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Norwich - The members of the Class of 2010 - the largest class Thames River Academy has seen in the past 15 years - are all destined to become leaders in society, Principal Edward Derr said Wednesday at the school's commencement exercise at City Hall.
Family members and friends of the 15 graduates gathered in council chambers to celebrate the occasion.
"We're gathered here for an emergence of tremendous power: the power of education, knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom," Derr said.
He spoke of the power of the elements wind, water and fire and said that even though the three elements can sometimes be destructive in nature, they also provide sustenance, electricity and warmth.
"If we only focus on the negative aspects of nature we are missing the majesty of life," Derr said. "You are graduates, you must take the power you hold in your hands and use it for powerful change."
It was clear the group of graduates were more than just classmates. They were members of a very close family.
Elizabeth Ondusko, 18, gave the graduate perspective speech.
She said she started her high school career at Norwich Free Academy and after three years felt "there was no hope for me or my future." In her 11th-grade year, Ondusko walked through the doors at Thames River Academy. "It was one of the most exciting days of my life," she said. "My frowns turned into smiles."
"We are a family. We march to a different drummer; we are the square pegs that didn't fit in the round holes, and through our differences we found each other," Ondusko, who received a scholarship to Three Rivers Community College, said to her peers.
Anthony King, 20, sat casually on the stage in his cap and blue gown, the tassel dangling in front of his face.
At one point in his high school career he was homeless, and at another, his mom was diagnosed with lupus. King said the hardest challenge of his high school career was his mother's illness.
"He had to grow up a lot faster than he had to. I wasn't able to walk," said Christy King, his mother, with tears in her eyes. "He was really the rock of the family. He could have given up and he didn't."
Anthony King received the June Powell Thames River Academy Math Scholarship Award and a scholarship to Three Rivers Community College, which he plans to attend in January. Each graduate received legislative citations.
Teacher and senior class adviser Nancy Watrous said the group of 15 graduates each triumphed over their personal struggles to make it to Wednesday's ceremony.
"They become my kids," Watrous said. "Somewhere along the way they adopt me and I adopt them. We're a family."
Also Wednesday, six students graduated from the Deborah Tennant-Zinewicz School on Case Street in a ceremony at the Spirit of Broadway Theater. Norwich Alderwoman Jacqueline Caron addressed the class, filling in for state Sen. Edith Prague, who couldn't make it.
THAMES RIVER ACADEMY GRADUATES
Danielle Almeida, Corey Amaral, Maleena Bigley, Deeonna Bouchard, Justine Candler, Monique Curtiss, Edgar Hernandez, Anthony King, Elizabeth Ondusko, Lizabell Pagan, Zack Papanek, Samantha Plympton, Cassendra Reynolds, Kyle Roderick, Alexis Tate.
DEBORAH TENNANT-ZINEWICZ SCHOOL GRADUATES
Rachel R. Gabel, Victoria A. Getman, Travis L. Hopkins, Michael J. LaBarre, James B. Matthews and Jonathan M. Roversi.