LACONIA — When Thomas Bastis gets to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, he will have the “Laconia edge” in his favor, one of his favorite high school teachers said at a banquet Thursday night.
Patty Thibeault said successful local students understand the value of hard work and have a clear-eyed, practical view of the world that may be missing from some of their academic competitors in the Ivy League and elsewhere.
“Don't be intimidated, any of you, when you go to college,” Thibeault said at the annual dinner honoring the top 10 students at Laconia High School.
“You'll meet a lot of kids who come from gated communities and private schools and entitled lives and communities that are wealthy. Don't ever step back.”
She said the 10 students excelled because of the guidance of parents and the support of teachers, but largely because of their own strong work ethic.
Thibeault said she remembers when Bastis and two other Top 10 students, Nemanja Boskovic and Ben Beliveau, were just starting out at the high school.
“They knew what they were going to do,” she said. “And they know when they come to the school what it means to screw up and mess up and they don’t have to do that. They came in with the idea that they were going to work hard and they were going to do well.
“You were not somebody born on third base thinking you made a triple. You made a home run. You did it yourself, and you did it with the Laconia edge and I’m proud of all of you.”
When Bastis spoke to the banquet, he explained why he selected Thibeault, his freshman health teacher, to join him at the banquet.
As a health teacher, she flew under the radar and may not have received the appreciation she deserved, Bastis said.
“If you think about what makes a teacher admirable, you have to go beyond just the teacher’s ability to convey information to the student,” he said.
“In the case of Mrs. Thibeault, during her entire career, she taught in a higher weight class than any of the other teachers here because she taught in a health class,” he said. “What I’m trying to say is I feel like it's probably easier for our department heads to teach advanced curriculum than it was for Mrs. Thibeault to teach the freshmen of LHS about gonorrhea.
“And, personally, to do the latter for all those years and still maintain such an amiable personality in the process commands much more respect than other teachers.”
One by one, the students got up after dinner at the Huot Technical Center to describe how a teacher went above and beyond to become a mentor, counselor, friend, motivator.
Thomas Turpin was joined by Joey DiTommaso, his high school soccer coach.
“Whenever I have a problem, or I don’t want to worry anybody else about anything, I know I can always turn to DiTommaso," Turpin said. "Whenever I needed somebody to talk to, he’s always right there for me.”
One time during a soccer dribbling circuit, the coach could tell his player was out of sorts and asked him what was wrong.
“Being as comfortable as I am with him, I was able to let him know what was bothering me, getting everything off my chest, something I hadn’t been able to talk to people about for weeks and it was a real burden off my shoulders,” Turpin said.
He was worried about college and didn’t know where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do.
DiTommaso helped by listening to Turpin’s concerns, talking through the issue, discussing how uncertainty is part of life and providing some perspective through comic relief.
The young man also recalled halftime of a soccer game against Bishop Brady High School. Turpin was fatigued and hurting.
“I wasn’t feeling it at all,” Turpin said. “My head wasn’t in it. At halftime, I found myself bending over the fence looking at the upper field, just not where I needed to be, feeling like I was going to puke everywhere and I was just ready for this game to be over.
“At the end of regulation time, the score was still tied 0-0, and overtime was upon us. I was saying to myself, ‘Oh, great, I’ve got to go through more of this. I just don’t want to be here right now.’
“Right as I walk out on the field, I hear from the bench DiTommaso yell over to me, ‘We need you here Turp. Twelve, go show me something.”
Turpin hit the field running with a new determination to get a win for his team, and managed to stroke the game-winning goal.
His team embraced him in jubilation.
“I looked up to the sky and just thought about what he had said and how it helped me persevere and get the job done,” Turpin said.
He raced to the bench, where DiTommaso gave him an ecstatic hug and told him, “Love you, Turp.”
Turpin said he treasures the memory and won’t forget his coach.
“Next year, when I am sitting in my dorm room at the University of Vermont, worrying about whatever, I know that DiTommaso is always a phone call away. Love you, coach.”