SHELTON - The Shelton High Class of 2020 will not be defined by a pandemic but by a strength and spirit that not only brought it closer to its community but also prepared it for the journey ahead.

Those words were echoed by students and staff who spoke during the commencement ceremonies held Wednesday on a makeshift stage in the high school parking lot to celebrate the more than 350 students who officially graduated nearly a month ago at the end of the school year.

“This is not the class who graduated during a pandemic,” said class essayist William Bronson, “but the class that, despite all odds against them, believed and dreamed to create a senior year that we could be proud to remember. The class that despite every obstacle is graduating today.

“This senior year must be measured by the memories we made,” added Bronson, “and the people we touched around us.”

“We were all a bunch of kids randomly thrown together in the same building, and we found a way to have some great times and created memories we will never forget,” said class president David Niski. “But now it’s time to take what you have learned and fearlessly explore beyond where you are today.”

In all, 358 students received diplomas Wednesday in one of three separate ceremonies. School officials chose to hold the commencement July 8, days after Gov. Ned Lamont’s edict allowing graduation ceremonies with at least 150 people.

Holding three allowed each house to have a separate graduation ceremony as families watched from vehicles parked in the high school lot.

“It has been an amazing day,” said interim Superintendent Beth Smith of the festivities.

“The ceremonies made the graduates feel special,” added Smith. “They had their opportunity to listen to speeches, walk across the stage and take their traditional picture. I thank everyone for their hard work and preparation in making today memorable for the Class of 2020.”

Among the speakers were interim high school Principal Kathy Riddle and Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish, each of whom credited the fortitude of a group of students who lived their final high school year without a prom, senior banquet or senior picnic while distance learning when the pandemic shuttered schools in mid-March.

“It was wonderful to celebrate your incredible achievements,” said Riddle, “and I watched in awe as you handled yourselves with such dignity and grace.”

Riddle praised the class that will see students plan for futures in college, the military or in a trade. She said 86 percent of the class will move on to post-secondary education. Students will continue their education in 23 different states, from Connecticut to Florida to Texas, among others, with some attending Yale University, Northeastern, Ohio State, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and UConn.

“Graduation is just one step in our journey of life,” said valedictorian Siddharth Jain. “It is a launching point projecting us to wherever our future is meant to take us.

“This graduation has already shown us how we all are capable of accomplishing our goals,” added Jain. “Anything is truly possible if we put our minds to it.”

Jain said, “while Covid-19 tried to throw a wrench into our plans, we are the class of 2020. As we continue on in our lives, let us face each problem with confidence, knowing that we have reached great heights and are equipped with the tools to tackle our futures.”

Smith said the students overcame turmoil with poise and grace.

“Through perseverance and courage, you have found a way to deal with adversity and succeed,” said Smith. “In these life-altering events, you have been strong, brave and courageous. There were times that you may have wanted to quit but didn’t give up.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com