As Bow seniors graduate, one classmate remembered
|Published: 06-09-2023 12:55 PM
It wasn’t Norah Garland’s first time at Bow High School graduation. But instead of joining the band as she’s done in years past, she traded her flute and piccolo for a cap and gown.
In many ways, the Falcons’ graduation resembled the joyous culmination of four years in high school. Cords and pins told the story of Garland’s time at Bow – FIRST Robotics, 4-H, National Honor Society, among others. Next year, she’ll study biomedical engineering at the University of New Hampshire.
But as the graduating class took their seats in Saint Anselm College’s Sullivan Arena, one seat remained empty, honoring Nick Ouellette, a member of the class of 2023, who died in a tragic car accident last fall alongside his younger brother, Gavin.
The death of a classmate, a global pandemic – it’s simply unfair what the class of 2023 at Bow High School endured, said Principal Brian O’Connell.
Often when O’Connell writes his graduation address, there will be a word or message synonymous with the class. This year, that word is loss.
“They lost learning opportunities, social experience and frankly any sense of normalcy,” he said.
And as two years of pandemic learning came to a close by junior year, the class suffered another loss.
“The loss of a classmate, a peer, a friend, a brother. A loss of one of their own. The loss of Nick,” he said.
As seniors, continuing Nick’s legacy has united the class. For his senior project, Cole McLaughlin honored his friend and football teammate by selling engraved bricks to create a patio next to the football field’s concession stand. Proceeds from the project went to a scholarship fund created by the Ouellette family.
And as the boy’s varsity lacrosse team faced off against Hopkinton in the Division III semifinal last week, a guiding mantra for the class hung on a banner from the bleachers: “Falcons Fly Forever.”
Now, at each Bow High School graduation, an empty chair will honor members of the graduating class who could not be in attendance.
Yet loss doesn’t define this class, said O’Connell.
“They have risen above the darkness and overcome some of the most challenging experiences imaginable,” said O’Connell.
Together, alongside Nick’s twin sister, Hannah, the graduating class moved forward.
When Morgan Flynn, class president, thinks about her four years in Bow, it isn’t these moments of grief and uncertainty.
Instead, it’s learning to navigate the halls together as freshmen. It’s setting off the fire alarm sophomore year, as the class decorated the hallway for Bow Olympics. It’s avoiding studying for the SATs junior year, and the long-awaited path to graduation as seniors.
And in spending these years together, the graduating class has seen it all, said Ben Berube, one of two class speakers.
“We have smiled and laughed together. We have mourned and cried together. But most importantly we have supported each other through thick and thin, good and bad,” he said.
Now as the graduates prepare for their next educational chapter, job or experience, Becky Zheng reminded her peers that they hold a hammer to build their next path.
“We have been handed that hammer. It is in our hands now, how we use that hammer to move into the future,” she said.
Next year, 83% of the graduating class will continue their education, 16% will join the workforce or take a gap year, and four students will serve in the National Guard, Army or Navy.
In Bow, the class of 2023 wasn’t the only group of graduates. District Superintendent Dean Cascadden is retiring after 16 years in Bow.
And in his time as superintendent of schools, five words have guided his tenure – care for each person everyday.
“It’s not just a nice slogan that fits on a cardboard coaster,” said O’Connell. “It’s truly at the heart of who he is as a person.”
As Cascadden certified the graduating class, one name brought the crowd to their feet, with jerseys sporting the number 55 and applause vibrating the arena.
“Nicholas Thomas Ouellette.”