GORHAM — Thirty students in the Class of 2019, most of whom have spent many years attending school together, reached the end of their public school days on Friday evening, June 7, at the commencement exercises in the Gorham Middle High School gym.

Earlier, at Class Day, successful local businessman Dan Dagesse, grandfather of graduating senior Melvin Olson, happily surprised the students by announcing that he would give $1,000 to each of his grandson’s classmates, nearly all of whom are going directly onto further education. Over a third will attend White Mountains Community College in Berlin; two will go to the University of New Hampshire, one in Manchester and one in Durham; two to Keene State University; two to New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord; and others to a wide range of both colleges and vocational schools.

Most heading to two-year programs hope to be able to later go to four-year colleges and universities.

Cameron Balon is the only senior going directly into the military, listing the Air Force as his choice.

Valedictorian Bryce Gauthier traced his transformation from a self-described “stereotypical middle-school brat” into a harried, withdrawn and perpetually anxious grade-grubbing student who felt like an imposter.

“Later in my high school career,” Bryce said, “I abandoned my quest for perfection and spent more time repairing the pieces of my life that I previously neglected.”

He pursued new hobbies and made friends and memories.

“To my utter surprise, this shift to accepting failure and avoiding perfectionism actually increased my grades.”

Bryce urged his classmates to take on the challenges that lie ahead with confidence, to accept and learn from failures, and to take pride in accomplishments. He pointed out that it was not “mere luck or fortune but as a product of our hard work and merit” that they were to receive their diplomas. “Take the time to appreciate this success and the people who helped you along the way,” he said.

Salutatorian Abigail Bernier described her longtime obsession with trying to make the details of her life predictable and in her control and how she forced herself to find a better balance.

“I’m a neat freak,” she said. “Chaos and disorder cannot be a part of my life. But books? They have to be. For most of my life, I lived through the characters in my books.”

Abigail said that when younger she had “put school before everything” because she thought it should be her “first and only priority.” But she admired Scout — the main character in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”— who is bold and stands up for what she believes.

“I decided to start making decisions based on what I think or I want,” Abigail recalled. “I realized that I wanted more from my life than what I was getting, and I discovered there were plenty of changes to be made.”

These changes ranged from simply buying and wearing ripped jeans, to playing softball, asking for help despite not wanting to, and appreciating “the sunrise in the morning and the stars at night.” As a result, “for the first time in my life I feel like a real person instead of a background character in my own story,” she said. “I learned how to be present in my life … In a fast-paced world, it is crucial for us to take a step back, reflect on our lives, determine what is most important to us and act on those things that make our lives worthwhile. I encourage you all to stop going through the motions of everyday life and think of each day as a possibility for new experiences.”

Gorham Middle High School Dean of Students Wayne King said he was thrilled the Class of 2019 had chosen him to be its guest speaker.

King lightheartedly imparted some serious “bits of wisdom” to the graduating seniors.

“Find value in the achievements that are not recorded on paper.”

He lamented the importance of “the paper chase” that starts at birth and fundamentally never stops, including college acceptance letters and high school diplomas. He urged the Class of 2019 “to find the significance in the birth of an original thought or a new friendship.” He touted the importance of receiving a heartfelt thanks or hug and the satisfaction that comes from doing an unnoticed or underappreciated deed.

“Keep a sunset just for you,” he said. “Put down that damn phone! Today the average teenager spends roughly 100 minutes each day on Facebook alone.

“Just put the phone down. Keep some things just for you. Don’t always reach for your phone to snap a picture of the rainbow or that perfect sunset. Instead take it in for all its beauty with your own eyes and save that moment in time in your own mind and keep it for yourself.

“Don’t be afraid to be a little selfish from time to time. Keep some of your thoughts and feelings private … Learn to validate yourself. Do not rely on the shallow, superficial approval of a Facebook ‘like,’ ‘love’ or ‘share,’ and understand that there exists no true sincerity in cyber-space … Don’t be a social media troll, hunting for the failure of others as a means to elevate your own self-esteem.”

King advised the students to engage in face-to-face encounters and to listen to people’s stories with both “an attentive ear and an open mind.”

He ended his speech by challenging members of the Class of 2019 to be ready for the “four or five moments in your life” when you can be a hero by making a sacrifice, conquering a flaw, saving a friend or sparing an enemy.” He said he was using the words uttered by Colossus, an X-man character from the movie “Deadpool” who is the alter ego of Piotr “Peter” Nikolayevich Rasputin.

The GMHS band played a rousing rendition of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” for both the processional and recessional to which the students marched very deliberately.

The National Anthem was sung by seniors Elizabeth Anderson and Brianna Taylor.

Junior Class President Anna Roberge served as the sole marshal.

Principal Jennifer Corrigan welcomed the community to the commencement and thanked parents, grandparents, extended family members, school board members, SAU 20 faculty and staff plus community members for all the support they had provided over many years to make the commencement possible.

Corrigan, along with school board chair Jo Carpenter and board member Dennis Wade, presented diplomas to 30 students: Sophia Allen; Elizabeth Anderson; Isabelle Balch; Cameron Balon; Avynne Batchelder; Ariel Bennett; Abigail Bernier; Declan Blair; Adelina Cintron; Gavin Corrigan; Olivia Cyr; Trinity Downs; Jaya Dumas; Hannah Fontaine; Bryce Gauthier; Christopher Gerath; Makenzie Gilbert; Jeffrey Harrington; Betty Johnson; Grimmie Jones; Alexis Kruskie; Travis Lemieux; Hannah MacDonald; Robert Morehouse; Thomas Morehouse; Melvin Olson; Brianna Taylor; Kyle Tetreault; Anthony Tompkins and Ryley Vallieres.

An impressive number of college scholarships were presented by organizations, family and community members and the business community at both the commencement and Class Day.

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