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North Stonington - Cherish your loved ones, Ciara Haines told her classmates at Wheeler High School's graduation Friday evening.
Friday was graduation day for 61 seniors at the school, but it also would have been the 51st birthday of Haines' father, who died when she was 5.
"To my classmates, I want each of you to remember those who may not be here today, for whatever the reason, and to know that they are all extremely proud of everything you have accomplished," said Haines, the class president.
"And please don't take the time that you have with people for granted, cherish that time and those memories," she said.
Poor weather pushed the ceremony inside, and the faculty wore academic regalia for the first time.
Bernard "Bing" Bartick was the speaker chosen by the graduating class. A longtime substitute teacher and town resident, Bartick shared what he has learned about living a happy, productive and rewarding life in the form of a recipe. The first ingredient, he said, is love, followed by acceptance, accept "yourself for who you are and others for what they are." Other key ingredients are forgiveness, persistence, knowledge, kindness and gratitude.
"You are the very best," Bartick said. "May the force be with you. May the roar of the Wheeler Lions be heard forever. Congratulations and bon voyage!"
After the superintendent of schools and the Board of Education chairman spoke, the graduates enthusiastically accepted their diplomas and carnations in the school colors, then tossed their caps into the air, ready to head off to college, the workplace or the military.
Annie Luckhardt said she was excited to start something new, but sad to leave her friends and the small-school environment. Luckhardt plans to attend the University of Rhode Island, where she hopes to get into the physical therapy program.
Her mother, Priscilla, said she was very proud of her daughter, who excelled with the many opportunities the school offered. Luckhardt was the class secretary and a National Honor Society member. She played on the soccer and basketball teams.
"It will be a big change, I loved it here," Annie Luckhardt said. "I loved going to a small school. I wouldn't have changed a thing."
Jade Heather Aitken, Michael Thomas Aldrich, James Timothy Belz, Kayla Mackenzie Bill, Brooke Ashley Brady, Deanna Lee Brightman, Nizhoni Julia Brown, Samuel Ryan Burdick, Emily, Frances Carocari, Alexandra Marie Cole, Chaz Braxton Cole, Taylor Nicole Coleman, Kevin Micheal Conley, Jr., Erica Mikel Crowley, Alexander Jordan DeJesus, Christopher Joseph Dellaporta, Kaylyn Marissa Demara, Sean Lee Dossett, Corey Ian Duvall, Dylan Joseph Freitas.
Also: Jenna Catherine Galinsky, Alexander Emilio Gonzalez, Ciara Elizabeth Haines, Kyle Joseph Hogan, Cody John Hughes, Mariah Sue Johnson, Colby Duval Jones, Christina M. Kane, Briana Marie Kerr, Jessica Ann Long, Dylan Benedict Lord, Eric Christopher Lord, Hannah-Noelle Lord, Anne Elizabeth Luckhardt, Branden Richard Manfredi, Lindsay Marie Mathwich, Edward Robert McLaughlin, William Edward McLaughlin.
Also: Kathryn Marie Noonan, Jacob Corey Ouellette, Ryan Scott Parker, Justin Thomas Patt, Meaghan Lynn Pavao, Dylan Ross Rapoport, Elliana Alicea Robbins, Heather Marie Sawyer, Bryan Quinn Serra, Jade Jasmine Smith, Lauren Emily Sobieraj, Abigail Dean Souza, Travis Leroy Stedman, Kerri Lynn Steinbrecher, Hunter Brandon Tashea, Emily Ann Taylor, Jonathan Mikel Terluk, Charles Everett Tuttle, Michael Carlin Veit, Xi Wang, Paul William Worobey, Daiwei Xue, Justin Tyler Zeppieri.