Graduates urged to take risks, spread love



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VALEDICTORIAN MEGAN FARRELL addresses her classmates during Prospect Mountain's Commencement on Friday, June 19. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
June 19, 2009
ALTON — It was a moment that perfectly captured both the celebratory mood on display throughout Prospect Mountain High School's 2009 Commencement ceremony on June 19, and the personality of this year's graduating class.

As Science teacher Joe Derrick wrapped up the evening's keynote address (during which he urged the graduates to spread love through their world, starting with love for themselves) with a rap he composed for the occasion incorporating some of the students' names, accompanied by a Reggae-tinged saxophone solo by graduate Chris Gentile, Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved?" suddenly burst forth through the loudspeakers in the school's auditorium, prompting the 133 graduates to rise to their feet beneath flashing colored lights on the stage and groove to the music.

"There is nothing more important than the ability to love," whether it be love for oneself, romantic feelings toward another person, or love for what you do, Derrick said during his speech, adding that the occasion had led him to reflect on his own decision to marry the love of his life on the 19th of June five years ago.

Love and appreciation for those who helped the graduating seniors make it through high school was a running theme throughout last Friday's ceremony, with several speakers encouraging the graduates to reflect on the support of their families and friends.

Urging the seniors to reflect on the significance of the evening not just from their own perspective, but also through the eyes of their teachers and families, Principal James Fitzpatrick reminded them that every one of them had been "a historically significant event in someone's life."

After giving some thought over the previous few days to what was different about this year's graduating class, Fitzpatrick said it had suddenly occurred to him that for the first time in the school's history, three graduates had a parent who worked at the school, and two more had a parent and grandparent on the JMA board, respectively and another had a parent on the JMA board at the time Prospect Mountain was conceived.

"Here's to three moms, two dads, and a grandma," he said as each of the six students came down from the stage to recognize their family members with red roses.

Confirming that all 133 seniors had met the school's graduation requirements, Superintendent Paul Bartolomucci urged the graduates to take some words of wisdom with them into the world.

"Be yourself, respect yourself, and respect the people you meet," he said. "Dream big, work hard, and accomplish much … and most importantly, be healthy and happy."

Salutatorian Kaitlyn LaCourse credited the school's faculty with molding her into a "very different person" from the one who first walked through the school's front doors four years ago.

"I definitely met some of my best friends and created some of my best memories here," she said.

While many of her classmates had personal quirks that struck her as odd at first, she said (to laughter from the stage), she recalled the words of a mentor who once told her that "the trailblazers are the mavericks, the eccentrics, and the runaways."

Thanking her teachers and her mother and father for their support and encouragement during her high school years, LaCourse wished her classmates luck in their future endeavors.

Asked by Fitzpatrick what she planned to do next as second in her class, LaCourse replied, (to a burst of laughter and applause) "I'm going to Disney World!"

"Don't just exist … live"

Suffering from a case of laryngitis, Valedictorian Megan Farrell (who ended her high school career with a GPA of 5.44 out of a possible 5.5) said she found it fitting that after having an outspoken opinion on everything for the past four years, she was suddenly missing her voice.

With no idea initially what to say during her speech, Farrell said she sought advice from her friends.

After receiving suggestions ranging from doing it "freestyle" and off the cuff to singing a song, she said the best suggestion came from her older sister, who told her that, "Everyone has already said everything … you just need to say it in your own way."

Commenting on the fact that the graduates' transcripts would show that they had participated in a wide range of activities, or "activity in general," Farrell remarked on how dull that phrase sounded to her.

"Is that what you want your life to be … activity in general?" she asked, urging her classmates (who she compared to a pack of wolves preparing to embark on a journey) not to simply walk through life, but to embrace it with a full heart.

"Don't let these familiarities be your life," she said. "I beg of you, make this life to come even better than this."

Encouraging her fellow graduates to "risk a little each day," Farrell remarked that, "you never know how green the grass is [on the other side of the fence] unless you check."

"Don't be afraid to fall, because from the ground, you can see details you never saw before," she said.

The proverbial "brick walls" that might sometimes rise to delay a person's progress, she said, should not be looked at as obstacles.

"Brick walls are there to help us show how much we want something," she added.

While all of this year's graduates are bound to experience fear at some point in the years to come, she said, the unknown should not be feared, but rather embraced as "our greatest ally."

"Don't just exist … live," she said. "This is the conclusion, and this is the beginning."

"Put on your socks"

Urging the graduates to enjoy every moment of the ceremony, which she said would happen only once in their lifetimes, music teacher and senior class advisor Jamie Bolduc imparted a few words of wisdom to her "fellow graduates" that she had been given by a graduate school professor — "Get up, brush your teeth, put on your socks, and go to class."

While she still wasn't sure what her professor meant by the "socks" part, Bolduc said she had given the entire phrase some thought, and felt that "Get up" was a call to always make sure one is ready to meet the world every day.

"Brush your teeth," she said, reflects the importance of good personal hygiene, while "put on your socks" could be interpreted as always dressing for success.

The admonition to "Go to class … or work" is perhaps the most important, she said, since even the worst days, when a person would rather hide under the covers than face the world, sometimes offer the greatest life lessons.

Senior class President Lexie Phillips said she "freaked out" when she heard over the school's PA system as a freshman that she had been elected because she knew she would eventually have to speak at the Commencement ceremony.

During her freshman year, Phillips said she thought the standard clichés would be the best way to sum up her high school years.

Sophomore year was not a banner one for her personally, she said, and prompted her to make humor the tone of her junior year (occasionally humor of the corny variety).

Joking that some of the personalities she had met and incidents she had witnessed during her high school years were worthy of a reality TV show, "Fitz, Houlihan, and the Prospect Clan," Phillips told her classmates that she thought each of them had something "unique and beautiful" to offer.

