Sant Bani bids emotional farewell to final senior class

(published 6/18/2015 in the Winnisquam Echo)

SANBORNTON — The 38th and final high school graduation at Sant Bani School was an emotional event last Saturday morning where graduates were told to embrace change in their lives, and the school community was encouraged to do the same. The focus in the 2015-16 school year will now turn to preparing students in grades K-8 for higher educational opportunities.

Announcing that the Class of 2015 chose to dedicate the 2014-15 yearbook to the [high] school itself, rather than one individual, Headmaster Kent Bicknell said that meant a lot to the entire community. “We are extremely grateful to have been encouraged and supported by this class,” he said. “Goodbyes this year are a bit more difficult but we’d like to say goodbye with as much love and kindness as we’ve been given by them.”

High School Director and social studies teacher Kristen Reimold also told the graduates, “You are magic and in the end you taught us what was really important,” before she turned the podium over to English teacher Susan Dyment for the graduation address.

Dyment encouraged the class to embrace change, just as the school itself will be doing. She acknowledged that with change there can be some doubts, but in the end, everyone benefits by embracing changes in their lives. “Looking forward with hope fills us all with vitality,” she told the graduates. She encouraged them to embrace each and every change they face, from the colleges they will attend to the new people they will meet along the way. “Embrace each other, even those who don’t seem to deserve it,” Dyment said. “Embrace your heritage, your talents, your vocations, your families; embrace fun. Congratulations on this golden opportunity.”

This year’s class was comprised of nine students, two of whom could not attend the ceremonies, as they had already returned to their homes in Libya and China for the summer. Bicknell read letters from both of them in which they praised the school, the community and those who hosted their stay in the United States. “My soul found a peaceful place to sojourn to three years ago,” said Zhenglin Yu, while Sami Sawani wrote “Here I am because I know I’m in people’s hearts today.” Each of the other seven graduates then addressed the standing room only crowd as they mingled their tears with occasional bits of humor.

Mohammed Sapry of Laconia recounted his journey to Sant Bani after his family fled their war-torn homeland of Iraq, where he said life was “like hell.” “I thank God, the school, the teachers…I am who I am now because of these people,” he said with much emotion. Sapry will attend Plymouth State University next year.

Colin [Tripp] of Franklin kept his speech short and sweet, thanking all for the encouragement that allowed him to graduate with honors and gain acceptance at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Ellen Lockwood of Canterbury will attend Keene State College next year and said she had no idea that transferring to Sant Bani School in second grade would bring her not just a great education but a second family as well. “I wouldn’t change anything because it wouldn’t have led to this day,” she said. “I couldn’t have gotten this far if it wasn’t for all of you.”

Teresa [Dancewicz] Helmers of Hill said the reality of graduating from the school she loves had not yet sunk in and she will greatly miss her teachers and friends when she, too, heads off to Clark University in the fall. “But this is not the end. The friends and experiences here will move forward with me,” she said.

Fellow Hill resident Marin Smith recalled many humorous times in her years at Sant Bani School, repeatedly posing the question of what other school would have offered her the same experiences. “I was partially raised by this school,” Smith said in closing as she too, became emotional. “In the words of my first grade self…‘Make new friends but keep the old. [One is] silver, [the other] are gold.’”

Fiona Barker, also of Hill, said she found Sant Bani School to be an accepting and encouraging environment in which to learn and, though the year was difficult when they learned their class would be the last to graduate high school there, everyone showed great strength and proved they have what it takes to succeed. “I’m excited to see what the future will hold and wish everyone happiness and success,” said Barker, who will now move on to Mount Holyoke College.

Finally Bristol resident Sophia Gilberto thanked her teachers for helping her grow as both an artist and a person. She said Reimold showed her the type of leader she herself hopes to become one day and told Dyment that, because of her encouragement, she will now be attending the school of her dreams, Columbia College in Chicago. “And Mom, I know as soon as I walk out of here we’re going to be best friends…I can’t wait,” she said.

Art instructor and high school counselor Lorraine Jones closed the ceremony by telling parents it had been an amazing gift to be part of their children’s lives and reminded the graduates, “The cool thing about love is you can take it wherever you go.”

To commemorate the final high school graduation, alumni, students, staff and faculty then filled the hillside for a group photo. Sant Bani School will now undergo renovations to some of their classroom space over the summer months as they look forward to strengthening the K-8 school community even more in the years to come.