Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 7, 2013

A high school graduation like no other

By Paul Leighton
CNHI

— BEVERLY, Mass. — There were no grand processions, musical interludes, or sea of mortarboards tossed into the air at this commencement. Northshore Recovery High School is not like other schools, and neither is its graduation.

Instead of a lofty speeches by top students and dignitaries, each of the 14 graduates stepped to the microphone and told his or her life's story about the struggle to overcome addiction and earn a diploma.

“This moment seems so surreal,” said graduate Sarah Ciaramitaro, holding 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.”

Northshore Recovery in this suburban Boston town is one of four high schools in Massachusetts for students recovering from drug, alcohol and other addictions. About 100 people attended the graduation ceremony.

Many of the students said they came to Northshore Recovery after being in and out of rehab programs and struggling in their hometown schools. They said they were reluctant at first to open up and accept help, but eventually learned to trust the teachers and staff.

“At first I despised the fact that I had to change who I was,” said senior Zachary Hall. “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 one graduate drove more than an hour every day to attend classes.

"Just about everything has turned around for the better,” said graduate Nick Jenkins. “Everyone said I’d never make it. No one believed me until now, and it’s the best feeling.”

Ian Monroe-Belcher 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.”

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,” said Kelsy Thompson. “This school was my backbone. I got off probation, made the honor roll and became a teacher’s pet.”

Graduate Olivia Pierce described the school as a "godsend, not just for me but for everyone here. This school is home."

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Paul Leighton is a reporter for the Salem, Mass., News. Contact him at pleighton@salemnews.com.