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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Accolades, inspiration for Nashua Christian Academy Class of 2014

Nashua Christian Academy valedictorian Nathan Gray cautioned his peers against sacrificing the world around them for technology, while the father of a 19-year-old woman killed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake shared how he drew upon his faith to build an orphanage in her name at the graduation Saturday of the 2014 NCA class.

An even dozen graduates – seven women and five men – sat in two rows on the stage at Nashua’s Grace Fellowship Church, with which the small, four-year high school is associated. ...

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Nashua Christian Academy valedictorian Nathan Gray cautioned his peers against sacrificing the world around them for technology, while the father of a 19-year-old woman killed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake shared how he drew upon his faith to build an orphanage in her name at the graduation Saturday of the 2014 NCA class.

An even dozen graduates – seven women and five men – sat in two rows on the stage at Nashua’s Grace Fellowship Church, with which the small, four-year high school is associated.

While life “might be easy in a world saturated with technology to jump on the bandwagon,” Gray told his fellow grads, NCA staff and about 100 guests, the cost of losing contact with other people is quite steep.

“Our relationships often become
disposable at the first sign of trouble,” Gray continued. “I have been guilty of this myself. But there are so many things we miss when we try to take control of our relationships like little toys to play with at will,” he said.

As inspiring as every presentation was on Saturday, the remarks of Len Gengal, whose daughter Britney died in the Haitian earthquake, held attendees particularly spellbound.

Britney Gengal was 19 and on an aid mission with fellow college students to Haiti when the quake struck in January 2010. Len Gengal shared how devastated his family was when they found out she had died after believing for 48 hours that she had survived.

“As you can imagine, the joy and celebration began,” he said, recalling how his daughter’s extended family boarded flights to Florida “and headed down to this great reunion.”

Told upon arrival that a mistake had been made in the identification process and Britney Gengal had perished, the family fell into despair. But, Len Gengal said, his devastated family “took our suffering (but also) our love for our daughter and put it into something beautiful.”

They remembered the inspiring text message Britney wrote to her mom two days into her one-week mission. She related how much the Haitians “love us” and are “so happy” and that she wanted to move there “and start an orphanage myself.”

“That text got us through the most difficult time a parent can ever face,” Len Gengal said, and was the impetus for the orphanage project they dedicated to his daughter.

Today, the “Be Like Brit Orphanage,” on a hill in the village of Grand Bois overlooking the ocean, boasts 19,000 square feet – 1,000 feet “for each year she was with us,” her father said – and space for 33 boys and 33 girls, which represent the number of days she lay deceased in the rubble of her hotel.

“How did we do it? How did we go to the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and build this orphanage?” Gengal asked rhetorically as he highlighted the milestones the project reached until completion last year.

He directed the inspiration toward the graduates, encouraging them to “be courageous, committed, compassionate, dedicated … You can do it, I know you can.

“Be the moral compass. Be a global citizen. Be a Christian leader in your community,” Gengal added with emphasis in conclusion.

The Rev. Paul Berube, chancellor of Grace Fellowship, called Gengal’s story one “of heartache, but yet one of triumph,” and said he was “honored” to have the family in attendance Saturday.

Turning to the graduates, he praised them as “a wonderful, wonderful class,” and announced that collectively, the 12 men and women “amassed more than a million dollars in scholarships and academic aid.”

Meanwhile, salutatorian Zachary Brown, who will, coincidentally, be valedictorian Nathan Gray’s roommate when the two enter Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., this fall, began his remarks by issuing a challenge to current NCA students.

“Today, I just have a simple challenge to other students at NCA: to not waver from what we’ve built,” Brown said. “It’s so much easier to backslide than to make progress, and I’m really hoping you guys will stick to what we have and persevere.”

Brown cited what he called the “comfortable, relaxed” atmosphere at the small high school.

“It’s just great to go down the halls and see people high-fiving, having little fake karate fights,” he said to laughs. “That’s what makes our school what it is – everyone being able to be relaxed. There’s really no divide (between grades) … everyone talks to everyone. It’s really a beautiful thing.”

Brown urged his fellow grads to “stick to” what got them this far. “You know who you’re supposed to be, where you’re supposed to go,” he said.

NCA Headmaster Christine Urban at once praised and cautioned her graduating charges. “You are not perfect. (But) you are wonderful, you’re remarkable … and you hold one another accountable. Never lose that,” she said.

She said the class is made up of “young men and women who love God, and are smart, too.

“You’re ready for college. You’re ready for life. You’ve learned much, thought much … and you understood with your hearts.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).