LACONIA — While their high school careers might not have ended as they planned, the top 10 graduates of Laconia’s Class of 2020 still have plenty of warm memories to carry with them as they prepare to depart for the next chapter of their lives.

For Cassandra Sousa, her experience at Laconia High School didn’t start too well.

“When I first got to LHS, I was super nervous. I even missed my first day of high school because I was sick. My second day, I was late to my biology class,” Sousa said.

She soon got her footing, and found that “all the teachers and faculty and all the students I met were so welcoming and friendly,” and she continued to pursue a dream she had since she was a child – to attend Harvard University.

Life at LHS was about more than just straight A’s for Sousa, her class’s valedictorian. She also was drawn to the stage. She won an award for her performance in a one-act play that the school’s drama club took to a statewide competition. And during the city’s 125th anniversary celebration, Sousa was crowned “Miss Laconia” – a title she will hold until the city holds its next pageant in 2043.

Those moments stand out for her, as does the day she learned she had been accepted to Harvard, a goal she said she first announced to her family when she was five.

“I remember not being able to speak. I read the letter and just whispered it, then I said it again, then the first person I called was my dad and I started bawling my eyes out,” Sousa said.

But, when asked which memories she will cherish, she also lists times which might seem unremarkable, yet can also be profound. “All the memories I have in class, walking down the hallways, I think more about those memories than anything else, just those normal days,” she said.

That might explain why she chose her major at Harvard. Her family wanted her to apply her work ethic to something like law, or medicine. Instead, Sousa is going to study psychology and education – she wants to teach.

“I have always loved being around children and sharing knowledge,” Sousa said, adding that the teachers she has known in Laconia have inspired her and shaped her into the person she is today. She wants to do the same.

“It’s one of the most powerful impacts I could have on the world,” Sousa said.

Nicole Turpin, the class salutatorian, will be attending Union College, where she will focus on engineering – either biomedical or mechanical. Turpin said she knew she wanted a career where she could help people, and was thinking about medicine. Then, during an engineering class at the Huot Technical Center, she watched a video about all of the different careers she could have as an engineer.

She saw that, as a biomedical or mechanical engineer, she could design products and interact with the people her products would benefit. This year, she began an externship at Capital Orthotics and Prosthetics. That experience was cut short due to the coronavirus, but it still left an impression on her.

“I saw the prosthetics being made and I saw someone being fit to them, it was so cool,” Turpin said. “It’s crazy how cool they are, how you can get them customized.”

Ayden Duncan was also smitten by that same Huot engineering class. He said he always knew he wanted to be an engineer, but it was because of that class that he is signed up to major in robotics engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute this fall.

“My freshman year I took the Huot engineering program. I thought I was going to do mechanical, but then I found out that robotics was its own branch of engineering that I could study in college,” Duncan said.

Robotics allows him to conceive of a product, design and build it, and then control its behavior. “I’m kind of interested in all of it, I’m just fascinated by it in general,” he said.

Duncan also was on the ski race team, and was planning to play lacrosse this spring. One of his favorite high school memories occurred during the golf season.

“With this year’s golf team, we made it into the state meet,” he said. “It was super fun, being one of those top teams. It was really cool to go as a team and compete in it.”

Tyler Richter, who was named captain of his sports teams, said the leadership experiences he’s had at LHS informed his decision to study corporate accounting and finance at Bentley University. He has also been recruited to join the school’s rugby team.

“Ever since elementary school, loving math and numbers, I’ve just thought any math class I took was good,” he said. He was also a natural leader, being named captain of his sports teams and president of the National Honor Society. There’s also entrepreneurship in his family, so he decided to set himself up for a career as a leader in business.

“When you study business, it opens the doors for lots of things, it doesn’t just narrow down what your job would be… it opens the doors for any type of leadership job,” Richter said.

As a lifelong Laconia resident, he said he feels grateful for the education he’s had. Not only does he feel prepared to succeed in college, said said he also appreciates the bonds he has with his classmates, some of whom he has known since pre-school.

What memories are the most meaningful for Richter?

“The Friday night football games under the lights. Wearing the Laconia uniform in any sport was really special to me,” he said. He also listed winter carnivals and events such as his junior prom. “I’m going to miss all of the teachers, sitting in class and having a good laugh with all of my classmates.”

The sports theme continues with Aarohn Dethvongsa, who said he was ready to commit to UNH after attending a hockey game there this winter. He will be in the sports studies program, and plans to pursue a career in some area of athletics, such as coaching or sports management.

