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The Graduates

Congratulations to Our Graduates!

‘Jay and Karen share thoughts on this special time for our graduates’

Graduation is a time for celebration. It’s also seen as the culmination of hard work, earnest effort and a life experience. For the students, their families and the community, this year it’s especially important to recognize the challenges that have been successfully overcome in making it through. Hats off and a big cheer for all those involved!

For the past year, students, student athletes, their families, teachers, and other educators have had to weather an incredible storm in order to ensure one of the cornerstones of our society, education, remained intact. From sports being cancelled, proms being postponed, and graduations taking place on zoom, years of hard work were seemingly made to feel insignificant for millions of prospective graduates due to the effects of the pandemic. But as things have started to return to normal, or as normal as they can be for now, it’s important for us to take a moment and honor the hard work and dedication of students across the country who have had to face incredible adversity through the past year and are now on their way to beginning the next chapter in their lives.

That brings me to the story of a high school principal in Texas named Virdie Montgomery. Viride’s school district recently had to make the tough call of canceling their commencement ceremonies due to ongoing concerns over Covid. Known for his exuberant school spirit (he once dressed as an ‘Elf on a Shelf’ and perched himself on top of the school's marquee to celebrate the holidays), he began to think about ways he could celebrate his students given the circumstances. After talking it through with his wife, he decided he would visit each of the 612 graduating seniors one by one at their homes and congratulate them with their diploma. “I just didn't feel like I was doing enough." he said, “My wife said I was crazy”. Sure enough, after 12 days, 800 miles driven, and 636 homes visited, Virdie managed to congratulate each and every one of his seniors personally. “I just love our kids and they have awesome families. It just felt like the right thing to do.”

When I first heard this story, I almost couldn’t believe it. What’s even more incredible is the impact that it made on the students, many of whom feel their future is in doubt because of the pandemic. What Virdie did not only reassured his students, but he reinforced the notion that their education is still of the utmost importance, even if at times throughout the past year it may not have felt like it. So, while you don’t necessarily have to be like Virdie, if you know a young person graduating this year, make sure to congratulate them and celebrate their achievements. It’ll mean more to them than you may think for years to come.

New England College – Leading the Way

In the spirit of the graduation season, New England College based in Henniker, NH, deserves special recognition. While times have been difficult for many small liberal arts colleges around the country, New England College has continued to thrive – even through the pandemic. Under the leadership of President Michele Perkins, Vice-President of Academic Affairs Wayne Lesperance, Lex Scourby, who chairs a highly active Board of Trustees, and a cohesive core team, NEC has taken bold strategic moves that have put the school on the path to success. While many colleges have been slow to act in engaging online learning, NEC has been a true leader. So much so – that today, while the college has approximately 1,700 total undergraduate and graduate students engaged in on campus learning, there are even more – 2,200+ who are enrolled online. And, these online students are located all over the world – boosting NEC’s reputation and making a significant contribution to the bottom line.

In addition, the school has reached out, recruiting from all over the United States and beyond – making for a rich and diverse student population. And, with positive school spirit have come numerous athletic championships – really across the board. An area of great pride for the Pilgrims has been the school’s early adoption of an Esports. Quite characteristically, NEC has been ‘ahead of the curve’ here as well. Instituting their program several years ago, and not only creating a ‘state of the art’ Esports arena but going on to earn national recognition for the program.

Being a leader in online learning has been a true distinction for NEC, but when you think about it, being an ‘early mover’ and leader in Esports is actually a pretty big deal as well. Students get to learn practical skills around game design, art, science, and strategy, where in today’s world there is a high demand for those who can look at a complex problem and quickly find a solution. I have a suspicion as more colleges see the benefit of Esports, other schools will attempt to follow NEC’s lead. And, if there is anything about New Hampshire that we know, it’s that we love to be first! Congrats to NEC!

High School Graduation – Equipped with Valuable Skills

Newport High School is a true gem. Led by Superintendent Brendan Minnihan, the school has successfully navigated the challenges of Covid and this year has graduating seniors who are heading off to some of the most competitive colleges in the country. Meanwhile, what deserves extra-special recognition is the fact that Newport has also developed one of the leading ‘school to work’ programs in the country. Under the direction of Jennifer Opalinski, the school’s program, known as the Sugar River Tech Center, offers practical training in a variety of disciplines. Moreover, the program works closely with the town, working ‘hand in hand’ with Newport Economic Development Coordinator Christine Benner, and is designed to connect the greater Newport business community with the curriculum so that students can engage in internship and apprentice opportunities whereby they can earn credit for their work activities. These ‘on the job’ learning program also sets them up for outstanding job opportunities starting immediately upon graduation.

Students can learn welding, electrical, and a variety of other skills that can lead to attractive job opportunities. Of immense popularity is the school’s Plant Science/Horticultural program, which is headed up by Deb Stevens, where her students have won a number of awards including being selected as National Champions! Most recently added to the curriculum is an EMT level III training course. With the high demand for medical staff and emergency response members on the rise, the Sugar River Valley Tech Center is providing the foundations for the future EMTs and first responders our of community. A recent poll shared with the local school board which included students from the Sugar River Valley Tech Center showed that 84 percent felt they were fully prepared for the next phase of their lives thanks to the curriculum provided by Tech Center.

Going forward, there are plans to add courses potentially in such areas as robotics, advanced manufacturing and various digital disciplines. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this amazing program. Thanks to the availability of additional funding, the Sugar River Valley Tech Center is on track to embark upon a massive reconstruction and upgrade to its facilities so students will have an even better opportunity to learn real life skills.

I am so excited for the students who are graduating this year, and so thankful to Newport High School for creating a program that can be used as model for others to emulate and follow. Onwards and upwards for the Sugar River Tech Center!

Positive Profile of the Week: Frank Edelblut

We are delighted this week as we celebrate our graduates – to recognize a true leader who has been making major contributions to education in our state. Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education, Frank Edelblut.

Coming to the role following a distinguished background in business, Frank has worked tirelessly to innovate and streamline opportunities for our Granite State students. And, he has done all this while also leading the department through the uncharted waters of the pandemic. I think we all can agree that this past year and a half have been extremely difficult for our parents, educators, and administrators and it’s a true credit to Frank that New Hampshire’s education system has managed to move forward – barely missing a beat. Under his leadership, local school departments have had the resources necessary to be able to conduct remote learning, hybrid learning and get everyone ready for in school learning in a safe manner. Frank’s commitment to ensuring educational excellence is why he Is one of the most highly respected educational leaders in the country.

Prior to Frank’s appointment to his current post, he was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2014, and then campaigned as a gubernatorial candidate in 2016. Always ready to serve his community, he has served as Commissioner since 2017.

Married over 30 years, Frank and his wife Kathy are residents of Wilton, NH, and have raised their seven children, all of whom have been home schooled.

We thank Frank for his innovative leadership and his willingness to take on the very difficult role of Commissioner! New Hampshire’s educational community is indeed blessed to have Frank Edelblut at the helm.

Quotes of the Week: For Our Graduates

“There is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” —Nelson Mandela

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” — Judy Garland

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” — Winston Churchill

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


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