BERLIN — With a major reorganization underway, it was no surprise that change surfaced often as a theme at Berlin High commencement exercises on Friday.
Before a packed house, 88 Berlin High students received their diplomas in a ceremony that included an appearance by “Prince.”
In his address, Valedictorian Joshua Berthiaume noted that the Class of 2019 is Berlin High School’s 135th graduating class and its last. Next year, he noted, it will be Berlin Middle High School and will include grades sixth through 12.
He said no one is excited about the school system reorganization but called upon the community to join together and make the best of the situation “because nothing good is going to come from just sitting down and complaining about it.”
Berthiaume said the community has the power to use its voice to have an impact on state education funding and make a change. In the meantime, he said the school staff will continue to work its hardest “to provide an exceptional education with the resources that still remain.”
Berthiaume said he decided to talk about “changes” because graduation is one of life’s most important changes. He said there are many societal problems but the burden of solving them does not rest solely with his generation. Everyone, Berthiaume said, has the ability to make a change.
He challenged those in attendance to make at least one small change — even “something as simple as holding the door for the person behind you” — and in a year “reflect back to see what has changed in your life for the better.”
Berthiaume recalled the definition of technology taught by social studies teacher Jared Lauze included the line “to extend human capabilities” and predicted there will be some new technology 20 years from now that will amaze them all.
“Maybe one of us here will help develop that technology and change the world. We will just have to see,” he said.
Class President Kristen Goyette traced her journey through school, starting in Milan where she went to school through sixth grade.
She said going from a class of 12 to one of about 90 students made the Milan students nervous. But they survived and two years later, it was time to leave Berlin Middle School. Goyette said entering Berlin High School was probably one of the scariest days of her life but was also the start to “the most amazing four years at BHS.”
Graduation, she said, was the ending of their story at Berlin High School but the beginning of another with a clean slate for everybody.
“You can make your next story be anything you want it to be,” she concluded.
In his welcoming address, Principal Kevin Carpenter urged the graduates to take risks and be willing to fail. He said he is taking a risk in leaving Berlin High, where he has worked for 17 years including the last four as principal, to become principal at Kennett High School.
“Next year, I am stepping away from something comfortable, something I know and love,” Carpenter said. “I cannot tell you if I have made the right choice. This is what it means to risk.”
He advised the graduates not to be afraid to fail but to learn from their failures.
“I also ask that you all live the life you want. Please do not settle. Settling leads to further settling, which leads to complacency and stagnation,” he said.
It was also the last graduation for Superintendent of Schools Corinne Cascadden who is retiring after over 40 years of service to the Berlin school system.
Learning, she told the graduates, must be a lifelong effort, and she urged them to use their diplomas as stepping stones. Cascadden indicated it was time for the next generation to take over.
“It’s your role now to be the next change leaders,” she said.
The ceremony then turned lively when “Prince” danced out on the stage resplendent in a long purple coat with a white ruffled shirt. Underneath the dark curly hair wig was Athletic Director Craig Melanson — recipient of the class of 2019 yearbook dedication.
Melanson told the students he was honored and humbled by the yearbook dedication.
“This is by far the best award I have received in my career,” he said.
Melanson told the graduates that Berlin was a great place to grow up with hard-working, good and resilient people, and he urged them to remember their roots.
“Change makes people crazy,” he said, but warned that “change is going to happen whether you want it or not.”
Melanson delivered a litany of advice to the graduates, telling them to be respectful and nice, to have a thick skin, and to embrace the moment. And noting his zany outfit, he also exhorted them to have fun along the way.
Goyette led her class into commencement exercises at the high school gym. Awards were given to the valedictorian, salutatorian and honor students. After the speeches in what has become a Berlin High tradition, the graduating class played a video it produced of the graduates.
Then with Melanson calling out the names, School Board Vice Chair Lynn Moore handed out diplomas including one to her son, Michael Moore.
Diplomas in hand, the graduates turned their tassels and tossed their caps to the delight of family and friends. The class then walked out of the gym with their high school careers completed.
More than two-thirds of the class have plans to continue their education at a mix of colleges and universities. Twenty-seven indicated they will attend White Mountains Community College in Berlin and one is joining the military.