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Shelton High seniors began a new journey Friday — but not before reminiscing about the years together that have prepared them for their latest chapter of life.
This year’s senior class was the first to accept their diplomas at the recently completed Finn Stadium, walking that aisle to the cheering throngs of friends, family, educators and city officials.
“As we look back on the last four incredible years, I hope you remember all the moments we shared in the halls of Shelton High,” said class co-valedictorian Sarah Gloria. “May you hold these memories close to your heart as you continue on your journey, for it is impossible to reach where you’re going without looking back on where you have been.”
“I remember entering through the main lobby doors for the first time, like it was yesterday,” said class essayist Yasmine Aidibe. “In the end, we marvel over our accomplishments from these past years. All the hard work and dedication that was made to get to this point, trust me, it did not go to waste.
“I know graduation is not an end goal, but a chapter in our lives,” Aidibe added.
Aidibe told her fellow graduates that they live in a country where their voice matters.
“You don’t have to tell the world you are ready — you can just do it,” she said. “The world is yours, treat everyone kindly and light up the night. You are capable of greatness.”
Gloria urged her fellow classmates to go out into the world and offer the same support to others that they received in the halls of Shelton High School.
“I may be biased,” added Gloria, “but I believe that this class is a truly exceptional one.”
Gloria reflected on the time the class has spent together, on athletic fields, in music and art rooms, participating in clubs and dining together.
“We laughed hysterically and sometimes argued loudly, but we always supported each other,” added Gloria. “The friendships we’ve made will last a lifetime.”
Clayton O’Brien, class president, called on his classmates listen more and help to end the divisiveness that appears pervasive in today’s society.
“We must be the first generation in a long time to break bread without malice,” said O’Brien. “We must be the generation focused on societal morals not polarization. We must compromise.
“Our experience at Shelton High School has prepared us to further our lives whether it be in college, trade school, the workforce or the military,” added O’Brien. “I have confidence in you all. I am proud to call you my peers and my friends. In a world dominated by divisiveness and partisanship, I believe we can be the generation that does a little less talking and a lot more listening.”
“Reflect on the past but embrace the future,” said Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden. “Embrace change. Embrace life and live it to the fullest. You’re starting a new chapter of your life — so make it as wonderful as you can.
“It’s important to learn from the past, and it is great to have fond memories, but you should live in the future because you can’t change the past,” Holden added. “Forget about being an important person, concentrate on doing important things.”
Co-valedictorian Emma Parkes spoke of finding the courage to fight through any situation as each graduate moves on with their life.
“Courage is not giving up, no matter what the task is,” said Parkes. “Even if you have to take the rough patches day by day, don’t stop. The only person who can really get in your way is you, so keep moving forward.
“Every moment on your journey through Shelton High School has prepared you for what’s to come,” she added. “We’re ready to take the next step, and you do have the courage to move past any challenges that may come your way.”
Acting Shelton High Principal Ken Saranich, who will soon be assuming his new role as assistant superintendent, reflected on knowing most of the graduates since they walked into the district as kindergartners and expressed his pride in the class’s accomplishments both academically and athletically.
Saranich shared many of the class’s achievements: 86 percent of graduates continuing to post-secondary education; 70 percent attending four-year colleges; and members of the Class of 2019 continuing their education in 24 different states across the United States with one pursuing higher education in London, England.
This was also the first class at Shelton High to recognize students with a diploma of distinction. In all, 45 students received this new honor, which is awarded to a student who has met all requirements for a traditional diploma as well as successfully completing their Capstone project; are in the top 20 percent of the class; have earned a minimum 27.4 credits; has no final grade lower than a C; and has “character traits representative of a student with distinction.”
Saranich ended his remarks by calling on the graduates to remember three words stressed throughout their educational career in Shelton — respect, responsibility and safety.
“As you move beyond the Shelton public school system, take those values that we have instilled in you into the world,” Saranich said. “Practice respect by embracing kindness, be responsible by demonstrating compassion, stand up for justice, and help others, and be safe as you enter into the world outside of Shelton and become the change you wish to see in it.”