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  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - Merrimack grads Nick Deraney, left, and Kevin Damery, right, are all smiles as they sport sungalasses as they pose for a photo before the start of graduation ceremonies on Saturday
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - Merrimack High School graduate Jennifer Duggan waves to family and friends as she marches in the processional during commencement exercises on Saturday.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - A Merrimack High School graduate sports the Boston Bruins colors on his mortarboard at the school's commencement exercises on Saturday.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - Merrimack High graduate Kara Jolly gives the Valedictory address at commencement exercises on Saturday.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - Merrimack High graduates Kevin Damery, left, and Megan Dalton celebrate after they received their diplomas at commencement ceremonies on Saturday morning.
  • Photo by Jodie Andrtuskevich - Merrimack graduates Kevin Damery, left, and Megan Dalton walk arm in arm as they celebrate after receiving their diplomas at commencement exercises on Saturday morning.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - Para-professional Allison DeLuca, left, snaps a photo of herself and Merrimack graduate Jessica Moreau prior to the start of graduation ceremonies on Saturday.
Sunday, June 19, 2011

Merrimack High graduation - a time of relief and joy

MERRIMACK – Members of Merrimack High School’s class of 2011 clapped along happily Saturday to the opening notes of “Teach Your Children.” But as the song played over the loudspeaker, the students quickly lost the beat, clapping ahead of the rhythm as though they wanted to get to the good part.

The graduates reached the best part of the ceremony about an hour later when they triumphantly turned their tassels and danced across the high school’s athletic fields, celebrating their high school graduation – the end of one journey and the start of another.

“It’s such an amazing feeling,” Felicia Tomolonis said as she joined her 360 classmates on the school’s athletic fields.

“It’s relief, sadness, joy, all at the same time,” she said with a broad smile. “It feels like one of those crazy roller coasters, but it’s coming to an end now. … We did it.”

Nearly melting under the hot sun, students bid adieu to their high school careers, running through a roster of the teachers and classmates who helped them reach this point.

“They’re all so incredible. It’s hard to say good-bye,” Luke Ryan said of his teachers and classmates. “We’re like one giant family.”

But one student speaker addressing the hundreds of graduates, friends and family members looked beyond the school community for his source of inspiration.

“I’d like to talk about someone who I believe embodies many of … the characteristics of what we as a class should strive for …,” Class President Michael Murgo told the crowd.

“No, this person isn’t a member of the (Merrimack High) faculty. And no, I don’t personally know the individual of whom I speak. And yet she has had a profound effect on my life,” he said. “This mysterious personage is none other than a personal hero of mine – Lady Gaga.”

Celebrating the pop music queen and noted fashionista, Murgo applauded Lady Gaga for the messages of compassion and individualism spread through her music and her acts of philanthropy.

“Whether life’s disabilities left you outcast, bullied, or teased, rejoice and love yourself today, ‘cause baby you were born this way,” he said, quoting from Lady Gaga’s song “Born this Way.”

“Perhaps if we emulated Lady Gaga, without the meat dress, then we, too, could make the world a better place,” Murgo said.

With pride in their eyes, students and administrators spent the day trading ideas and hopes of how to approach the future.

Salutatorian Shayna Garkofsky shared her story of struggling through a chronic stomach illness on her path to graduation. And Valedictorian Kara Jolly told her classmates to keep smiling.

“Life’s a garden. Dig it,” she said, quoting the movie “Joe Dirt.”

In his keynote address, Principal Ken Johnson spoke of the important decisions the graduates will make over the coming years.

“Let your decisions be your own,” he said, “and let your experience here at Merrimack High School always challenge you to believe, to go forward and inspire.”

But Murgo, the senior class president who closed the ceremony, left the last word for his hero.

“As Lady Gaga would say, ‘Today, we truly are on the edge of glory,’” he said, sending the graduates forward. “Our time has come.”