother, Carolynne, battled terminal cancer. Their work was published in five-part series for the Monitor titled Remember Me, which earned Gannaway the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in feature photography.

Gannaway reunited with the St. Pierres this weekend to photograph Elijah, the youngest of Carolynne’s three children, for his high school graduation.

He joined approximately 170 other seniors Friday evening at the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium for Pembroke Academy’s 201st commencement ceremony. Friends and family watched from the stands, scattered about in small groups. A few hundred more tuned in to watch the event stream online.

For the class of 2020, the moment was long overdue – the ceremony took place over a month and a half after classes ended in early June because of the coronavirus pandemic. Seniors paced the perimeter of the field as they made their entrance, settling in neat rows around the diamond.

In their respective addresses, salutatorian Ryan Tripp and valedictorian Jeffrey Wagner spoke to the role of friends and family in navigating hardship. Over the course of the COVID19 outbreak, Tripp said he grew to see his as a source of strength and stability.

“Those two parts of my life have never wavered,” he said.

Wagner encouraged his classmates to look to their own support systems when they need guidance or a shoulder to lean on.

“It is essential that we realize just how important our friends and family are in our lives, and that we make sure to express to these people how important they are to us,” he said.

In a joint speech, class advisers Brigitte Cunningham and Maranda Donnelly called attention to a popular mantra: “eat, pray, love” – or, as they preferred to call it, “pray, love, eat.”

To them, the saying is a reminder to stay grounded, take care of oneself and cherish time spent with others.

“Take the time to relax and enjoy the people you are with,” Donnelly said.

During the ceremony, Pembroke Academy honored seven retirees: Jan Sheen, Judi Harisiades, Michelle Grau, Ruth Conwell, Susan Lamos, Peter Mehegan and Kip Riel.

Graduates Ryan Martineau and Gwen Collins presented the class gift, a plaque to honor students who join the military post-graduation. This year, the senior class has five: Parker Adams, Jaggar Beauchesne, Tyler May, Logan Raymond and Noah Young.

The ceremony also recognized the class’ three Eagle Scouts, including Elijah.

In his address, former headmaster Paul Famulari told the class the pandemic had strengthened them like steel forged in flame.

“You have only been conformed into a resilient and unbreakable element by withstanding the fires of educational hardship and traditions lost,” he said.

The graduates’ resilience was tangible that day, Rich St. Pierre said, as he watched them celebrate donning masks, siloed off by 6 feet in every direction – together, yet in many ways still apart.

“All the kids went through a lot,” he said.

In just a few weeks, Elijah will leave home to study marine, estuarine and freshwater biology at the University of New Hampshire. The diversity of aquatic life fascinates him, he said.

“It’s a whole other world to explore,” Elijah said.

His older sister, Melissa, also is due for a graduation this year. She will defend her doctoral thesis in pharmaceutical chemical engineering next month.

Rich said being an empty-nester will take some getting used to, but he’s excited to see what Elijah’s future holds.

“He’s starting to put down the foundation, the bricks, to build a bridge out into a new world,” he said.

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