Liam P. Cummings remembers well the “anxious excitement” he and his classmates felt when they entered Shelton High School as freshmen four years ago.
They were ready to make their mark at SHS but, yes, they also were afraid of what was to come, said Cummings, class of 2014 president.
“The good and bad — we carried on until we made it,” he said.
And while sharing experiences along the way, Cummings said, “This is the class that made loving school cool again.”
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Now they had made it to graduation, and must start over again as “freshmen” in whatever comes next — be it college, the work force or the military. But they will persevere once again.
“Yes, we will get lost along the way … But we will find our way,” Cummings said.
On June 23, balloons, flowers, hugs and high-fives were in abundance as about 350 students received their diplomas from Shelton High.
The ceremony took place outdoors at the school’s Finn Stadium, in perfect weather.
Family members and friends packed the stands as the graduating seniors entered in a procession. People clapped, shouted names, blew airhorns and held up signs.
From mortarboards with pertinent messages (”It All Starts Today”) to bouncing beach balls, it was a celebratory atmosphere.
Beth Smith, SHS headmaster, said close to 90% of class members will continue their formal education in some way.
They will attend such universities as Princeton, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, Duke, Notre Dame and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“You are a class with class,” Smith told the graduates.
Valedictorian John D. Hunter told his peers not to be afraid to learn and grow as they continue in life, taking some chances along the way. “The one constant is change. Do not shy away from it,” Hunter said.
He urged graduates to venture outside their comfort zones and break their usual routines. “Change teaches you about yourself,” Hunter said.
There will be new friendships as well as risks along the way. “Stop being perfect … Let’s evolve and let the chips fall where they may,” Hunter said.
Salutatorian Hudson D. Boles encouraged students to always “press on” as they face challenges, enabling them to better enjoy the “sweet taste of achieving a goal” because of all the work involved in doing so.
Class members had made it to the graduation ceremony “due to hard work and persistence,” Boles said, and all overcame setbacks and learned from their mistakes during the process.
“Always take pride in what we are doing,” he advised his fellow graduates.
Other top students
In addition to Hunter and Boles, the other top 10 students academically in the class also were recognized: Victoria C. Begley, Gajaan K. Sittambalam, Kristian R. Schif, Alice Yih, Rigel M. Mahmood, Carly A. Seamon, Ian M. Juncker and Joshua G. Kreitler.
Headmaster Awards for excelling and contributing in school were presented to Carly A. Seamon and Matthew S. Manzo.
A representative of the Army in attendance announced that graduate Michael T. Ortoli would attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, receiving a full scholarship that is followed by serving as an Army officer for five years.
‘The drive to reach your desired goal’
Class essayist Gregory A. Martin Jr. said the students had learned about themselves and the world during their four years at Shelton High.
This included lessons in academics, the difference between right and wrong, and determination, he said, preparing them well for life’s challenges in the future.
Martin said to all his classmates that their presence at commencement shows that “you have the drive to reach your desired goal.”
In addition to Smith, the headmaster, graduates heard words of wisdom from three other adults.
Mayor Mark Lauretti told class members to remember their roots, to appreciate the freedoms that American offers, to embrace being lifetime learners, and to not spend more money than they earn.
He said time moves quickly and opportunities must be pursued, and the future also will bring challenges and complexity.
“There is no time to waste,” Lauretti said. “Life just keeps moving forward.”
‘Look for the positive approach’
Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden said it’s always best to stay positive, and those who look for problems will always find ones to dwell on. “Look for the positive approach to do things,” Holden said.
He said to avoid grudges. “Avoid the blame game when things don’t go your way,” Holden said.
Holden also said graduates should always take the ethical path. “You will have to face the person in that mirror if you morally stray,” he said.
School Supt. Freeman Burr highlighted the approach of John Dewey, an American philosopher, social reformer and educator who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Dewey believed in allowing students to be more active in their own education, promoting “classroom democracy” — or what is similar to today’s “hands-on learning” approach. Burr said it’s an approach that works, both in school and in life.
Don’t abdicate important decisions and responsibilities to others, because “ultimately, you will be responsible for the life you live,” Burr said.
Many hours of community service
Smith, the headmaster, said 2014 class members had performed 137,000 hours of community service.
She said they came together to help a family who lost everything in the downtown fire early this year, been there for a class member battling a rare disease, and provided support to one another when a SHS student was murdered three months ago.
Shelton High will remain a part of each and every graduate, according to Smith. “There is orange and black in your blood, and you take a part a part of Shelton High School wherever you go,” she said.
Graduate Jeffrey Edwards, while leaving the ceremony, said he hoped to attend culinary school and eventually own his own business.
Edwards liked high school and his teachers, but was happy to be receiving a diploma. “It’s like a big burden now is off me,” he said. “School was good, and I’m happy now.”