June 22, 2007
By NIRAJ CHOKSHI, Courant Staff Writer
As the Thomas Snell Weaver High School graduation unfolded Thursday night, two things became clear: The students had their parents and faith to thank for their success, and everyone wanted the new graduates to continue working as hard as they have the past four years.
Salutatorian Oprah Ellis reminded her classmates that they beat the odds by graduating from a Hartford public school.
"At the beginning of the year, you may remember they told us to look to your left and look to your right because that person most likely won't be there for graduation. But now I want you to look to your left and your right and shake the hand of whoever's sitting next to you," she said.
Less than one in three of the city's public-school ninth-graders go on to graduate. And Ellis urged her 183 fellow graduates to continue their records of achievement.
"Keep on thinking, keep on being active, because the moment you give up and do nothing is the same moment that you become what they thought you would be: nothing."
Thursday's ceremony was held at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.
Co-valedictorian Shaena Gray quoted T.S. Eliot to urge her classmates to continue taking chances to achieve success: "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."
Study, scholarship, leadership and character are the qualities that co-valedictorian Shanando Williams said made many see him as exceptional, something he accepted with a dubious sense of pride.
"I wish many more males took on these ideals because then I would not be the exception but the norm," he said.
That same hesitant pride defined the keynote address delivered by 1976 graduate and rector at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Hartford, The Rev. Annika Warren.
"I do not understand why they have keynote addresses at graduation," Warren said. "They should hear from the salutatorian, they should hear from the valedictorian. But nobody else needs to say anything because... the message sits right before us. "
Principal Paul Stringer by asked his students to continue to work to the level that enabled them to graduate.
"Your success should not go unnoticed. Let them know the value of an education."
If the value of an education were measured in scholarship dollars, then the graduating class was sending a strong message. Valedictorians Gray and Williams received $203,000 and $89,000, respectively, while salutatorian Ellis received $177,000.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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