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Norwich - The 100 graduates in three Norwich Regional Adult Education programs had to compete with their surroundings for attention Thursday, a welcome trade-off for being the inaugural event in the new Kelly Middle School auditorium.
The facility was called "exquisite," "beautiful" and "magnificent" by various graduation speakers.
Graduates, in turn, earned the descriptions "outstanding," "determined" and "committed."
Family members of graduate Kettly Maignan came from throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts to the pristine new auditorium, thrilled that their sister, aunt and mom was among the first to climb onto the stage.
"I remember when she dropped out, when she got pregnant," said Maignan's brother, Clevens St. Juste of West Hartford, a 1991 Norwich Free Academy graduate. "I never thought she would go back. When she told me she was graduating, I was like, 'Wow!'"
The two rows of Maignan's relatives erupted into cheers when Adult Education Director Mary Berry announced Maignan's name as the recipient of the Joseph B. Murphy Award for commitment to lifelong learning.
Maignan, a Haitian native who works full time at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, has six children ranging from kindergarten to college age. Last summer, Maignan became a U.S. citizen. Having mastered the English language, Maignan now helps translate Adult Education documents into Creole.
In March, she was named Connecticut Adult Learner of the Year.
Maignan took the podium during the ceremony to give a "graduate's perspective."
"I love you, Mommy!" her youngest son, 6-year-old Lejuan, yelled from the audience.
"I'm so excited and honored to be here," Maignan said. Another family member shouted, "So are we!"
Maignan admitted that getting to the point of wearing the maroon cap and gown was a challenge. She said she and classmates forged a bond, as they all worked hard to reach goals some people thought were not possible for them.
"Adult education has opened the door for us," she said. "Graduates, we need to continue this journey to be successful."
The city's own journey to get an auditorium was no less challenging, Norwich Board of Education Chairman Charles Jaskiewicz told the approximately 300 people in the audience. He recalled a conversation with Berry six years ago, when he promised her that someday, the Adult Education graduation would not be crowded in a sweltering gymnasium, but rather, held in a new, air-conditioned auditorium.
"She told me tonight, 'Charlie, I didn't believe you,'" Jaskiewicz said. He then invited the graduates and their families to the official dedication of the auditorium to NAACP Norwich Branch President Jacqueline Owens at 1 p.m. June 16. Owens sat in the front row for Thursday's graduation.
Christopher G. Archambault, Paula J. Anderson, Roy D. Bean, Tanya Bonnin, Alethea F. Bugbee, Joyce Card, Allen N. Corson, Stephanie M. Credit, Zachary A. Credit, Samantha M. Danforth, Gary M. Deveau, Charlene M. Driscoll, Daniel K. Falbowski, Zachary J. Favreau, Daniel Francois, Angelina M. Frascarelli, Alex J. Graf, Yolanda C. Hamel, Matthew C. Hamilton, Christopher Hanahan, Katherine M. Hawley, Jessica R. Houle, Robin L. Jablonski, Tiffanee J. Kelsey, Tammy L. Keys, James H. Landry, Jon Lotring, Kevin J. Mathes, Joanne E. McDougall, Thomas McShane, Alexander B. Mercer, Alicia M. Moriarty, Alyssa M. Pacheco, Tammy J. Patterson, Corey M. Piascik, Nicole G. Rentz, Spenser Richman, Justin A. Silva, Particia A. Transue, Courtney L. VanCuren, Bethani K. Vogt, Cindy A. Webb, Mariah S. Williams
John D. Bishop, Raunel R. Blyden, Savanna R. Bonilla, Miles D. Budde, Anthony G. Burgess, Christy A. Burt, Dustin Ray James Comeau, David W. Davis, Jamie M. Dosithee, Lionel Dudley, Matthew P. Dunn, Ralph A. Francis, Janilson B. Gomes, Cesar A. Guzman, Tyhana K. Harrell, Heshima D. Harris Jr., Johnathan D. Hebert, Jessi D. Hernandez, Kaela M. Hernandez, William M. Holmes, Jamel A. Kearse, Jennifer M. Lake, Ronald D. Lee, Keri A. Linicus, Scott S. Macey Jr., Kettly Maignan, Hayley M. Mandeville, Alexandra Mendoza, Sarah E. Milka, Marlene R. Montoya, Michael R. Morse, Andrew J. Myers, Ting Fat Ng, Wo Ming Ou, Jessica L. Patterson, Joni C. Patterson, Trevor D. Pawlak, Gregory J. Perrone-Gilbert, Samantha J. Pullen, Kristina I. Romano, Brandon P. Russell, Ronak Shah, Micly Simeon, Chanel M. Smith, Nicholas E. Sutera, Milouse Tassy, Kyle M. Toof, Chancharay S. Tyson, Falicia M. Viscione, Johannes T. Vu, Amy J. Walsh, Qing Ye Wang, Jamal E. Ward, Shannon P. Wetterskog, John H. Wood Sr.
Missy A. Law, Tania J. Sylvain