Torch passed to Merrimack High Class of 2014

ometimes, Merrimack High School salutatorian Matthew Correia told his fellow seniors on Saturday, older people have a point when they mutter the old saw, “Kids these days …”

But while mistakes and bad decisions do happen, Correia continued, those “infamous ‘kids these days’ are doing a lot of good” as well, and, “The things I’ve seen in my years at Merrimack High School give me hope for the future.”

Correia’s was one of many pieces of advice, encouragement and congratulations that boomed through giant speakers on the school athletic fields Saturday morning, reaching the roughly 325 graduates, their proud faculty and administrators and even prouder parents, grandparents and other family members seated under a hazy sky that remained generously dry for the two-hour celebration.

Social studies teacher Peter Petrigno, who delivered the principal’s address standing in for Principal Ken Johnson – who was in Hollis watching his own son, Grant, graduate from Hollis Brookline High School – spiced his message with timeless words spoken more than a half-century ago by President John F. Kennedy.

Each time he attends a graduation, Petrigno said, “I am reminded of the words of (Kennedy), who, during his inaugural speech, proclaimed that the torch has been passed to a new generation. … Those words still echo in my mind today.”

Joking that “you had to figure as a social studies teacher I’d be giving you a history lesson today,” Petrigno traced humanity from its beginnings to today and how, at each milestone, “The torch was passed.”

Hailing the virtues of a free society in which people “are truly free to be ourselves without prejudice or reservation,” Petrigno continued – his intonations hinting at the Boston accent in which Kennedy so famously spoke – he told the class of 2014 that they are poised “to become the future discoverers, creators, problem solvers … and the torch will be passed to a new generation.”

Class President Nicholas Masella, who followed Petrigno and the school concert band’s inspiring rendition of Hazo’s “Jubilateo,” told everyone he recalls his first day of high school.

“I remember Mr. Johnson waiting with a high-five and feeling slightly uncomfortable at the parade of smiling faces greeting us with so much enthusiasm for 7:30 in the morning” as he and his fellow freshmen walked into school.

That graduation day had arrived feels “honestly surreal,” Masella added.

He mentioned reading “The Alchemist” in English class and how getting the book made him feel “the ‘senioritis’ kick in.”

Deciding to actually read the book instead of relying “solely on the wonderful, obviously teacher-approved SparkNotes,” he said with a smile, he admitted feeling surprised that “the book I didn’t even want to read taught me valuable lessons” for life.

Senior year was a bittersweet time, Masella said, “because we all finally realized that we can’t spend every moment looking forward to what is coming next.” The answer, he said, was to “slow down and enjoy what was happening in the present, before it was over.”

Valedictorian Alyssa Hobbs opened her address expressing gratitude to her family, praising her father “for always taking care of us” and having “an incredible” work ethic.

Her mother, she said, “supported me endlessly, going to all my sporting and school events. … You are the person I always look to for advice, even if I don’t always use it.”

Hobbs raised a few chuckles when she told her classmates, “In a way, our class has formed our own messed-up family.” But it’s also time to face the reality, she added, “that no matter where we all go after today, things won’t be the same.”

She said she hopes that she and her fellow graduates don’t let the fear of change hold them back.

“Too often, fear takes over minds in society,” she said. “We have become scared of rejection, being embarrassed, getting hurt – and change.”

Most often, she said, the reason is a fear of the unknown “and the possibility that we will mess up.

“But if we are always scared of making mistakes, then we will miss out on all of the possible success, as well,” Hobbs said. “Don’t let fear defeat you.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or at Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).