HINSDALE, N.H. - In front of friends and family members on a nearly cloudless Saturday morning, 39 high school students crossed the finish line together.
Teacher Al Hoel was asked to be the commencement speaker at the 2012 Hinsdale High School graduation and he used his opportunity to explain how the graduates' accomplishment despite four grueling years of hardship reminds him of the horses races his grandmother used to take him to at Hollywood Park.
Standing at a podium on a stage a stone's throw from the school, he described how the horse owners compare to the parents and guardians, the trainers are just like the teachers, and the jockeys represent the students. He announced an allegorical horse race involving the 39 young people seated off the stage to his left.
In the next 14 minutes, Hoel announced the fictitious race, which was rife with symbolism. He spoke of some students that had to recover after being slow out of the starting gate, how teachers and administrators kept them from running off the track and how valedictorian Mitul Rathod and salutatorian Samantha Lavigne led the pack.
"They're rounding the last turn and they're heading for the homestretch there's no clear front-runner anyone. They're running toe to toe, body part to body part. They're almost there, the ground is shaking," he said. "What is this? Oh my, this can't be happening. They have all linked arms and are running together, helping each other. They're
"It's official - it's a 39-way tie. Each contestant has finished in first place. The fans are going wild. Everybody who has wagered on a jockey wins," he said. "Congratulations to all, good luck to each and every member of the remarkable Class of 2012. We expect great thing from you. Enjoy your summer and beyond."
Lavigne, who plans to attend Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts, had preceded Hoel by thanking everyone for attending the ceremony. She said any of the troubling or dramatic moments she and the other graduates faced in the previous four years made them stronger in the long run.
Tim Gringeri, who will attend the University of New Hampshire in the fall, followed Hoel by reading his honor essay.
"The Class of 2012 is about to leave the halls of Hinsdale High School and many already have plans of what we want to do. Some of us plan to enter the workforce right away, many of us are going to be attending college this coming fall - at UNH, at Bay State, at Greenfield Community College or at other campuses. Some of us are going to enter the armed forces. A few of us do not know what we want to do once the summer passes," he said. "However, whatever we choose to do, I believe the future holds bright things for all of us. We've all been determined to get to where we are today."
He said his class persevered through all the obstacles thrown in its way. He also thanked Principal John Sullivan and all the teachers who helped him and his classmates along the way.
Rathod, who has been accepted to Tufts University, said he felt obligated to write a speech that would not bore the crowd. He said he conducted a Google search for a speech that was "inspirational yet non-sleeping-inducing."
He said all the speeches he found were good but that all would make it appear as though high school had been perfect.
"High school has really been a challenge for all of us and it's not going to get any easier," he said. "But I think that the fact that high school hasn't been a breeze just makes this occasion all the more special."
He said none of the graduates would be sitting there ready to receive their diplomas without the help and kindness of the school's faculty members.
"They gave us the shove we needed to get our gears in motion and the knowledge we needed to survive out there in the real world, where you actually have to do your own laundry," he said.
After Sullivan announced the recipients of numerous awards - ones that had not been among the many presented the day before - each senior had his or her name announced and was handed a diploma.
Members of the graduating class of 2012 will receive $45,150 in scholarship thanks to local and area clubs and businesses as well a existing trust funds.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311.