Asking her fellow graduates for help in concluding her speech, Phillips instructed them to raise their right hands and repeat after her the sentence "Prospect Mountain High School … will never be the same … without the graduating class of 2009."

Sharing the honor of serving as the keynote speaker with his fellow faculty members, Derrick also recognized the family members and friends in the audience for their hard work and dedication to the graduates over the past four years, summing up their position with a quote from Protestant clergyman Douglas Horton — "If you love something, let it go free. If it doesn't come back, you never had it. If it comes back, love it forever."

Urging the graduates to be proud of themselves, Derrick said he had worked with many of them over the years, and had seen them struggle and succeed academically, fight their way through tough personal times, and support their friends through those hard times.

Commenting on the way in which increasing access to information had enabled the students to place their own actions within the context of the world around them, Derrick encouraged them not to let themselves become de-sensitized, and lose that ability.

"Do work that satisfies you, that contributes to the solution, and not the problem," he said.

JMA board Chairman Keith Couch (whose daughter Lexy was among the graduates) said he never ceased to be impressed by how far students have come and how much they have grown by the night of their graduation.

The legacy left behind by the Class of 2009, he said, was evident in the remarks of the NEASC assessment team that visited the school in April to determine its eligibility for accreditation.

The chairman of the visiting team, Couch said, commented on the positive culture he had witnessed at Prospect Mountain, and remarked that something of that nature "doesn't happen by accident."

"The example begins with you," Couch said, explaining that the seniors had helped set the tone that underclassmen followed.

Encouraging the graduates to continue learning; to remain aware of their impact on the world around them; to enrich their dreams; and, above all, to believe in themselves, he reminded them that the friends and family members in the audience who had been there for them all along would continue to be there "today, tomorrow, and the next day, too."

"Turn to the next chapter in this book of life," he said. "Let your heart be your compass."

The following students received diplomas or certificates of attendance at the conclusion of last week's ceremony:

Vanessa Ainsworth

Cynthea Victoria Anderson

Shaida Marlaine Anderson

Gina-Marie Antonucci

Arielle Lauren Atkins

Nathan Barrett

Alexis Lee Barthel

Breanna Beaudoin

Aleesha Austrail Benoit

Casey Lee Beranger

Kyle Bigler

Lyndsay Marie Bishop

Ian Wynne Bothwick

Erick Donald Bourdeau

Kyle William Bousquet

Mariah Bousquet

Matthew Brooks

Sarah Joan Brown

Ashley Marie Butler

John Christopher Call

Michael Glendon Carter

Katie Lyn Chagnon

Shanelle Marie Chagnon

Jonathan Kyiale Chaisson

Kyle Ross Chisholm

Jeffrey Brian Churchill

Ashley Elizabeth Collins

Susan Chasiti Comeau

Alexandra Beth Couch

Corey Steven Courchene

Hollie Jade Couture

Cara Lynn Cronier

Joshua Alan Crosman

Michelle Anne Daniels

Patrick James Dea

Patrick A. Desrochers

Nicole Marie Drew

Jordan Drolet

Brittany Dwyer

Shannon Marie Eagles

Hannah Ellen Elliott

Megan Maude Farrell

Ashley Louise Farrington

Thomas Michael Faucher

Amber Fielding

Richard Finethy

Jennifer Marie Finneran

Danielle Marie Fortin

Robert Michael Frost

Katherine Margaret Gage

Mariah Janel Gage

Florence Ganassin

Christopher A. Gentile

Shakira Giordano

Samantha Golden

Kimberly Marissa Grant

Kayla Marie Grenier

Noele Haapanen

Shannon Joy Halloran

Colin Matthew Hammond

Chantelle Marie Harris

Tristan Vincent Hildebrandt

Andrea Hillsgrove

Ryan Joseph Hingston

Joshua Ethan Hough

Ashley Hubbard

Brendan Scott Hussey

Nicholas Paul Iannotti

Michael Colby Jensen

Khristine Jordan

Kyle Richard Juza

Justin Andrew Kantar

Andrew Kelley

Kaitlyn Denne LaCourse

Courtney LaDow

Jack James LaFreniere

Corey Daniel LeBlanc

Erika Lynn Macaione

Stephanie Macdonald

William Thomas Macduff

Coty Lee Maciejewski

Jamie Alexis Matthew

Vincent Andrew Meuse

Giovanni Ricardo Milano

Ralph Minnick

Jacob Moon

Elizabeth Rebecca Morris

Danielle Leigh Mousseau

Samantha Murphy

Nicolette Marie Nicolaides

Travis Ryan O'Donnell

Sean O'Toole

Katelyn Marie Ordway

Carlos Orna Sanchez

Taylor Renee Page

Casey Alfred Paiva

Jeremy Robert Pauley

Thomas Luke Pellowe

Elaine Marie Pelton

Erica Elizabeth Perez

Britney Lea Perkins

Alexandria Phillips

Brett Piper

Kaela Plante

Nicole Elizabeth Riel

David Paul Rivard

Geoffrey Ian Roberts

Benjamin Rogers

Maegan Dorothy Rojek

Matthew Douglas Rojek

Alexander Rose

Stephanie Roy

Justin Joseph Ruot

Jessica Grace Russell

Kathleen Nicole Sandin

Paige Elizabeth Seward

Danielle Nicole Sheehan

Joshua John Soucie

Jillian Marie Stackhouse

Michael Henry Stevens

Westen David Stewart

Kathleen Alicia Sykes

Caitlin Jean Sylvester

Ronald Szarkowski

Jillian Patricia Taylor

Heather Kimberly Tempest

Caitlin Tetreau

Amanda Ayre True

Heather Twaddle

Olivia Varney

Baron Alexander Vogel

Joseph Whissel

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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