Before the start of Manchester’s Memorial High School’s graduation at Delta Dental baseball stadium Sunday afternoon, Ethan Brown reflected on the past two years of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been stressful,” he said. “But the teachers have been helpful. They’ve really cared about us graduating.”
His favorite part of Memorial?
“Just the spirit, just the pride it has,” the 18-year-old said.
The spirit of the class of 2021 filled the stadium as 269 graduates marched onto the field to “Pomp and Circumstance” with the school’s “Crusaders” logo covering the scoreboard.
Changes could be coming to the city’s schools as the Board of School Committee begins to debate the possibility of consolidating West, Memorial and Central High School into one school, a proposal by Superintendent John Goldhardt to combat declining student population and skyrocketing maintenance costs.
Manchester High School was founded in 1846 with the building becoming “Central” in 1923 when West High opened. Memorial opened in 1960, as the city’s population grew and spread away from the river.
The neighborhood schools have nurtured community pride, said John Clayton, executive director of the Manchester Historic Association, who is a West High grad.
“I still remember as a freshman at West we were asked to learn the lyrics to the alma mater,” Clayton said. His homeroom was laughing and joking.
“Laugh now,” their teacher said, Clayton remembered. “But one day, hearing that song will make you cry.”
Each school showed an immense amount of pride during the ceremonies which took place Saturday and Sunday.
West High Principal Richard Dichard on Saturday morning led the 143 soon-to-be graduates in a call-and-response at West High field.
“West High!” the class shouted back.
West High’s student population has been declining, and shrank considerably when Bedford High School opened, and Bedford students left West.
Manchester School of Technology celebrated the retirement of Principal Karen Machado, who has been at the school for more than 15 years.
Goldhardt’s plan calls for expanding Manchester School of Technology by repurposing Memorial High School into a new Manchester Career and Technology School.
Class President Alexia Boisvert wiped tears as spoke to her 64 fellow classmates and encouraged them to remember the good times. She said the faculty and staff made the school feel like a second home.
“In our years here we’ve definitely shown our school spirit and we have left our mark,” she said.
Karrie Menswar, a mathematics teacher at Memorial, graduated from the school in 1999. The students voted to have her give remarks at the ceremony.
“It would be sad because there are so many people who have roots and they bleed red, white and blue blood,” she said of the possible school closure. “There are traditions that are carried on through generation upon generations. My family, my husband’s family, were all Memorial graduates.”
She said the school is like a family for so many.
“This is home for me,” she said. “Going into teaching, I knew I wanted to be here.”
Just before 6 p.m., Autumn Forsing, 18, and Caroline Foti, 17, took a picture together outside the stadium. They joined 270 from Central High who graduated Sunday night.
“It still doesn’t feel like we are seniors,” Forsing said because of classes going remote during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her graduation cap read, “Keep on growing.”
Her favorite part of Central is the different opportunities available to students, including the guidance department.
“The teachers are all real supportive,” said Forsing, who is headed to University of Southern Maine to study English education. “It is just a real good environment.”
Both disagree with a plan to consolidate the schools. Copies of the student newspaper, “The Little Green,” were available for anyone to grab with a headline reading, “Central High School What’s Next?”
“It would be so bad,” Foti said, who says the school has a strong music department, drama club and other programs available for students. Her father went to Central.
Foti is ready to head to American University to study political science, but wants the legacy of Central to live on. It is considered the oldest high school in the state with a lot of history.
“There is a lot that is really special about Central, particularly with all their academics. Normally, we send off kids to a lot of really good schools,” she said.
Even though he understands the needs of modern education, Clayton isn’t ready to say goodbye to the neighborhood school.
“I cherish the history of my high school,” he said. “I would hate to see it discontinued.”
Brown, who plans to pursue a career in plumbing, sees the benefit of consolidating the schools, but thinks the school spirit at a citywide school would suffer.
Both his parents graduated Memorial as well.
“I hope it is here in the future,” he said. “But if it isn’t that would be very heartbreaking and sad.”