Hollis Brookline graduates told to look up and enjoy the moment

HOLLIS – From lining up in the cafeteria before the ceremony to exiting to the lively strains of “Best Day of My Life,” the mood was upbeat at Hollis Brookline High School’s graduation on Saturday, June 14 – in spite of several references to the losses experienced by the community in the last year.

Although they weren’t all specifically named, four recent graduates died in the last year. Principal Richard Barnes asked for a moment of silence to remember them, and then called Bob and Heather Ricard to the stage to receive their son Cameron’s diploma.

Cameron Ricard, a member of the Class of 2014, was killed in a car accident on his way home from hockey practice last December.

Senior class President Grant Johnson also acknowledged the Ricard family and pointed out that the students were wearing blue wristbands with Cam’s name on them, and that he would always be in their hearts.

Johnson noted how Hollis Brookline will remember the Class of 2014, and where they will go from here.

“They will remember us truly by one word: different,” he said. “We did things differently, and we were a diverse class, considering that we live in New Hampshire.”

He praised his classmates for coming together as a class, and challenged each one to be the person he or she was born to be.

“I never had a greater satisfaction in my life than when you made me feel confident in my own skin,” he said. “Whatever makes you unique doesn’t matter. The Class of 2014 will still accept you.”

After recognition of the top 10 students, Barnes, who arrived in the building as assistant principal when the graduates were freshmen, spoke about their four years together.

“I did my homework and spoke to the folks at the middle school, and was told to watch out for this class,” he said.

However, the warning was meant in a good way: the class was already known for its empathy, adaptability, resiliency and creativity.

Barnes also spoke of the losses experienced by the school community.

“You were on cruise control for your senior year, only to have tragedy strike again and again and again,” he said. “In the words of C.S. Lewis, ‘Hardship often prepares ordinary people for extraordinary destinies.’?”

He then reminded the world to watch out for this class and the great things it will do.

Salutatorian Katherine Cherian spoke of her recent experience working with young children in the science, technology, engineering and math program.

“I don’t love kids; they exhaust me,” she admitted, “but they inspire me with their curiosity.”

Cherian asked those gathered to ponder why and when they lost that curiosity and became so jaded, so caught up in measuring and quantifying success that they memorized subjects but didn’t truly learn.

“You should try to be more curious, even if it makes you feel stupid,” she said. “Learn something. Trust me, we can change the world by being the generation that loved to learn.”

Valedictorian Emma Newton confessed she had been terrified about starting high school and dealing with cliques, but said she was relieved to discover that HBHS really didn’t have cliques and instead had a genuine sense of community.

“Even though each of us is moving on with college, volunteer work, the military or the workforce, this day is about us breaking the ground surface,” she said.

“We will all branch out, but underground will remain our community roots. This community is where we started, blossomed, and wherever we go, our roots are here and we can never forget that. I, for one, never will.”

Interim Superintendent John Moody has only worked in the district since last summer, so he reflected on what he has learned about the Hollis Brookline community in the last year.

“You are passionate, empathetic, focused and committed to the well-being of each other,” he said. “You have faced realities of life that are painful but inevitable, and have bonded with each other.”

Moody then elicited laughter and applause as he offered advice to the graduates: Clean out your lockers, return those overdue library books, don’t bring your dirty laundry home in grocery bags, don’t go through your entire meal plan in two months, and don’t text and drive.

English teacher Ann Melim described being invited to speak at graduation as “the biggest honor I have ever been given.” She discussed a discouraging job interview she had experienced at the start of her teaching career, and cautioned the students to stay away from people who might try to dampen their enthusiasm.

Melim spoke of her journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in December. Her message, however, was a mixture of celebration and regret.

The trek was to have culminated in seeing the sunrise from the summit on Christmas morning. She grew impatient with the pace of the final ascent and pushed ahead, and was the first person to reach the summit that day. Although she was exhilarated, it was too cold to linger, so she wound up missing the sunrise of her dreams because she had rushed.

“The destination will always be there no matter how fast you get there,” she said. “My biggest regret is that I was too busy looking down (at her feet on the path) that I can’t tell you what the mountain was really like.

“Only now can I admit it that this is one of the biggest regrets of my life. So don’t forget to look up and enjoy the moment, because that moment will never happen again. Slow things down and look up, because we only have so many sunrises.”

The four graduates enlisting in the military were called forward prior to the national anthem. They are Cameron Howard and Sam McClure, Marine Corps, and Charles Rogers and Eric Mann, Army Reserves.

In between speeches, members of the senior choir, under the direction of Julie Carbone, sang an upbeat medley of “Rivers and Roads,” “Home” and “Hall of Fame” that had everyone clapping and dancing along.

By the time the 220 graduates received their diplomas and moved their tassels, the sun had broken through the clouds – a good omen as they venture out to make their mark on the world.

Irene Labombarde can be reached at ilabombarde@nashuatelegraph.com.