Telstar Class of 2023 graduated on Friday at Telstar High School gymnasium. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

BETHEL — The class of 2023 had a whirlwind week that peaked at graduation on Friday night, June 9, but really didn’t end until early Saturday morning when they returned from their all night celebration.

On Tuesday the graduates, clad in gowns and mortarboards, lined the Broad Street side of the Bethel Common as a caravan of emergency vehicles from nearby towns blared their congratulations (see on-line gallery). Family and friends followed in their cars, some hanging out of sunroofs, others with brightly decorated signs held through windows. When Bethel Rescue came around, they personally congratulated graduate and rescue worker, Violet Howe through their megaphone.

The class had marching practice, a seacoast adventure, more marching practice, dinner on the Songo River Queen and more marching practice!

On Thursday, they returned to old haunts, visiting Telstar Middle School, the Woodstock School and Crescent Park. Teachers and students lined the hallways as they gave low fives, high fives and hugs. Some teachers, like Heidi Bullen at CPS, had tears in their eyes. One young student, a sibling apparently, held a sign that said, “I love you and will miss you, but I can’t wait to have my own room.”

During, “A Coming Together,” a ceremony in the Telstar auditorium on Thursday night, Lacey Tilsey, ’23, said, “I’ve known eight of you since we started kindergarten [together] … You have all shared an important part of my journey through high school. Though teachers have brought us valuable knowledge none of that can compare to how we’ve all shaped each other.”

Some of the lessons she said she learned were how to be a good friend and how to get things done while having fun. “You’ve all shown me that we’re here for each other… you’ve all taught me more than I can fit into a short speech,” said Tilsey.


Music, memories, poems and a video made up the intimate “Coming Together” night. In the video students were filmed individually and asked why they are grateful. Every response was different. They thanked specific teachers, staff, the athletics’ program, parents, Region 9, opportunities, friendships, coaches, and school to work experience.

One said field trips brought him closer to friends. “I’m grateful for all the delicious food and snacks chef has made for us,” said another,  “Thank-you, Mom,” said one more.

Gabby Groves and Codi Duclos thanked class advisor, Nicole Priola.

One particularly poignant moment was when Ronald Brassard, of Albany, was awarded his diploma a day early. Brassard was, “shipping off tomorrow to go fight forest fires in Canada … Ronald, we wish you well …We appreciate your service,” said Principal Mark Kenny, to thunderous applause from fellow classmates.


After graduates scattered through the crowded gymnasium handing out carnations to friends and family, they reunited in the hall. In pairs they marched through a balloon arch and up the center aisle to a piano rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance.” They were so wide-eyed and focused, that a young observer asked, “Why aren’t they smiling?”


Principal Mark Kenney, master of ceremonies and first to speak said, “My hope is that when you look back at your time here at Telstar and MSAD 44, you can appreciate the variety of opportunities you have been able to select from … many of you have taken advantage of this and tried new things.” He asked that they not forget to return [to Telstar] to share their stories and successes.

Valedictorian Janna Botka said, “I am proud of everyone who is graduating tonight.” Salutatorian and aspiring Graphic Designer Shye Buck talked about the importance of finding a career you love.

Valedictorian Janna Botka, speaks at the podium. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

Special Guest Speaker Senator Angus King started by saying, “I can’t come to Bethel without thinking of the snowman. Do you remember?” To the graduates he said, “These guys are too young … for some reason it was called Angus King of the Mountain.”

Leaving the podium and heading toward the graduates who were sitting on the stage, he said he would be talking directly to them and told the parents they could work on their e-mail.

King called his speech, “Ten Things I wished Somebody had Told Me When I Was 18.”

His first nugget was to take more risks, “see that you regret the things you did and not the things you didn’t do.”


To applause, he said, “it’s your attitude and not your aptitude that determines your altitude.”

Walking toward the graduates he asked one or two, “Give me seven. Five fingers, two eyes. I want a real handshake.” He went on to explain why a good first impression is so important.

“When in doubt, don’t get married,” he said to much applause and laughter. “And ladies, he’s not a project.”

Telstar Class of 2023 graduate Levi Cole-McDonnell receives his diploma at Telstar High School Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

Again to much applause and laughter, King warned, “Don’t put anything on the Internet you don’t want your grandmother to see on the front of the newspaper. It’s a digital tattoo,” said King.

Finally, “The love you get is equal to the love you give,” he said, quoting from a Beatles song. King advised them to be there for their friends. “love them and hold onto to them and treat them like you want to be treated. It will make a big difference in your life.”

School Board Chair Danny Whitney said, “Strive to be good people.”


Retiring Superintendent David Murphy said “Tonight I’ll have the privilege of distributing Telstar high school diplomas for my 23rd and final time.” He said it occurred to him that he has given diplomas to some of the graduates’ parents and was teacher to some of the graduates’ grandparents. “Thank-you for letting me grow old with you.”

He thanked the graduates for stopping by his office on Thursday in their caps and gowns, then shared an Irish Blessing with them, “… make the friendships you make be those which endure, and all of your gray clouds be small ones for sure.”

He then certified and congratulated the class.

To their fellow classmates, co-presidents Gabby Groves and Codi Duclos said, “I know I could go to any single one of you with anything, that’s the privilege of graduating in a small class.”

Incoming Telstar principal John Eliot, closed the night thanking the many individuals who made the night possible. “I now ask our class marshals Anthony Conant and Makenzie Eliot along with our wonderful pianist, Linda Stowell, to lead the Class of 2023 out – one last time.”

When they marched out many graduates were holding hands with their partner; one pair did a twirl; and all were smiling.

Olivia Seames rides on the shoulders of classmate, Evan Leach as graduation ends. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

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