Nashua North grads urged to look to the future

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Billy and Heidi Goulet received their son, Jacob's, Nashua High School North diploma Sunday in his memory. Jacob was 16 when he died after falling into an open storm drain on Main Street.

MANCHESTER – Welcomed to the speaker’s stand with a robust burst of cheers and applause, Nashua High School North security officer Antwan Thomas told the 2018 graduates he initially thought someone erred when they told him he would be the faculty speaker at Sunday’s graduation.

“I felt there was a mixup like Steve Harvey had at the Miss (Universe) Pageant: ‘Who, me?'” Thomas said to laughs, referring to Harvey’s misstep in announcing the 2015 pageant winner.

Thomas went on to admit being “humbled” by his invitation, telling the roughly 345 North grads that they “should be very, very proud of” themselves and thanked “each of you, in your own way, for allowing me to watch over you. …”

Families and friends of the Titan-blue robed grads filled a good portion of the roughly 11,000 seat SNHU Arena, formerly the Verizon Wireless Arena, in

downtown Manchester to watch the North seniors become the newest alumni of the city’s younger high school.

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup With baby Mayelis Giavanna Marquez in tow, Nashua High School North graduate Ireyssa Marquez walks onstage Sunday to receive her diploma at the school's commencement. She and her sister, Aleyssa Marquez, were among the roughly 345 North graduates.

The ceremony, which ran just over two hours, was the first of Sunday’s all-Nashua graduation doubleheader. In the afternoon, North’s so-called “Battle of the Bridge” counterparts – Nashua High School South – took center stage.

Lidia Balanovich, North’s valedictorian, got a bit emotional at the outset of her address while thanking her fellow grads’ families, then her own mother and father.

She also credited “North’s incredible faculty,” without whom “I wouldn’t be here today,” she said.

“It’s all over. We’re all going our separate ways, putting hundreds of miles between us,” Balanovich said, but added she feels confident going forward because of spending four years with “the most amazing people … who have changed my life, made me a better person today.”

She cautioned her classmates to “never, for a second, let these past four years go to waste. Do not forget the past; it’s what made you who you are today.”

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Tyler Bellemare receives his diploma to congratulations by administrators at Sunday's Nashua High School North graduation.

Student speaker Ali Hastings shared what was likely a common feeling among her fellow graduates.

“It’s hard to imagine … it was just four years ago” that the class of 2018 walked the halls of North the first time.

“Now, we’re seniors, and this year has brought us together in a special way,” Hastings said. “We did it.”

For class president Josafa Santana, his senior year “was the year in which I learned, I loved, I gave, I received, I influenced and I taught,” he told his classmates.

His experiences inspired him to major in both business and Biblical studies at Gordon College, and also minor in pastoral ministries, he said. “If it weren’t for North, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, standing here.”

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Plenty of photos and congratulatory hugs were in store for Nashua High School North graduates as they exited the SNHU Arena in Manchester Sunday.

Santana reeled off a long list of people, from newly made friends to longtime companions to teachers and administrators, crediting them for “always being there” for him.

“Challenges I faced were never faced alone,” Santana continued. “I would be lying if I said that I could have done this alone. I would be selfish to say that I’m here because of my own strength.

“I’m only in this position right now because of some of you people in the crowd, and others who couldn’t be here today,” he said.

Meanwhile, Thomas, the school security officer, said he learned upon coming to North that the school “is an astonishing community, and one of the most diverse in the state,” he said, adding that its students hail from 43 different countries and speak as many as 80 different languages.

Since four years ago, when he was “yelling at you during picture day while you asked for just a few more minutes to fluff and primp,” Thomas said he has “watched some of you overcome language barriers, manage personal struggles, conquer your fears and even step out of your comfort zone” by attending dances, running for office or playing sports.

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Newly-minted Nashua High School North graduate Alex Bleau poses for photos with his mom, Jessica Bleau, shortly after exiting the SNHU Arena in Manchester following the conclusion of Sunday's graduation.

Asking the grads to stand and applaud their “families, friends and loved ones” for 18 seconds to symbolize the “last 18 years … they have stood for you,” Thomas urged them to “be who you are, do what you love and go where your heart leads you.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DeanS.

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Several colorfully-decorated mortar boards are visible as Nashua High School North graduates look up at the giant SNHU Arena screen to watch a "year in review" slide show at Sunday's graduation.