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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Nashua South graduates recognized for supporting one another

Overcoming recent brain surgery, Nashua High School South senior Connor Shaughnessy walked unassisted to the stage to receive his diploma on Saturday.

South seniors celebrated their graduation Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. ...

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Overcoming recent brain surgery, Nashua High School South senior Connor Shaughnessy walked unassisted to the stage to receive his diploma on Saturday.

South seniors celebrated their graduation Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

Shaughnessy underwent a procedure in April to alleviate the affects of myoclonus-dystonia, a genetic movement disorder that manifests in muscle spasms, interfering with motor skills and walking.

His doctors had estimated a 50 percent chance that the procedure would even work. But Shaughnessy said his neurologist couldn’t believe how fast he recovered.

“He kind of blew us away,” said his mother, Becky Shaughnessy. “We didn’t know what to expect.”

Shaughnessy said he used a wheelchair for five to six weeks after the surgery, but eventually was able to walk on his own without physical therapy.

The school’s concert band guided the processional with “Pomp and Circumstance,” and the senior concert choir kicked off the ceremony with the national anthem.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau was onstage, along with Superintendent Mark Conrad and Board of Education members George Farrington, Kimberly Muise and Steve Haas. Also in attendance were Jennifer Seusing, former South principal and current assistant superintendent, and Assistant Superintendent Karen Crebase.

In his welcome speech, South Principal Keith Richard praised students for always supporting one another. Richard said students particularly came together after the death of drama adviser Walter Heinhold. He asked for a moment of silence to honor his memory.

Richard also asked for a round of applause for South grads heading into military service, and he gave a shout-out to senior Damien Pineau, who already had left for basic training and couldn’t make his graduation.

“For the past 12 years, life’s been pretty predictable. … Now, you’re off into the real world, but you take us with you,” Richard said.

Valedictorian Christine Yu began her speech in Latin, but switched to English after her greeting.

“Although I am only one person up here telling one story, there are over 400 stories in this class,” Yu said. “After high school, start with no regrets and no reservations.”

Class speaker Hector Collazo said graduation was one of the biggest days of his life.

“I never thought the day would come where I would receive my high school diploma,” Collazo said.

He said his family worked hard, having one parent and six boys.

“There were times when I thought college wasn’t for me. … It wasn’t in my stars,” he said.

Collazo thanked his teachers and his Boys & Girls Club mentor, Julie Dube, for helping him succeed. He said he’s going to his top choice, the University of New Hampshire, this fall.

“I encourage you to look down your road, see your future and believe in yourself. … Make your dreams the start of a beautiful reality,” he said.

The faculty speaker, Joel Iwaskiewicz, an English teacher and Nashua South graduate, started his speech by telling students that they’re all going to fail. He quoted Maya Angelou: “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.”

Iwaskiewicz said success is doing your best and accepting nothing but the best of yourself.

“Our world definitely needs your best. … So get out there are and fail, and fail again, and keep chasing whatever dream you have,” he said. “In the meantime, soak in the victory today.”

Class President Kenneth Tremblay said he sees perseverance in all of his peers.

“Today, we have grown. … Let us look forward together before we look backwards apart,” he said.

Shaughnessy said he plans to do his part, participating in a medical research study, as he’s the only confirmed case of myoclonus-dystonia in New England.

Walking at graduation was just the first step: Shaughnessy will study video production at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, N.Y., in the fall.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).