Jun. 12—GROTON — A festive atmosphere of cheers, bubbles, balloons and upbeat music greeted members of Ella T. Grasso Technical High School's Class of 2021 as they and their families arrived in vehicles decked out with celebratory messages and adornments Friday.
In the drive-thru graduation, each of the 112 graduates, dressed in a blue cap and gown, got out of their vehicles near the entrance of the school and walked the red carpet. They shook hands with Principal Patricia M. Feeney and Jeffrey Wihbey, Connecticut Technical Education and Career System superintendent, as their families and the school's staff members cheered.
When 2020 graduate Luis Gonzalez and his cousin Yarelis Torres, who is graduating this year, arrived in a party bus and walked together, accompanied by his mother, Leomary Sanchez, they received a standing ovation and cheers. Teacher Sandi Jameson said both graduates "shared a special place in our hearts and will never be forgotten at Grasso Tech."
Last year, Gonzalez was on a motorized skateboard and fell. He was in a coma for a few months, so his family collected his diploma for him at last year's graduation. His cousin, who has been close with him since they were little, came up with the idea of walking together so he could experience graduating from high school.
Gonzalez said it means a lot to walk with his cousin and he is thankful everyday to be alive. "I'm very excited," he said before the ceremony.
Speakers in prerecorded speeches reflected on the strength of the graduates: "Graduating is always something to be proud of but, for us, it's something more," valedictorian Seth Kintner said. "Being the class that's had our high school careers affected the longest by the (coronavirus) pandemic is something we will never forget and we will have countless stories to share many years from today. While we lost some opportunities and normality, we have gained resilience. We should be very proud of ourselves because no one else will go through the experience we have."
Salutatorian Richard Dunn also reflected on the graduates' accomplishments to make it through the past four years and particularly the past 15 months. He quoted Indian Author Ruskin Bond, who said, "It's courage, not luck, that takes us through to the end of the road."
Senior Class President Mireyja Pratts reflected on the "hundreds of moments" — such as seeing classmates and friends working together to get through challenging classes, to spreading laughs and listening "to the bustling atmosphere of the lunch rooms — that "come together to paint a lovely picture" of the past four years of high school.
"The art we call high school that we've gotten to create together is nothing short of a masterpiece," she said. "So now as we come to a close, and we reflect on what once was, we can see the picture we left behind. Each of us a brush stroke on the canvas, pieces to a bigger puzzle, gears to a clock. We worked together to make this art and to make these moments."
Feeney urged the Class of 2021 members to set personal goals and work as hard as they can to achieve them: "I want you to leave here today believing in yourselves and knowing that you can achieve your loftiest dreams."