Merrimack hosts graduation ceremony

MERRIMACK – Students from Merrimack’s first kindergarten class crossed the stage at their commencement ceremony Saturday, as Merrimack High School’s class of 2018.

In his welcoming address, MHS Principal Kenneth Johnson said 12 years ago many of the students sitting before him, draped in caps and gowns, walked across this stage at just 5 and 6 years old as the town’s first kindergarten class. Now, 12 years later, a lot has changed.

“Over time, I’ve noticed that we don’t talk enough about the good deeds that our older kids do, and quite honestly, when you put the word teenager into a sentence or conversation, the connotation is not generally good,” Johnson said. “For sometimes, they make decisions that simply break our hearts. Maybe I’m still naive after all these years, but fundamentally, I believe all kids want to learn, and by far, they are good, good at the core. The definition of the word good just doesn’t stack up against practicing it.”

For the past 20 years, Johnson said he’s had two loves – his family and Merrimack High School. So, the question and challenge he set for the young adults seated before him was, “Will you chose to be good and will you choose to continue practicing to be good.”

“They’ve stopped coming to your home for trick-or-treat to make way for the next generation of little ones,” Johnson said. “While they may not be climbing trees anymore, they are climbing onto the next rung on the ladder to success. And so practicing being good, that’s the message I want to leave with our students today, and with you in the audience.”

Colin Wandell, senior class treasurer, delivered the salutatory message, who said if he’s learned anything during his time as a high school student at MHS, it’s to always do his best.

“However, I have also learned that sometimes it is more important to put your own happiness before your standing and success,” Wandell said. “Making a choice for oneself that will allow for brighter spirits in the long run can pay off a great deal in the pursuit of this happiness.”

As he, and his nearly 300 classmates, prepare to embark on the neverending obstacles the world has in store for them, he encourages them to always take challenges, one step at a time.

“Never worry to the point of obsession, because at the end of the day, life is too short to spend mentally stuffed into a box that stands no chance of being opened,” Wandell said.

Daniel Differ, class president, delivered the president’s message, also reflecting back to when he and his peers walked across the stage as kindergartners. He noted that they’ve all grown as a class and as individuals, with some students joining their class as the years stretched on, creating lasting impacts and relationships along the way.

“As we walk today, we cross the finish line of a marathon we started as kindergarten students,” Differ said.

In his speech, he had people envision that every grade counts as two miles in a marathon, which he then used to reflect back on the memories made attending different schools in town together.

“Today, we cross mile 26, and we do it as one,” Differ said. “There is no first. There is no last. Today, we walk as a family.”

As he concluded recounting the times leading up to graduation, he noted that their senior year was jam-packed with traditions, and in the week leading up to this big moment, he said they came together as a class one last time.

“After the countless Mr. Johnson speeches, the man who never met a microphone he didn’t love, the one that we remember the most was about his baseball bat,” Differ said. “After he told us that story, he talked about this exact moment up in those same bleachers we are looking at now. He said 10 months later, you will be on that field and you will be graduating. He said that those 10 months would fly by, but we just thought everyone said that. He was right, though, today is 10 months later and they did fly by.”

He concluded his speech in saying that Saturday is the start of another marathon that they will run, one that they get to choose.

“As this chapter of our lives is coming to a close, a whole new phase is opening up in front of us,” Sara Wozniak said at the start of her valedictory message. “We are known as the kids who are always on their cell phones, the athletes, the troublemakers, the smarties and many other phrases that are usually summed up as simply, the seniors.”

She said the reputations they inherited as a class, good or bad, stem from the one characteristic they all have in common, passion.

“I really cannot wait to see where this passion will take everyone in the future because, ultimately, the class of 2018 is the future,” Wozniak said.

“No matter what road we chose, all of our foundations were built here, at Merrimack High School.”

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206 or