FF graduates encouraged to remember community, embrace new opportunities

3 years ago

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Twenty-one students from Fort Fairfield High School said their final goodbyes on Sunday to the teachers and administrators who have helped shaped much of their lives thus far.

Under clear, sunny skies, the Class of 2021 marched onto the high school soccer field and sat facing family members and friends. The maskless, socially non-distanced audience was a welcome change, due to the pandemic that defined the students’ final school year.

Class president Hunter Perkins reminded her classmates just how far they have come since August 2020.

“I know that this past school year has been extremely challenging, but look at us now,” Perkins said. “Every challenge that we have endured, we have conquered. All of the memories we have made, I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

For salutatorian Olivia Langer, the phrase “We’re all in this together” became a cliche but truthful way to summarize how she and her classmates endured the past year of masks, social distancing and virtual or hybrid learning. Even before the pandemic, moments went by too quickly to be fully appreciated.

“I realized [while looking back at high school] that I was so caught up in my schoolwork, sports and my job that I never took the time to slow down and enjoy it,” Langner said. “As high schoolers, we’re so focused on getting things done that we forget to value our time as kids before we reach the end of our school career.”

Langner said an important part of her life in Fort Fairfield is that she and many of her fellow graduates have grown up together since elementary school.

“We’ve been through it all together, every step of the way,” Langner said. “I didn’t truly realize until recently that everyone that has been a part of my life would hold such a valuable place in my heart forever.”

Valedictorian Brenna LeVasseur reflected on the values the class has learned from one another. Many students, she said, have been called “rebels,” but not because they have caused trouble.

“To me, a true rebel recognizes that they need to learn more and explore things from a different perspective,” LeVasseur said. “We have used trouble or troubling situations to actively figure out how to use our individual strengths and skills to better ourselves and help bolster others.”

LeVasseur called herself an “unlikely valedictorian,” in part because of challenges she has dealt with throughout her school years. In elementary school she was placed in an literacy intervention program due to falling behind on grade-level reading skills.

But even though many gave LeVasseur the label of “underachiever,” she credits her family and teachers for never treating her differently than other students.

“If I had been treated as an underachiever, I very well may have behaved as one and my path would look quite different,” LeVasseur said. “Always believe in yourself, my friends, and don’t let societal definitions define you. Instead, define yourself.”

Before the students received their diplomas, SAD 20 superintendent Tim Doak shared advice that he hoped they would remember after graduation.

Regardless of which community students choose to call home, Doak said, they should keep themselves healthy through eating healthy, exercising and always finding new opportunities to learn and grow as people.

A 1986 Fort Fairfield graduate, Doak said his earliest memories of family, school and recreation department activities helped to shape his love of community in adulthood. He said he hopes that students also remember their community’s values and the lessons learned from surviving a historic pandemic.

“I cannot imagine the mental capacity you needed to have to endure the challenges of this past year,” Doak said. “[The pandemic] pushed our limits, but we’re all going to come out of it as better people.”

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — June 13, 2021 — Class salutatorian Olivia Langner speaks to her classmates during graduation. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — June 13, 2021 — Fort Fairfield High School’s valedictorian Brenna LeVasseur reflects on educational and personal challenges in her graduation speech. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — June 13, 2021 — Fort Fairfield students Shantelle Simon (left), John Dorsey and Autumn Sawyer share a moment during their graduation ceremony on Sunday. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — June 13, 2021 — Fort Fairfield High School graduates Annika Reynolds (left) and Delaney St. Pierre strike a pose prior to their graduation ceremony. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — June 13, 2021 — Class marshalls Kylie MacDougal (left) and Hunter Perkins march in at the start of Fort Fairfield High School’s graduation ceremony. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star Herald)