Jun. 12—NORWICH — Excited, thankful and ready was how several Norwich Regional Technical High School graduates and parents described their feelings at sitting together on the softball field for an in-person graduation Friday.
"I'm sure glad we could be out here," said Lisa Converse, mother of graduate Cory Converse of Preston, who plans to attend Three Rivers Community College in fall.
Joy Owens of Colchester said she would have come to the school even if the ceremony had been pushed online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her son, Cole Occhialini of Montville and Colchester, plans to join the U.S. Navy and return to the area to go to the submarine school in Groton after basic training.
"I'm so glad to be here!" graduate Lucie Jules of Norwich said. "It was a hard year, definitely."
The overflow crowd filled the seats on the field and lined the fences at Norwich Tech and cheered and screamed as the 156 graduates entered the field and later as they came forward to receive their diplomas, categorized by the 12 trade fields they pursued.
Getting through the adversity of the pandemic was a repeated theme during the ceremony. Principal Patricia King said the graduates arrived "a little rough around the edges" as freshmen but smoothed out over time and gelled as a class and as successful trades students.
Valedictorian Tyler Pendleton, who already is an apprentice electrician at Full Scale Electric in Stonington, plans to major in mechanical engineering at the University of New Haven in the fall. He admitted to classmates and everyone attending Friday's ceremony that he "struggled greatly" with motivation to do his best in school during the pandemic.
"However, we have pushed through our obstacles and tribulations and have guided ourselves to success," he said. "We have climbed our own mountains and now we can place our flags of accomplishment down and move on towards higher peaks."
He urged fellow graduates to take charge of their futures to succeed for themselves and to help their communities along the way.
Salutatorian Clayton Litchfield, an HVAC apprentice at Millas Heating in Mystic, plans to continue his apprenticeship and go on to his next step in his career: a limited heating and cooling license. He also is a Life Scout with Troop 123 in Salem.
For him, four years of high school flew by, and he learned that the problems and obstacles of early years no longer matter. He told the gathering Friday he has learned "the importance of adaptability and persistence" and the significance those traits have had on his own career. Overcoming the challenges of hands-on trade education during a pandemic shutdown gave the students a solid foundation, Litchfield said.
"Once we get out there, we won't be given any breaks," he said, "and no matter how difficult an obstacle is, and how much you struggle, you must be willing to struggle through it. Look at what we've gone through the last year and a half."