MANCHESTER, NH – The weather was near-idyllic—the temperature in the mid-70s, the sun shining bright, and an occasional cooling breeze blowing through Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in downtown Manchester for the 61st graduation ceremony of Manchester Memorial High School (MMHS).
Yet it feels flippant to say that MMHS’s graduating Class of 2021 “lucked out” with the weather, not after their high school experience was turned upside-down by a global pandemic and an existential torpedo.
As the procession of graduates, donning Crusader colors—blue gowns, white stoles and red caps—marched to “Pomp and Circumstance,” there was a long-awaited sense of normalcy.
After first-year principal Shaun St. Onge introduced the platform guests, he stepped aside for MMHS’s class president Hunter Chambers, who didn’t want to fixate on the “disappointments” his class incurred.
“Although COVID may have halted our entire senior year, it gave us the chance to look back and see how important those in-school moments were,” Chambers said. “Even though our senior year may not have gone the way we wanted, I’m glad we have memories together.”
Salutatorian Brooklyn Wallace saw the ceremony as a time to reflect as the Class of 2021 ended an “important chapter in [their] lives.”
Wallace encouraged her classmates to “celebrate the present” and “not worry about what happens next.”
Next, valedictorian Paige Graziano [for those of you glancing at the byline, she is indeed my daughter] took to the podium and acknowledged the “great adversary” she and her classmates faced and laud their resiliency.
While searching for inspiration for her speech, Graziano said that she watched some “quintessential movie speeches” that included cinematic masterpieces such as “High School Musical,” “Rocky IV” and “Legally Blonde.”
It was then she realized that all of the speeches occurred at the end of the movies she watched.
“I don’t have any profound messages to impart because I’ve just started to live my life,” Graziano said. “We’re still in Act I of our own movies, and I’d like to impress upon you that it is okay to not know where it’s going, and it is okay to change your mind.”
Memorial math teacher faculty speaker chosen by the class of 2021, Karrie Menswar. Photos/Stacy Harrison
The student body’s chosen faculty speaker and Class of 1999 MMHS alumni, math teacher Karrie Menswar then tackled her own fear of public speaking through her address.
“Stepping out of your comfort zone and tackling your fears has its rewards,” Menswar said. “And today it’s the best reward a teacher can ask for to feel loved and respected by the student body at Memorial High School.”
Menswar then ruminated on the role the school’s mascot played as the school community collectively “weathered uncharted waters” together.
“We are Crusaders. Crusaders fight. Crusaders rise to the occasion, and Crusaders persevere,” said Menswar. “Once a Crusader, always a Crusader.”
Photo Gallery/Stacy Harrison
Joined by class officers, Menswar waved the high school’s flag and led the Class of 2021 in MMHS’s chant, a cathartic release.
Principal St. Onge then acknowledged the graduating class for their “perseverance” and “resiliency.”
“You are the most resilient students to ever graduate from MMHS,” he said.
Finally, Manchester mayor and yet-another MMHS alumni Joyce Craig addressed the students on behalf of the city, echoing many of the previous sentiments.
“You are among the most hard-working and resilient graduates Manchester has ever seen,” Craig said. “You are an exceptional group of students.”
After the presentation of diplomas led by former MMHS administrator and Ward 8 School Board member Peter Perich, the Crusaders flipped their tassels, ended their chapter and set out into the bright skies and a world slowly returning to normalcy.
Photo Gallery/Stacy Harrison