WEST HARTFORD - The University High School of Science and Engineering graduated its first class Friday, sending almost all 68 members to college.
Nearly 70 percent will go on to four-year colleges. The remaining 30 percent will either attend two-year colleges or join the military, school officials said.
The students of the magnet school's "Legacy Class" were told to follow the dreams of their high school years — a central theme of the ceremony in the University of Hartford's Lincoln Theater.
"There is no greater high in this world than to get to the dream you have in your heart," speaker Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr., the first African American to walk in space, told the class. "Now you have the tools to make your dreams come true. Education is your launching pad."
Harris, a NASA astronaut and a physician, received an honorary degree from the University of Hartford, an unusual event at a high school graduation. Also, instead of salutatory and valedictory speeches, the class selected a speaker to give the commencement address.
The ceremony differed from a typical high school graduation because the school, itself, is different.
The school was launched in 2004 as a partnership between the University of Hartford and Hartford Public Schools. The curriculum is based on an early college model and emphasizes science, math, engineering and technology. Students can earn college credits as they all take advanced placement and University of Connecticut Early College Experience classes.
The Class of 2008 initially had about 100 students, but about 30 transferred to other high schools.
Class speaker Brittany Sarita Sims, of Hartford, told her classmates that they were "the best of the best."
"We survived a program so rigorous that about 30 of our students couldn't make it, and we still came out on top," she said. "We aren't just legacy, we are rebirth."
As a Hartford magnet school, 60 percent of the students are from Hartford, and 40 percent come from surrounding cities and towns.
"I feel that we paved the way for future students," said Nefertere Whittingham, class president, who also spoke during the graduation and listed memories from each year at the school.
Whittingham, of Hartford, will be the first person in her family to go to college when she attends Southern Connecticut State University in the fall. She credited the school and its curriculum with getting her there.
"They put an emphasis on going to college," she said.
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Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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