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Griswold - Graduates and Griswold High School administrators kept Saturday's graduation ceremony a joyous occasion, but Principal Mark Frizzell paused briefly to remind the packed gymnasium how the 160 members of the Class of 2011 responded in force when tragedy struck their town.
The class raised money for the families of four high school underclassmen killed in a horrific car accident on Dec. 7 and then helped establish a memorial fund in the four victims' names. Frizzell had to pause briefly, to control his emotions, in recognizing the accomplishment.
But Frizzell told the graduates, their family members and friends that this class always found ways to cheer him up whenever he needed a boost.
"I am extremely proud of the Class of 2011," Frizzell said. "And you should be extremely proud."
Everyone rose for a standing ovation before turning to a historic moment in Saturday's graduation. No one could recall if Griswold High School had ever awarded an honorary diploma, and Frizzell noted that the school "might never do it again."
Wanda Hansin Brunet grew up in Griswold and attended Griswold High School in 1937 and 1938. She never graduated, but kept a lifelong love of her school. She married Gerard Brunet, and the couple lived quiet, "self-sufficient" lives, she as a certified nurse's aide at Norwich Hospital and he as a welder for Dow Chemical.
Wanda Brunet died recently and established a "generous" scholarship fund to benefit students at Griswold High School, said Julie Groene, the director of guidance.
"Today we present Wanda Hancin Brunet with an honorary high school diploma from Griswold High School," Groene said. "Thank you, Wanda, for your extraordinary generosity," Groene said. "Congratulations on your high school diploma and best wishes to the Class of 2011."
The connection between this close-knit small town and its high school was a dominant theme throughout Saturday's ceremony. Salutatory Address speaker Jennifer Moore said the two are inseparable. She recalled whole families attending homecoming parades, Friday night football and spring musicals with their "outrageous costumes" and packed auditoriums.
Griswold, she said, is "like one of the small towns we read about in books," where you can't drive anywhere without waving to friends and neighbors. In the years to come, many members of the class will leave the town, and some may be away for years. But she urged them to keep Griswold in their hearts.
"We will always be the Griswold High School Class of 2011," Moore said. "Everywhere."
Valedictorian Jacqueline Longacre went back even further along her Memory Lane. With all of Saturday's talk of growing up and moving on, Longacre asked her classmates if they remembered the Etch-A-Sketch.
She talked of how they struggled to get the two round knobs to work together to make a diagonal line, but ended up with "a squiggly mess" - like a freshman trying to negotiate the hallways for the first time.
For four years, she and her classmates tried not to shake up the Etch-A-Sketch too much so they wouldn't erase a beautiful picture or a carefully etched name.
"Now it's time to give the Etch-A-Sketch a good shake," she said.
Roxanna Abrahamson, Kelsey Ahearn, Ty Alberti, Melanie Alexander, Levi Allen, Rendell Ames, Kaylei Arcangel, Amanda Armstrong, Ashley Baribeault, Jordan Bastien, Katrina Beals, Nicholas Bellaro, Troy Billings, Nicholas Boots, Jessica Bouchard, Matthew Boulanger, Zachary Boulanger, Kelsey Bravard, Tyler Brehler, Jenna Bromley, Kaitlyn Brooks, Joshua Brown, Wanda Mary Hancin Brunet, Victoria Bundy, Tyler Burns, Kolby Carignan, Dylan Caswell, Jonathan Choiniere, Nathan Cholewa, Anita Colby, Megan Conrad, Christina Corey, Zackery Cowan, Kara Czeczotka, Brandon Daugherty, Salina Denomme, Jennifer DeRico, James DeRosa, Kelsey DeRusha, Stephen Deschamps, Seth Deschermeier, Scott Dombrowski, Nicole Dyer-Cloutier.
Also: Cassandra Edge, Alex Elkins, Kayla Ertl, Jacob Faulise, Bret Fensley, Jonathan Finley, Erin Fish, Arthur Fontaine, Kelsey Francis, Connor Frizzell, Laurel Garrison, Taylor Gasparino, Alexander Gauvin, Shannon Gemmell, Courtney Gideon, Amber Gill, Victoria Gionet, Michael Gluck, Craig Goyette, Brandon Greene, Matthew Greene, Sarah Greiner, Nicholas Guarneri, Lindsay Harrigan, Miranda Hicks, Matthew Hlavac, Lauren Homiski, Brandee Johnson, Ryan King, Courtney Kinney, Danielle Klick, Kristofer Knerr, John Koch, Alex LaBonte, Jake LaBonte, Kieley Langlois, Shaye Lavallie, Jacquelyn Longacre, Katherine Longhurst, Shawna Lord.
Also: Benjamin Maerkle, Olivia Majewski, Mariah Manning, Matthew Marsie, Brooke Martel, Laura May, Samantha McAllister, Matthew McCarthy, Lindsey McCorkindale, Cameron McCormack, Harrison McNair, Brandon McNeil, Stephanie Messier, Thomas Mieldzioc, Allison Mis, Jennifer Moore, Lauren Oates, Alexa Ondreicka, Anthony Openchofski, David O'Rourke, Morgan Parrette, Danielle Pasay, Niralee Patel, Sara Patterson, Frandelyn Paulino, Stephen Pendleton, Jennifer Pepin, Brendan Perry, Chelsea Perry, Rory Poneck, Konrad Poznanski, Tyler Preston, Megan Proulx, Brittany Rainville, Meghan Ravenelle, Zachory Restor, Brandon Roode, Leina Rossman, Cara Russo.
Also: Maxwell Sandherr, Taylor Saunders, Jordyn Schrage, Chelsea Schuller, Jayde Seyler, Marla Shelton, Rachel Simpson, Kristol Skidgel, Debra Slezak, Amanda Slonski, Taylor Stanley, Caitlyn Startz-Gilmore, Jennifer Stevens, Ann Stockton, James Strmiska, Kayla Strobel, Hilary Sunderland, Zachary Swift, Tyler Swinyer, Jessica Synott, Douglas Teeters, Kelley Teeters, