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North Stonington - Graduations can be an emotional experience for a small community like Wheeler High School, especially when, as class President Rebecca D'Angelo put it, many of the students have been together since before preschool.
But there was no sadness in the air on Friday evening as friends and family gathered on the lawn behind the school to watch the 49 members of the Class of 2010 mark the end of their time together.
As the setting sun filtered through the trees, throwing patches of light across the grass, Superintendent Dr. Natalie Pukas recalled their eighth-grade promotion ceremony, where she instructed the class to fill a box of memories during their time at Wheeler High. The challenge now, she said, is to do so without the guidelines and structure of high school.
"I challenge you to make us proud, to make the world a better place," she said. "Carpe diem!"
Board of Education Chairman Dr. Darren Robert spoke about seeing the class for the individual futures they represent - doctors, lawyers, artists, teachers and yes, even surfers.
"I know they're prepared for whatever they set out to do," he said as the crowd applauded. "They're ready to learn more and do more than we ever could."
After presenting the graduates with a number of local scholarships, Principal Michael Susi, chosen by the class to give the commencement speech, spoke about the importance of making a plan and sticking to it.
"You will make plans that might not be in your best interest, and you will face the consequences," he said. "But take things in stride, laugh about them and learn from them."
Susi, who will be leaving Wheeler High this summer to fill the same position at East Lyme High School, reminded the class that although it's the end of their high school careers, it's also a new beginning.
"You have many years in front of you to find your way in life," he said.
Nicholas David Aldrich, Jessica Lyne Bachinski, Ryan Scott Boissevain, Christopher Tracey Brightman, Morgan Edward Brown, Clifford John Carron, Luke Ryan Caswell, Nichole Alicia Cherenzia, Alexandra Leigh Conklin, Benjamin Ernest Cowley, Rebecca Lynn D'Angelo, Jamie Daniel Douton, Christopher John Errichetti, Jr., Corinne Beth Gaucher, Thomas George Gavitt, Bethany Marie Gencarella, Christina Elaine Gencarella, Christopher Samuel Gillis, Matthew Louis Gillis, Conor Michael Gleason, James Becker Ivey, Michael Jacques, Brittany Elizabeth Johnston, Alexander Leif Jorgensen, Michael Allen Lessing, Kyle Thomas Majewski, Emily Ann Mantell, Shannon Leigh McBride, Courtney Elizabeth McMorris, Meredith Noel Milligan, Amber Alisha Mills, Erik Paul Nelson, Alyssa May Nilson, Kevin Michael Noonan, Benjamin Ellis Pearson, Rebecca Elizabeth Pruett, Charissa Leanne Rathbun, Ray Robert Rinkes, Sherelle Colleen Sebastian, Christian Kanela Kenji Shelton, Bethany Fay Strohm, Amanda Lee Taylor, Eric Michael Vetelino, Christine Marie Viele, Justin Thomas Walter, William Thomas Wanstall II, Mitchell Reid Waterman, Justin Ryan Winslow, Hannah Mae Wunschel.