BEVERLY -- High school graduations this year have featured the familiar theme of seniors persevering through the pandemic to achieve their diplomas. But when it comes to stories of overcoming obstacles, it’s hard to match those of the students from Northshore Recovery High School.
Eleven students from the Beverly-based school graduated on Wednesday in a ceremony at the Second Congregational Church. The school is one of four high schools in the state for students struggling with addiction, and its annual graduation event, with each graduate getting the chance to speak, is unique on the North Shore.
One by one the students stepped to the microphone to tell their stories of fighting off the demon of addiction and reaching their goal of graduating with the help of the caring staff at Recovery High School.
“On that first day I found a new group of people who accepted me for who I was and loved me for who I am,” said Carly Baker of Marblehead. Baker said her goal is to help children who are being abused or are in bad situations -- “the kind of person I need when I was younger.”
Justin Belfiore of Ipswich said his arrival at Recovery High School marked “the first time in a long while that I can remember teachers caring as much as you do.” Like many of the students, he also thanked his family for “always having my back and believing in me even when I didn’t always believe in myself.”
“This is just the beginning of my story, because of all of you,” Belfiore said. “I hope to make it a great one.”
Tavy-Anna Sray Chheng of Lynn said her world had become “a tunnel of darkness that exploded into a hundred pieces.”
“I lost my sanity, my dignity and my faith,” she said. “I just wanted to end my journey, even though it just began for me.”
Chheng said she realized that her siblings looked up to her and made the decision to fight for herself. With the help of her family and Recovery High School, and most of all her own determination, “I’m ending my senior year as a bad ass,” she said.
“We are all warriors for fighting so long while keeping our faith and our hope,” she told her fellow graduates.
Gina Narbonne of Salem stepped on stage carrying a large teddy bear. Principal Michelle Lipinski said Narbonne plans to be a veterinarian.
Narbonne said she arrived at Recovery High School as a 15-year-old in 2018. She had to go back for treatment four times that year before she was ready to return to the school.
“I really loved being at RHS,” Narbonne said. “It felt like a family and I felt accepted.”
Alexis O’Neil of Haverhill said she felt “alone and empty” before coming to Recovery High School and “I honestly did not care whether I lived or not.”
“Recovery High has changed that for me by showing me so much love, guidance and support, even when I pushed them away,” she said.
“Each and every one of us has pushed ourselves while fighting an inner challenge, whether it was addiction, mental health or a learning disability,” O’Neil said. “And for that, we are survivors. Never forget that.”
Devin Paquette of Wilmington said he started using drugs as a freshman in order to fit in and feel comfortable socially. After being suspended for a fourth time, he was sent to a long-term treatment program and learned about Recovery High School.
“I can say today it saved my life,” Paquette said. “The minute I walked through the door of Northshore Recovery High I felt a sense of relief and belonging. All of the teachers welcomed me with open arms and warm, friendly smiles. It didn’t take long for me to open up to the people that were there and I felt close to them.”
“Talking with the staff at RHS was the best decision I ever made, because a lot of them had been through the same situations and I could complete relate to them,” he added. “They let me know I was going to be OK and would get through whatever I’m dealing with. And you know what? They were right. I’m standing here alive and I’m glad that I am.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.
Northshore Recovery High School Class of 2021
Cathy Anne Baker, Marblehead
Justin Joseph Belfiore, Ipswich
Jacob D. Buchanan, Ipswich
Tavy-Anna Sray Chheng, Lynn
Evan J. Long, Reading
Gina Maria Narbonne, Salem
Alexis Jade O’Neil, Haverhill
Devin R. Paquette, Wilmington
Keysha M. Ramos, Salem
Keith D. Richmond, Reading
Alan Williams, Peabody