WHS Class of 2014: Future Pioneers and Trailblazers

June 20, 2014

by Jillian DiPersio

Graduation is always a bittersweet time for Windham High School students, parents, and staff as we gather to celebrate the accomplishments of our seniors as they leave the school on the hill and journey off into the great unknown.  On Friday, June 13, we celebrated the commencement ceremony of the Class of 2014, the third class to graduate from WHS.  Despite the unfortunate date (perhaps the reason for the inclement weather) there was nothing unlucky about this Friday the 13th.  We all packed into the gym, tissues in hand, ready to help the class begin the next chapter in their lives.

Senior Class President Michael McDade greeted the graduates and their families.  He brought the audience for a stroll down memory lane, recalling the landmark events in their high school careers.  He finished off his speech with a triumphant, “Long live the class of 2014.”

Principal Kaplan, who is just concluding his first year at WHS, took it from there.  He used his speech to celebrate the accomplishments of the class of 2014 in the past year, including 27 state championship banners, three JagSAT missions, two perfect scores on the math SAT, Sharon and Congressional Art Awards, and performances at Carnegie Hall and Orchestra Hall in Chicago, to name a few.  He admitted that he had to cut down his list, believing the original to be too long.

He recollected a scene from a recent basketball game, where after being unsuccessful at first, exuberant team spirit brought the WHS team to victory.  He explained that this was “evidence of something worlds greater than any state championship.”  He concluded by saying that “the class of 2014 will always have a special place in the school on top of the hill.”

The speech of the co-valedictorians, Meghan O’Connor and Bethany Fennessey, was perhaps the highlight of the night.  The dynamic duo, who have been friends for years and, being involved in the same extracurricular activities, classes, who had the same SAT scores and GPA, admit to being “practically the same person.”  They explained that even though they are so similar and Windham itself has “as much diversity as a yacht club,” the differences and uniqueness of people’s personalities at WHS are what give the community strength.

The two thanked their favorite teachers and reminisced about the quirky things they have done throughout the years.  They recalled how Mr. Darrin wears a toga to teach his students about Socrates, how Ms. Roeder quotes Eminem to explain Ethan Frome, and how Mr. O’Connor believes he can “take on a puma with his bare hands.”  They left the audience with their wise message of “diversity is strength” and advised their fellow graduates to “dare to be different and keep doing you.”  Windham School Board Business Administrator Adam Steel, commented, “I most appreciated the co-valedictorians.  I thought their speech was awesome, I thought they played off each other well, and brought a great spirit to the whole night.”

From there, Dr. Jerome Rekart, School Board chairman, took the stage and talked to the students about success.  He used history to provide examples of pioneers and innovators who have been responsible for “game-changing events” in the past.  He said that the world needs trailblazers who have “grit, teamwork, and discipline.”  He explained that the Class of 2014 has collectively proven to have these qualities, giving examples such as our robotics team, student athletes, and musicians.

Assistant Principal Bob Dawson went on to introduce the keynote speaker of the evening, Cameron Lyle.  Lyle had been a student at Timberlane Regional High School before going onto college at UNH, where he became an extremely successful shot-putter and a hammer-thrower.  During his sophomore year he signed up to be a marrow donor, and afterward forgot all about it.

“Spring of his senior year he’s finished second in all these major competitions, he’s the number-one ranked shot-putter and hammer thrower in the America East (conference),” explained Dawson.  “He gets a phone call after practice one day saying, ‘you’re a match, and this guy’s going to die and you can help him out.’”  Lyle had to donate his marrow in a week to ten days from when he received the phone call.  If he did it, the process would involve 200 injections, taking about half a gallon of marrow out of his pelvis and hip.  It would end his athletic career and make him lose his final chance to win gold medals in the Division I America East Conference.  He decided to give up that chance to save a man he had never met.

Lyle talked to the graduates about sacrifice.  He told the graduates to “set goals” like he had his freshman year.  He told them to take some time to “really think about … the man or woman you want to be and how you want to be seen by the world,” because there are “no shortcuts to the places worth going.”  He also told them to help someone else and try to see past the screen in front of you because “there is a bigger picture out there.”

WHS guidance counselor Julie Lichtmann says she thought Lyle’s speech “was so moving.  I thought he really related to the kids and I was so excited and proud and honored that he was our speaker.”  Senior Sara Duclos likewise said, “He was really motivational and inspiring.”

Superintendent Winfried Feneberg concluded the night of speeches with his words of wisdom to the students, discussing the value of education by citing a quote from what he called his favorite movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “Don’t let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you become.”  He advised the students to think on their own and to tackle tomorrow’s problems while preserving “compassion, and caring, and character.”

The graduates were then called up, one by one, to receive their diplomas.  As they walked back to their seats teachers from all levels of the Windham school district lined the aisles, giving the students the chance to give their favorite teachers all the way from first to twelfth grade a hug of gratitude.  Seventh grade history teacher, Patsy Beaver, said “It’s the most fun for a teacher to see her students grown up, to see them successful and heading out to a new life.”  She loved standing in the aisle waiting to see her past students graduate and that “it is just amazing to see the looks on their faces when they see even elementary teachers; it makes it all worthwhile.”

After the ceremony the students went off to be with their families and wish their fellow graduates well as teachers offered their final words of advice.  Graduate Katelyn Heath explained, “What I’m going to miss most about Windham High is all of the wonderful teachers that are here and all the support that they’ve given me throughout these four years, and my friends too.”  Caitlin Pierson, another WHS graduate, reflects, “My last four years at Windham High School have easily been the best four years of my life.  I am going to miss all of the faculty members, and as much as I look forward to my future at college, I will never forget where I came from; I will always come back to visit.”

The Class of 2014 will be missed at WHS.  For us students, it is hard to imagine playing in the band, singing in the choir, or competing on the athletic fields without these students beside us.  We wish them the best in their future endeavors and know they will continue to climb to new heights.  Bethany Bernasconi, dean of Science and Engineering at WHS, advises the students to “Stay true to yourself; the compass that’s brought you this far will never fail you.”