MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester Memorial High School’s Class of 2021 valedictorian is brilliant and beautiful, and witty and wonderful.
Oh, and she’s my daughter.
Paige Graziano’s prodigious list of achievements and activities reads similar to those of most high-performers. An abridged version includes vice-president of Student Council, flutist for the school band, co-captain of the cross-country team and the National Honor Society historian.
But said list tells little about the young woman who is both intrinsically and extrinsically driven to succeed—which is not a trait she inherited from her father.
“I love learning and achieving for myself and my future,” my daughter said. “But I also want to make my family proud.”
And “proud” doesn’t begin to explain it, although I will take some credit for my own premeditation in this case. While still in the womb, Paige was exposed to America’s great-uncle, the poet Walt Whitman. I read the entirety of Whitman’s “Song of Myself” to my daughter while she was in utero, something I truly believe has contributed to her generous spirit and love of language.
“I remember loving books of poetry when I was really young,” said Paige, who will attend Boston College in the fall where she will major in biology. “I loved writing and reading, and I still do. But I have definitely become more passionate about science and math.”
Paige said this passion began to blossom after taking biology her freshman year at MMHS. “I love learning about the complexities of the world around me. I can see myself as a genetic counselor. However, I am definitely open to changing my mind,” she said.
At any level of learning, finishing first in a graduating class is a grind that requires far more than innate intelligence. It requires a unique type of discipline and drive.
Paige said it was somewhere in the vicinity of fourth or fifth grade, while she was attending Hallsville Elementary School, that she began to realize her own academic potential.
Then at McLaughlin Middle School, she started to thrive with the help of myriad adults in her life.
“I had a lot of very encouraging and supportive teachers around this time who influenced me, but I also come from a family of educators. That also had a strong effect on my passion for learning,” Paige said.
At MMHS, Paige—like many of her classmates—enjoyed a fairly typical high school experience until March 2020 and the pandemic that is sure to be a giant elephant in the room during every graduation speech in the nation this year.
COVID-19 effectively sucker-punched the Class of 2021, shuttering school doors and forcing all students and staff—at every level of education—to adapt to a new form of learning. While Paige admits the pandemic caused “a lot of disappointment” for her, she also believes it helped her develop perseverance and compassion.
Additionally, it provided her with a profound reverence for her peers’ charity and comradery. “Students have really risen to the occasion in terms of helping their classmates succeed, and I think that’s really amazing,” Paige said.
Like most parents whose children are leaving for college, I have no doubt there will be copious dust in my eyes when we pack up Paige’s bedroom to move her into her dorm in August. But Boston College is getting a truly motivated student and a really good kid.
Said her proud father.