“I just wanted to see the other side of the sports world,” Dethvongsa said.

“Sports have helped me a lot in my life,” said Dethvongsa, who joined the football team in his junior year.

“I was kind of going through some family stuff at the end of my sophomore year. After the workouts with the coach and the rest of the team, I felt like I belonged and it took me out of the bad situation that my family was in,” Dethvongsa said.

He said his favorite memories from high school are the winter carnival and the homecoming pep rallies.

“The whole school came together, it was really fun and funny to watch,” Dethvongsa said.

Victoria Taylor relocated to Laconia when she was 11, moving from Staten Island. “This community, it’s pretty small. You get to know a lot of people, a lot of people are really comforting,” she said about her high school.

Taylor participated in art and robotics clubs, and was especially excited to be able to join the cheer team when it returned this year.

She will be attending the University of Massachusetts-Lowell next year, and will study environmental science.

“I hope to get a job where I can travel, work in a lab, field work, where I can do anything,” Taylor said. She’s been interested in environmental science since eighth grade, but it wasn’t until last year, in Ivy Leavitt-Carlson’s class, that she was certain. “When I took AP Environmental Science, I was like, yup, this is what you’re doing for the rest of your life,” she said.

“It’s a really important field. You’re like the Earth’s doctor. A lot of people are negligent about taking care of the Earth, I want to make my own impact,” Taylor said.

It was in her environmental science class that she took a field trip to Wheelabrator Concord, a waste-to-energy facility, when she got to operate a crane. That was one of the memories she said she will take with her from Laconia. She was hoping to make some more memories in April, when she was supposed to take part in a class trip to France.

“Since middle school, I’ve been taking French,” Taylor said, listing Amanda Stefanik, a.k.a. “O. G.,” as one of her favorite teachers.

“French is one of my biggest passions, as well as environmental science,” Taylor said.

Laconia High School “has been great, I couldn’t have asked for much more,” said Steven Poliquin, who played on the school’s soccer and baseball teams and is a member of National Honor Society.

Poliquin will be joining Taylor at UMass-Lowell in the fall, when he will begin studying exercise science.

“It’s the undergraduate requirement for physical therapy, which is what I want to do ultimately,” Poliquin said.

As part of his senior project at LHS, Poliquin interned with Josh Brooks at Granite State Physical Therapy in Gilford, and saw science put into practice.

“Just being able to get people back to their regular lives, relieve their pain,” Poliquin said, “It’s a really special thing. It’s something that I’d love to do.”

As for his favorite memories as a Sachem, Poliquin said those would have to be as part of the sports teams.

“The times with our team, the bus rides for sure, that will always stick with me. They are some of the best memories I have. The guys that I met, I’m sure I’ll stay friends with them,” Poliquin said.

Beth Newton decided last summer what she wanted to do with her career. She was attending the summer program at St. Paul’s School in Concord, and had signed up for an advanced studies program in law. She will be attending UNH in the fall, and is majoring in history and pre-law.

Newton said he wants to practice law so that she can help people. She expects she will probably focus on estate law, or work for social justice causes.

Her learning in recent years has “opened my eyes to all the injustices in the world, and I want to do something about them,” Newton said.

She credited teacher Rick Crockford for inspiring her, and said she feels connected to her classmates at LHS.

“It’s a small school, an even smaller senior class. You have lots of classes with a small group of kids. You really get to know them,” Newton said.

Rylie Treat, who moved to Laconia in seventh grade, also appreciated the small-town nature of LHS. She moved to Laconia from Merrimack.

“It’s been a good experience moving from a much larger school to a smaller school with a more tight-knit community. It gave me the experience to have a tight-knit friend group, we’ve been able to grow together and share experiences,” Treat said.

She’s been active in athletics and clubs, but music has been her main interest. She plays French horn and was accepted into the all-state music festival – though that was called off due to the pandemic.

Treat is also a vocalist, and while she prefers classical music when she’s playing an instrument, she’s all country when she’s singing. And that makes it fitting that she’ll be heading to Belmont University in Nashville this fall. Treat will be majoring in audio engineering technology.

“I’m hoping to be in the studio working with artists in Nashville,” Treat said.

Treat said it was Ray Sleeper, her digital media arts teacher at the Huot Technical Center, who put her in front of programs she could use to record and engineer music, and, by the Christmas break of her freshman year, she knew she wanted to attend Belmont.

“I put myself in a position where I could do everything I could to get in there,” Treat said, “And I did.”

Sam Stafford is also among the top ten graduating seniors at Laconia High School.

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