Photography by Jessica Arnold
MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester High School West Principal Richard Dichard led the 173 graduates of the Class of 2020 in a synchronized dance, Pamela Martinez Fuentes played “Over the Rainbow” on the trumpet and a handful of students took the knee as classmate Abigail Chretien sang the National Anthem.
Kimiya Parker-Hill, one of the student speakers, thanked her classmates who joined her in taking the knee. She also thanked the high school staff and administrators for allowing her voice to be heard, especially Principal Dichard – without who’s support, she said, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
Saturday’s high school graduation, held at the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, was the last of the city’s four high schools.
As was the case with the other high schools, the seniors – garbed in white and blue – entered the stadium to the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance,” practicing social distancing and wearing masks. Temperatures were taken of all people entering the stadium with masks handed to those who came without them.
Valedictorian Tiffanie Cheng, who is also class vice president and who will be attending Princeton University in the fall, said when she came to this country from China on June 19, 2012, it was as a 10-year-old with “embarrassingly short bangs and bright pink Hello Kitty clothes.”
She said getting good grades was ingrained in her by her parents “but I would have never thought I would be standing on a giant stadium giving a speech and hope that I don’t stumble my words and no one is falling asleep.”
Cheng spoke about the diversity among the students at West and “being surrounded by a diverse group of students at West not just in terms of race and ethnicity, but also in thinking and interests. I would pass the halls and see people who listen to K pop music to hip hop, those who wear hijabs to those who like to sag their pants, individuals with crazy artistic skills and musical talents. Despite our individuality, we are connected because we bleed blue.”
Those students addressing their classmates also talked about the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and remote learning.
In her opening remarks, Cheng said, “I want to bring light to those who have been affected by this pandemic, as well as our diligent healthcare providers and any type of support system. As an ally, I would like to acknowledge the Black community and those who have lost their life due to unfairness in our justice system. We must also stand in solidarity to support any community or person that is facing injustice.”
Class president Paige McNamara, who will be attending Southern New Hampshire University in the fall, told her fellow graduates they “are the future of the world” who must use their voice “against the injustice that goes on in the world. You must stand up for what you believe and stand up for those around you who cannot stand up for themselves. Because we are the new generation that has the ability to change the world. Make the positive impact that I know each and every one of us can make.”
McNamara also reminded her classmates of what they have experienced in their lifetime thus far.
“I don’t know anyone who can say they have been through a civil rights movement, an economic depression and worldwide pandemic all at once, before becoming an adult,” she said. “Anything that was thrown at us we overcame.”
Salutatorian Kevin Shegani said the class had come a long way to graduation. “Which is nothing to sneeze at … because sneezing spreads germs. I mean, this school year was just so different from the last one, right? We did online learning. We did a virtual awards ceremony; we had a snow day.”
Omaima Serha and Jaxon Lortie, gave a joint presentation as class speakers.
They called for a moment of silence for all the lives lost this year, whether from COVID-19 or the “saddening cases of racist brutality.”
She urged the graduates to stand up for what they believe and for what is right, especially when it comes to the unfair treatment of minorities and other human beings.
“As for myself I will stand with the BLM movements, march with the LGBTQ+ community as an ally and fight against Islamophobia, amongst many other things,” Serha said. “You have more power than you think. Don’t ever doubt yourself or think you can’t make a difference.”
There were many firsts for West, they said: Block scheduling, online dance parties with Dichard and graduating together despite being in remote learning for the past few months.
School District Superintendent John Goldhardt, in addressing the 173 graduates, said they were newly born or born shortly after 9/11 and have never lived a year when the country wasn’t at war. They were children when the first man of color was elected President and then in their early teens when he was reelected. They lived through the great recession and the 2008 housing collapse and now they are living through a worldwide pandemic, the first time in 100 years where schools closed nationwide and students went to remote learning.
He began his address talking about the Titanic. He said the damage caused by the iceberg initially was not that big.It was the water that got into the ship that weighed it down and caused it to sink.
“Don’t let some of the ugliness we are witnessing in the world get in you and weigh you down,” he said.
Graduation slideshow by Jessica Arnold