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Rivendell graduation focuses on Class of 2021, not on the pandemic

  • The Rivendell Academy Class of 2021 tosses their mortar boards to celebrate after commencement in Orford, N.H., Saturday, June 12, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Kimberly Underhill, of Piermont, middle, leans back to show her decorated mortar board to class advisor Brynne MacMurtry, left, before the Rivendell Academy commencement in Orford, N.H., Saturday, June 12, 2021. She decorated the cap with photographs of her cows and dogs. At right is Joseph Denneen. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Rivendell Academy's class of 2021 reacts as their class advisor Brynne MacMurtry, right, relates the story of her own high school graduation during her address at commencement in Orford, N.H., Saturday, June 12, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Jonas Ostrau, left, Nathaniel Parkin, middle, and Luke Holland, right, wait in the Rivendell Academy library for the beginning of commencement in Orford, N.H., Saturday, June 12, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/12/2021 9:53:33 PM
Modified: 6/12/2021 9:53:33 PM

ORFORD — Punctuated by musical performances and inside jokes, the celebration of the Rivendell Academy Class of 2021’s graduation on Saturday left many eyes teary.

“People who know me know I’m not a super-emotional guy, but if you’ve seen me these past few weeks you’d think I’m such a crybaby,” salutatorian Caleb Haehnel said near the end of his speech, pausing to collect himself.

Haehnel spoke about the importance of friendship and staying “humble and kind,” while speeches from Rivendell Interstate School District Superintendent Barrett Williams and Principal Keri Gelenian were filled with humor and memories of individual students. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was mentioned at least briefly in each speech, it was far from the focus of the event.

“Rivendell made it a lot easier for us to go through the pandemic,” new graduate Nathaniel Parkin said after the ceremony. “Sure, there were a couple of rough spots, but ... they made it very friendly toward us, they made sure we were alright, they were very social with their students and they’d try to make sure that you’re doing well.”

The first trimester of the school year began 100% on Zoom, Gelenian explained, but by February classes were back in person, unless a student chose to remain online.

Sierra Flagg, who graduated with honors, decided to stay completely virtual this year so she could work full time at White Mountain College for Pets. Flagg said learning online made sense because it allowed her to pursue her passion for working with dogs.

“I’ll definitely remember (senior year) as I was working rather than in school,” Flagg said, “but I took college courses ... so I’ll remember it as a proud year for me, because I was doing so much.”

Flagg plans to go into the Air Force and will leave in September for basic training.

Regardless of how they chose to learn this year, the graduating class was tight-knit and welcoming. Despite at least 20 new students moving in and out of their grade, Gelenian said the class never had any social drama. Students agreed.

“(The school) means a lot to me because it’s where I really came out of my shell,” said Parkin, who at the start of this school year hadn’t planned to pursue education after Rivendell but changed his mind in the fall. Now, he’s planning to attend the Universal Technical Institute for collision repair and refinishing. Well on his way to that goal, Parkin received a certificate in collision non-structural analysis and damage repair this year from the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center.

Music was as integral to the ceremony as the traditional speeches, with the school band playing four songs on guitar, drums and keyboard, and graduates Cora Day and Haehnel playing a fifth song on piano. The songs ranged from Somewhere Only We Know by Keane to Three Cool Cats by The Coasters.

“We know every kid’s song here and we try to play to that song so they can shine,” Gelenian said.

The celebration of individuality came from graduates, too.

“As I turn to face the Class of 2021, I see scholars, athletes, farmers, musicians, artists, fighters, missionaries, dreamers, doers, rock ’n’ rollers, gamers, engineers,” said valedictorian Andrew DeBois in his speech. “We are as unique as the day is long.”

Speaking on the importance of choice, DeBois told his classmates to stand by those choices that make them who they are.

In the closing remarks, physical education and health teacher Chad Steen told a story from a recent class, when he was sitting next to senior Blake Betz.

Steen had asked him, “Doesn’t this seem like the best day of your life?” According to Steen, Betz responded, “Compared to what? Compared to finding true love and settling down and building a family?”

Steen said that that “thoughtfulness, that chase for being happy and being content with life” is what defines the Rivendell Class of 2021.

Jasmine Taudvin can be reached at

The 2021 graduates of Rivendell Academy and their future plans:

Cody Armitage, United States Marine Corps; Matthew Ball, workforce, then college; Samantha Beaupre, workforce (bakery/pastry chef); Blake Betz, Plymouth State University; Emmett Chapman, workforce; Devin Daisey, Central Maine Community College; Cora Day, Wheaton College; Andrew DeBois, Fairfield University; Joseph Denneen, workforce; Samuel Drummond, gap year in NYC, then SUNY; Sierra Flagg, United States Air Force; Clarence Flint, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth; Emma Jailyn Gagner, Lesley University; Alexis Garrow, workforce (business) and Community College of Vermont; Caleb Haehnel, service mission (2 years), then Utah State University; Lauren Hair, Plymouth State University; Luke Holland, Montana State University and United States Air National Guard; Devon Kingsbury, Collision Repair & Refinishing and Automotive Technology; Devin Kwedor, Pace University; Owen Mansur, Community College of Vermont, then Hereford College of the Arts in UK; Natalie Martin, Community College of Vermont and River Valley Community College; Anastasia Moody, gap year; Ty Newman, workforce (automotive technology); Jonas Ostrau, Detroit Electrical Industry Training Center; Nathaniel Parkin, Universal Technical Institute; Merle Russell, Architecture/Construction Technology; Emily Smith, University of New Hampshire; Adele Tilden, Eckerd College; Kimberly Underhill, Granite State University; Bailey Welch, Norwich University; Rachel Williams, EMT training.

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