BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Unlike most graduation ceremonies, there were no grand processions, musical interludes, or sea of mortarboards tossed into the air on a big football field.
Northshore Recovery High School is not like other schools, and neither is its graduation.
Instead of a few speeches by top students and dignitaries, each of the 14 graduates stepped to the microphone and told his or her own story about the struggle to overcome addiction and earn a diploma from Northshore Recovery, one of the state’s four high schools for students recovering from addiction.
“This moment seems so surreal,” said Sarah Ciaramitaro of Gloucester, as she held her 1-year-old son. “I thought I was destined to become a burnout, a dropout. I didn’t think I was worth any of this. I came here a scared little girl and will leave with all the hope in the world, all because nobody gave up on me and I didn’t give up on myself.”
The ceremony was held on the bottom floor of the Memorial Building, where the school is located. About 100 people attended.
Many of the students said they came to Northshore Recovery after being in and out of rehab programs and struggling in their hometown schools. Many were reluctant at first to open up to the help that was available, but eventually learned to trust the teachers and staff.
“At first I despised the fact that I had to change who I was,” said Zachary Hall of Beverly. “Then I realized I could not do it alone. The help here is off the charts.”
Teachers and staff members spoke about each student, saying how inspired they were by their perseverance and resilience. Guidance counselor Maureen Sullivan pointed out that graduate Michael Bennett drove more than an hour every day from Acton-Boxborough to attend Northshore Recovery.
Teacher Mary Devin said Nick Jenkins spent so much time out of the classroom that she wanted to nominate him for the “Hallway of Fame.” Jenkins, from Hamilton, ended up making the honor roll and plans to study health science at North Shore Community College.
“Just about everything has turned around for the better,” Jenkins said. “Everyone said I’d never make it. No one believed me until now, and it’s the best feeling.”
Teacher Jake Kessler said graduate Allister Hampton’s desire to learn piano has rekindled his own interest in the instrument.
“I believe there is great potential in the person standing next to me,” Kessler said of Hampton.
Ian Monroe-Belcher of Salem said that when he arrived at Northshore Recovery as a freshman, “I was 15 and moving 100 miles per minute.” He said he was eating Adderall “like candy” and was sure he would end up in jail.
“I was naive, unsure and lost,” he said. “Then being here, little by little, my eyes have opened.”
When Denison Novas-Avila of Gloucester showed up as a freshman, teachers said he was so introverted he barely spoke. This year he improved his MCAS math score by 30 points and danced on stage at the Wang Theatre. He speaks three languages and is considering becoming an interpreter.
“I am proud of myself,” he said. “I hung in there and didn’t give up. I have accomplished a lot of great things at this school and I’m proud to say I finally made it.”
Many of the students praised their parents and families for sticking by them through tough times. All of the students praised the staff and teachers as caring and the environment as supportive.
“For the first time I felt like I fit in,” Kelsy Thompson of Salem said. “This school was my backbone. I got off probation, made the honor roll and became a teacher’s pet.”
“This school is a godsend, not just for me but for everyone here,” said Olivia Pierce, also of Salem. “This school is a home.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Northshore Recovery High School