Chanell Johnson stood outside the auditorium, adjusted her cap and gown, and took a flower from her mother as she thought about how she felt as a soon-to-be graduate.
She's thrilled about the future, she said, but not so thrilled to leave the past, and her friends, behind.
"I don't know if I should be happy or if I should be sad," she said. "I'm trying to just be both, I guess."
But once inside the Welte Auditorium at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Johnson and her 202 fellow blue-clad graduates from Hartford Public High School were happy, and loud, as they celebrated their graduation.
In her opening remarks, Principal Zandralyn Gordon told the audience that this was "the final graduation of Hartford Public High School as we know it." Next year, the school will be split into various, smaller academies.
So, while it was time for graduates to look forward, it was also time to spend a minute looking back.
Hartford Public High School, Gordon told the audience, opened in 1638, 138 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence; 274 years before the Titanic hit the iceberg; and 325 years before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Later, senior essay winner Sasha Medina spoke of the pride of arriving at graduation and the obstacles she and her fellow students faced along the way. The media, she said, too often focuses on "degrading stereotypes" of Hartford students and fails "to recognize students who do positive things in Hartford."
"Each and every one of us is a success story," she said.
Kally Moquette-Gonzalez, also an essay winner, reminded her classmates that "life is a journey, not a destination." She told of her struggle to make it through her last year of high school, which included the death of her father.
"I have always underestimated myself," she said. "This year, I have proven to myself that I am much stronger than I believed myself to be."
Salutatorian Kayla Johnson took issue with the characterization of the school as a "dropout factory," and told her classmates that "we can approach anyone who doubted us and say to them, there is no way we can be inferior."
And valedictorian Roger Lu reminded his classmates that, of the roughly 700 students who enrolled four years ago, they were the ones who persevered.
"We should be proud to have made it this far," Lu said. "Farewell, good luck, and congratulations Class of 2008."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at