EXETER — This year’s graduation ceremony for the 31 seniors at the Great Bay Charter School, held during the coronavirus pandemic, could be compared to a three-act play.
In Act I, the students took part in a drive by parade through the school’s parking lot on June 3, where they were able to pick up their caps and gowns and wave farewell to their teachers. The second act took place on June 6, with students going one at a time for an in-person presentation of their diplomas on the lawn outside of the school.
The third, and final act, was held on Wednesday when the school community came together for a virtual graduation ceremony via Zoom with student speakers, scholarship presentations and a video of the diploma presentations.
“Welcome to certainly the most unique ceremony we’ve had,” said teacher Kristianne Lemieux, who told the group she usually likes to look at the faces in the crowd when she does her welcome speech. “Today, I see our faces in boxes like the Brady Bunch and scrolling through the boxes has caused me to lose my space in my speech.”
Lemieux urged the graduates to remember the lessons they learned in kindergarten, while also recognizing that all lessons are subject to change, as they came to experience during remote school.
Art teacher Shelby Phoenix introduced the first student speaker, Christina “Stina” Leonard. “I have been so privileged to be Stina’s advisor for the past two years,” Phoenix said. “She is such a strong, resilient woman, and I am so proud of her.”
Leonard spoke about how the school became like a family for her. She remembered Phoenix dressing as a Crayon on Halloween, and teacher Jay Reiter donating money he raised to the senior class trip in 2019 by letting the students cut his hair.
“This school isn’t just about being serious all the time, it’s also about building a sense of community and family and being there for each other,” Leonard said. “I really don’t know what I would have done without all of you, especially my teachers.”
Executive Director Peter Stackhouse recognized the unique nature of the last few months of the graduates’ high school experience. He spoke of watching the news and the respect he feels for leaders who have displayed compassion and empathy in their decision making. He urged the graduates to remember that as they moved forward in life.
“You will be forced to make decisions that will impact those around you,” he said. “Look back at this life experience as an example of how to lead.”
Despite the challenges, the students persevered to finish out their senior year. “Yes, you have been forced to learn new ways to do things, but don’t ever forget the reason for gathering tonight is to celebrate your accomplishments,” Stackhouse said. “There were no gifts. No free rides. No relaxing of standards. You made it to this point because you earned it. You are stronger because of what you experienced.”
Senior Tricia Mack recalled when she first visited GBCS as a potential student. She was scared. She didn’t know what do expect and was used to feeling uncomfortable in school. She felt a difference right away.
“Walking into the school felt like walking into a safe haven,” Mack said.
Mack recognized her “school moms,” Ms. Clark and Ms. Sullivan, along with Mr. Reiter, who taught her to do things for herself and that it was OK to ask for help. “I don’t know where I would be today without by GBCS family,” Mack said. “I have been taught many lessons that will last me a lifetime. I can’t thank you enough.”
James Gillis, the last senior to speak, first enrolled at the charter school in seventh grade. “I dreaded going to school. I would have done anything not to go,” he said of what he was like before GBCS.
Gillis recalled meeting Mr. Reiter and asking questions of an older student during his tour, and this year becoming a mentor to the current lower school students. “GBCS was a home to me. It is a home to me,” Gillis said. “It made me feel accepted, connected, and safe.”
Assistant Director and Senior Class Advisor Stacey Clark urged the students to remember the Gandhi quote in their classroom, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” as she told them to spread kindness. “Make it a point every day to be kind to yourself,” she said. “You are special, and you deserve it.”
Clark told the graduates that asking for help in life could exemplify bravery and that they should stay true to themselves. “Never be afraid to be who you are, others will accept you or they won’t. Either way, it will be OK,” she said, before telling them, “Know even as you leave our little school, we believe in you, now and into your future.”
This year’s graduates include:
Abigail Marie Battles; Layla Gail Bergeron; Emma Delaney Bernard; Paolo Andrew Cordio; Hannah Madison DeLong; John Paul Duquette; Ashton C. Ferron; Skyler Elizabeth Fisher; Justin Patrick Fogg; Jared Christopher Gaudreau; James W. Gillis; Jordan Sky Goddard; Matthew A. Greenberg; Christian Francis Howard; Haydn Alexander Jankowski; Brianna Ann Jones; Leandra McKayla Kelley; Christina Elizabeth Leonard; Tricia Lynn Mack; Mary Jean Martin; Sean Patrick McGinness; Matty Hannah Pelletier; Blake Robert Perreault; Richard Dean Pierce; Madison Rose Smart; Timothy Paul Smith; Benjamin Brewster Solberg; Riley G. Sterritt; Chloe T. Thibodeau; Kurt A. Wicander; Evan William Willett.
The following scholarships were awarded: The Executive Director’s Scholarship (Brianna Jones); the Trustees Scholarship (Emma Bernard); the Ron Morrisette Scholarship (Kurt Wicander and Evan Willett); the Jasmine Marston Scholarship (Leandra Kelley and Tricia Mack) and the GBCS Faculty Community Service Award (James Gillis). The 2020 Parent Award was presented to Sheryl Sullivan.