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Norwich - When it came to deciding his career, Alexander Botchis took a gamble and flipped a coin. But before he could celebrate the next chapter of his life, he had to close the door on another.
On Wednesday, Botchis and four of his classmates graduated from Thames River Academy in a small but meaningful ceremony at City Hall.
"I feel accomplished. It's another milestone in the life we live," he said before the 5 p.m. ceremony for the alternative high school.
He said he flipped a coin to decide whether to become a doctor or a lawyer after he asked his mother for her advice. When she said she didn't want to be the person to make that decision for him, a small metal object did.
"I'd like to be a neurologist on a diagnostics team. It's that art of finding out what's not there, neurology is really a profession just to find answers," said Botchis, 19.
Families and friends of the graduates sat anxiously on the wooden benches before the ceremony, waiting for the five graduates to enter the Council Chambers.
City and school board officials were also present to mark the occasion.
"Your graduation is as significant as anyone else's. You've worked very hard, and you should be very proud of what you achieved here today," Mayor Peter Nystrom said. "The city looks forward to the contribution you will bring to us in the future."
Thames River Academy Principal Edward Derr said the theme of the night was the transformative journey toward success and the realization of dreams.
"Look closely at these future leaders assembled here on this raised dais. They have journeyed long, traveled far and completed a transformation that cannot even be equaled by the new NBA champions," Derr said. "What they discovered on this journey was already inside of them, even if others could not yet see it. But they saw it, we saw it, and you saw it. They and you should be proud."
Presenting the graduates' perspectives were Botchis and Kaci Armstrong. Botchis said he moved out of his parents' home when he was 16, thinking he could make it on his own.
"I was stealing from grocery stores just to eat, and I realized that wasn't where I wanted to be. I pulled my head out of my rear extremity, and now I have everything going for me, I'm going to college and will make something out of myself, as will all of you guys," he said.
Armstrong said she "came from a school where she didn't fit in to a place where she has become truly accepted."
"When I first got to the academy, they (the students) came and talked to me instead of me going to talk to them," she said after the ceremony. "The academy is a place where you get all the help you need and you're not judged. Here, you can do anything."