Photos by Stacy Harrison
MANCHESTER, NH– West High School students and families didn’t let a full pandemic school year rain on their parade – instead they celebrated an in-person graduation ceremony on this beautiful Saturday morning.
West High’s class of 2021 was in high spirits with their friends and families all present to see their graduation Saturday morning, with speakers and class representatives focused on the positives of their high school experiences. Students spoke of fond moments and memories that they enjoyed – pandemic or not – rather than what they may have missed.
Among the highlights of West High’s bright students was Annika Jankie-Widlund, who stole the show with her performances of the National Anthem and Andra Day’s “Rise Up”: an ode to the challenges faced by Jankie-Widlund and her classmates and their ability to overcome those unprecedented circumstances.
Jankie-Widlunda performed a newly written original song, with the help of classmate Johndale Reiner Malenab accompanying her with the guitar. They shared similar sentiments as “Rise Up” with their own song – despite the cloudy days gone they were thankful for their sunny moments.
Now ready to graduate, Jankie Widlund sang, “when we fly, I’ll remember, we’re West High.”
The praise for the city of Manchester and West High resonated throughout the ceremony, including kind words from Mayor Joyce Craig, who praised the class of 2021 as being “among the most resilient, strong and hardworking graduates Manchester has ever seen,” and reminded them “Manchester will always be your home.”
Class speakers Connor Place and Jamal Tyler remained in high spirits as well, their humor and positivity uplifting for the crowd. They praised their classmates for handling 8 a.m. classes and dress code as well as showed their gratitude for the opportunity to have a graduation.
When pulled into the hall, Tyler said, “we thought it was to tell us we wouldn’t be walking the stage this year. Surprisingly, he asked us to do a speech.”
Place highlighted West High’s diversity as “second to none,” which Tyler said sets the class of 2021 up “for success in the real world,” that level of diversity something that not every high school can offer to its students, he said.
Salutatorian Mya Joseph took “persistence,” away from this unconventional school year. She urged her classmates to congratulate themselves for getting to this point and accomplishing it in circumstances they never could’ve seen coming.
Senior class President Abigail St. Jean agreed and said “we never stopped pushing.” She gave credit in her speech to everyone’s individual struggle amidst the pandemic, whether it was her classmates who continued with extra hours at work while school was remote or those classmates who stayed inside to keep their friends and loved ones safe.
“Whether it was to save money for our futures, or to help your family through tough times, I saw the people around me work incredibly hard,” St. Jean said.
She reminded her classmates: “we are resilient, we are West High graduates.”
Valedictorian Seanna Kelley shared praise for her classmates, but said in her speech that she has found it hard to solely celebrate, as there is much in the last year to continue reflecting on and learning from.
“We never got to live the senior year that we had dreamed of for so long. And yet, with all of these losses, I stand up here grateful to have so much,” Kelley said.
While it is time to celebrate their accomplishments, she also said it’s important to acknowledge young lives lost over the years due to gun violence and police brutality. She encouraged her classmates to be agents of change.
“If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that we have the power to do something different. Don’t be afraid to stand up to these injustices because, as students, we shouldn’t have to live with the fear that we could be hurt walking into school. Black and brown people shouldn’t have to live with the fear that they could die at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them.” Kelley reminded her classmates, “you have the power to inspire real change. Don’t be blind to what happens around you.”
Going on to their next chapters, 2021’s West High graduates face a new challenge ahead –but Principal Richard Dichard reassures them: “no class knows more about different than this one.”