Graduates At Five Hartford High Schools Receive Diplomas
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
June 12, 2013
HARTFORD —— Jeremiah Roberts didn't take this moment for granted.
The 20-year-old was serious in his cap and gown Wednesday night, recounting struggles, while fellow Journalism and Media Academy graduates laughed with friends and took photos before their procession into the Weaver High School auditorium.
"I'm proud of myself," Roberts said. "People telling me I wasn't going to do it and I really did it ... Hustled hard in school and got through it."
After being held back freshman year for not finishing his work, Roberts said, he decided to approach his studies with "hunger ... trying to get something out of life."
Minutes later, interim Principal Elaine Papas announced to the academy's 44 graduates: "Line up! Showtime."
The jubilant scene was one of many across the Hartford school system, which hosted five high school graduations on Wednesday alone. The district of magnet schools and specialized academies has planned a dozen graduations for this week.
At Weaver, it was a farewell for the Journalism and Media Academy, which is becoming a magnet school and moving to a newly renovated building on Tower Avenue this summer. Valedictorian Jorge Aponte and Salutatorian Punya Khatiwada were among the graduates who overcame obstacles. Khatiwada, a refugee from Nepal, described his teachers as "second parents."
Nynoshka Ortiz, a Puerto Rico native, said she entered the academy four years ago knowing little English. "Now I'm so confident I want to be a news anchor," said Ortiz, 18, who earned highest honors.
University High School of Science and Engineering
Nearby, University High Principal Martin Folan made a promise to the friends and family of the Class of 2013: The diplomas the graduates were receiving Wednesday night wouldn't be their last.
"While the Class of 2013 is leaving us, we're welcoming the Class of 2017," Folan said. "Because in four years, all these students will have their college degrees."
Ninety-four seniors, wearing deep red gowns, received their high school diplomas on the brightly lit stage of the University of Hartford's Lincoln Theater. It was University High's sixth commencement and the largest class yet for the magnet school founded in 2004 as a partnership between the University of Hartford and the city school system.
Every graduate will attend either a two- or four-year college, according to the school.
"I can't even tell you what I'm feeling," senior Tyler Cloud said as he watched a slideshow before the ceremony that featured photos of the graduates. "I need one more year here."
Cloud, who will be studying mechanical engineering at the University of Hartford, said he was overwhelmed with the concept of adulthood — of having to work hard to get good grades in order to get a job, and not "being able to act like a kid anymore."
Class speaker Vajid Pathan joked that graduation was simply "the most opportune time to ask your parents for money," while class president J'Vaughn Joseph gave advice on dealing with challenges.
"Our lives are filled with dreams and reality, and the difference between both is hard work," he said.
High School, Inc.
At High School, Inc., the finance and insurance academy in downtown, 75 seniors graduated during a ceremony in corporate partner Aetna's auditorium. It was the first class to spend a full four years at the school, and 90 percent are headed to college, Principal Terrell Hill said.
The journey hasn't been easy for all students. Samuel Rochester, 20, spent most of his childhood in New Haven but moved to Hartford for his senior year. The High School, Inc. family, he said, accepted him and pushed him to succeed.
"At first it was overwhelming, but I'm really grateful to my friends, to these guys," said Rochester, gesturing to 18-year-old Brandon Parris and class president Simeon Williams, 17.
Williams braided his set of honor cords, each one color-coded to a subject in which he excelled.
"This school gave us experiences and opportunities that others could have only dreamed of," Williams said. His love of math classes drew him to High School, Inc., and now he is headed to Central Connecticut State University to study business administration.
"I want to be a small business owner," Williams added proudly.
Class valedictorian Trudian Finnikin reminded her classmates to set their goals high as they go forward: "Do not travel down the easy path. You will face obstacles. Turn those obstacles into opportunities."
Great Path Academy
Meanwhile, there were hoots and hollers as Great Path Academy graduates approached the stage in the Manchester Community College auditorium.
"Our 65 candidates have demonstrated achievement in learning and have been resilient to the academic, social and emotional challenges that have arisen along the path to tonight's destination," Principal Tory Niles-Outler said Wednesday night.
Niles-Outler also congratulated the senior class for achieving a 100 percent graduation rate; they also all plan to attend either a two- or four-year college next school year. Great Path is a magnet school that the Hartford school system manages on the MCC campus in Manchester.
The class had two valedictorians, Kaylea Elliott and Jaime Grennan. Elliott imparted a challenge in her speech to graduates.
"True leadership is not about a certain position or a title," said Elliott, who will attend the University of Connecticut. "True leadership is about taking responsibility; it is about caring and putting others before yourself. Great Path class of 2013, I challenge all of you to apply this principle to your life. Care about the little things and the big things will work themselves out."
Academy of Engineering & Green Technology
Back in Hartford, vendors peddling flowers and stuffed bears with graduation caps lined Forest Street as people headed to Hartford Public High School's auditorium.
Parents tried to pick out the perfect lily before ceremonies began for the school's Academy of Engineering & Green Technology, which teaches students to use sustainable materials.
"You are going into fields that need scientists, that need innovators," keynote speaker Lisa Szewczul, a vice president at UTC Aerospace Systems, told the 67 graduates. "The reason you are here is because you are difference-makers. You are here because you are not spectators."
Despite a dismal unemployment rate, Szewczul said, jobs are still available.
Salutatorian Raissa Lana said their graduation is meaningful but not as important as the next step. Her dad is a taxi driver and her mom is a house cleaner, she said, and they didn't attend college.
"With [my parents] not liking their jobs, they were like, 'You have to go to college so you can pick what you want to do,' you don't have to be stuck with something," Lana said. "I have the whole world in front of me; all I have to do is choose my path and I will go there."
"We got through this maze we call high school," said Alexsei Davies, the class valedictorian. "Snaps to you, class of 2013."
Many graduates chest-bumped the principal before posing for photos with their diplomas.
Courant Staff Writers Marwa Eltagouri, Chloe Miller, Shannon O'Connor and Nicole Perez contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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