HARTFORD —— Two years ago, Moneque Beckford came from Jamaica to Weaver High School's Culinary Arts Academy as a sophomore, facing the culture shock of what she described as "the American lifestyle."
Beckford, accustomed to speaking Jamaican Patois, had to adjust to English in her classrooms and the sight of some students being "disrespectful" to teachers, she said.
There were also new rules. "I had to adapt ... It was tough but I pushed through it," said Beckford, 18, the academy's valedictorian.
Beckford stood on the Weaver auditorium stage Thursday and honored her 43 fellow graduates, noting they all had challenges but persevered.
"Although many of us have been nurtured in poverty," Beckford said, "and although our future looked bleak, and although coming from Weaver High School, we were not expected to rise above our circumstances" — she paused as cheers rose from the audience — "our faith in God, our support from parents, family and friends ... have inspired us to rise above everything."
"This young lady has made us so proud," said Carol Wright, the Culinary Arts Academy's interim principal. "Wonderful, wonderful persistence that she has brought to this school."
Beckford, also a sprinter who broke the 1987 Weaver record for the girls' 300-meter dash, and Salutatorian Shamika Smith each plan to attend Southern Connecticut State University. Beckford laughed and shook her head when asked if she was interested in the culinary arts.
"I want to be a minister," said Beckford, who intends to major in religion and psychology.
The graduates wore Weaver's traditional colors: white commencement gowns for the senior girls, green for the boys. School security officer Ed Merced offered a few, friendly fist-bumps as they filed into the auditorium for the start of Thursday's ceremony.
"Here we go, y'all did it," Merced told the young men. Some were on the borderline of graduating, he said later.
"To see them graduate, it's an accomplishment. It's a good feeling."
Joseph Brown was among several graduates wearing gold cords to signify academic honors. The 19-year-old attended the Culinary Arts Academy for only his senior year; after living with his father in New Britain for a while, he moved back to his hometown and played for the Weaver basketball team, which made it to the Class S championship before narrowly losing in double overtime.
"I just needed somewhere to finish my last year," said Brown, who plans to enroll at Springfield Technical Community College and study mechanical engineering. "I tried to make it work as best as possible."
By enrolling at Weaver, Brown followed family tradition: His mother and grandfather graduated from the high school, he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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