Concord High graduates told their ability to “adapt” will help them thrive in a changing world 

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  • Concord High graduate Kevin Jones prepares to process with his fellow classmates at the ceremony on Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord High graduate Isabelle Hill accents her cap as her fellow graduates line up to enter the ceremony on Saturday morning, June 18, 2022 at Memorial Field. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High graduate Ange-Gretha Ahishakiye gets ready to process at the ceremony at Memorial field in Concord on Saturday morning, June 18, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High School graduates look out to family and friends at the opening ceremony on Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Concord High graduate Isabelle Hill accents her cap as her fellow graduates line up to enter the ceremony on Saturday morning, June 18, 2022 at Memorial Field. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High graduate Ange-Gretha Ahishakiye gets ready for the ceremony at Memorial field in Concord on Saturday.

  • Concord High School graduates start to process at the beginning of the ceremony at Memorial field on Saturday morning, June 18, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/18/2022 3:29:39 PM
Modified: 6/18/2022 3:29:19 PM

As Kevin Jones Jr. celebrated one of the biggest milestones of his life, he was surrounded by his fellow crimson-clad classmates and their families, the people that Jones said have helped him through the most difficult part of his high school years. There was one important person missing from the ceremony: his father, who passed away last March.

“I don’t think I understood how much of a tight-knit community Concord was until I lost my dad,” Jones said. He hopes he can recreate that community next year at Northeastern University in Boston, where he will study entrepreneurship.

Jones lost his dad on March 20, 2021 the day after his uncle also died, and just a week after Jones’ hockey team had won the state championship. His hockey teammates and other Concord High School families supported him to help him accomplish the basic tasks that are so hard for a grieving family. Jones stepped up to support his mom, taking on chores that his dad had done like doing the laundry, mowing the lawn and walking the dog.

The pandemic was a mixed blessing for Jones, who was grateful that he attended school remotely during his junior year, allowing him to spend more time with his dad. Hockey was the thing they shared, with Jones’ father pushing him to succeed and livestreaming his games from home when spectators were limited.

“After he passed, it still felt like it was my connection with him,” Jones said of their mutual passion for hockey. A goalie who hates to lose, Jones said his dad was equally competitive. “I felt like I was doing it for him and with him. It was really the thing that I felt like connected us.”

His close extended family, including his two aunts and his grandmother, have showed up to his games and been there for family card nights. “The big events are a little bit harder but it’s nice to know that people are there for me,” Jones said.

Jones was one of more than 300 graduates who celebrated the end of their time at Concord High School on Saturday at Memorial Field amid gusts of wind so strong that letters spelling out “CONCORD” on the field were flattened by the ceremony’s end, leaving only a lone “O.” The memory chair onstage reminded graduates of loved ones present in spirit for the big day.

Jones was not the only senior who overcame great obstacles to cross the stage on the football field this weekend. Seniors were praised in speeches for their resiliency during a high school experience altered by the pandemic, and told that their ability to adapt would serve them well in a future where threats like climate change loom large.

Ange-Gretha Ahishakiye struggled with mental health issues for years, and the isolation of the pandemic made things worse. A perfectionist who holds herself to high standards, she watched in dismay as her grades slipped and she struggled to find the drive to keep going.

“I got into this deep, dark hole where I felt like I had no purpose,” Ahishakiye said. But beginning in February or March of 2022, something changed. She became engrossed in reading world news and watching documentaries about global conflict, genocide and child soldiers.

Now, Ahishakiye wants to pursue a career that helps humanity and minimizes violence and suffering. She plans to start by taking classes at NHTI before applying to schools out of state, where she hopes she can find greater racial diversity and more people of color like her.

“I’m proud that I made it and I graduated. A lot of kids that deal with mental health issues usually drop out or don’t make it,” she said. “I told myself that I’m struggling right now and working on finding myself right now because eventually, I’m going to peak and my life is going to get better.”

Speech competition winner Peyton Trento quoted Dr. Suess’s “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” and talked about the uncertainty and new challenges ahead of the graduates. Trento said that the class of 2022 was prepared for the “mountains” ahead, because they had already climbed so many together.

“Despite every challenge and detour, I’m here to say that today, nobody cares how you got here, they only care that you’ve made it,” Trento said.

Valedictorian Elizabeth Blinn described the relationships that had pushed her throughout high school, including a coach who favored a “tough love” approach and once threatened to take her loosely-hanging arms and shove them up her nose. Blinn reminded graduates that even as high school relationships change, they don’t need to end forever.

“It is the relationships with our family and friends that sustain us through challenging experiences and lead us to new adventures,” Blinn said. “Just because we go our separate ways does not mean that we will never talk to each other ever again.”

Principal Michael Reardon told students to keep working hard to find solutions to problems like climate change, not just for themselves, but for the United States as a nation. “In places like India, and Germany, Canada, and Brazil, are young women and men, your contemporaries, who are in effect preparing to steal your lunch money,” Reardon said.

He urged graduates to innovate before Dutch or Nigerian young people create new technologies that could shift the balance of geopolitical power. “If we, that is you, are not competitive and indeed dominant in the state of thinking and innovation, the lives of all Americans will be inestimably diminished,” Reardon said.

Although Concord High did not hold senior class elections this year because of the pandemic, Katherine Martel gave closing remarks as one of the senior representatives who had stepped up to lead the class of 2022. The future University of New Hampshire biochemistry major spoke about adaptation, explaining how the flexibility of the senior class would serve them well in a changing world.

“We are not birds: we have not had to physically or behaviorally adapt to a selection pressure,” she said, but nonetheless, the graduates adapted to changing public health guidance that shaped every aspect of Concord High’s academic and extracurricular offerings.

“The polarized political state of our country requires us to learn how to speak kindly towards one another to work towards a middle ground and achieving compromise,” Martel said. “Climate change shows us every day that if we don’t adapt policies and habits which protect our environment, we are going to be living in a very different world.”

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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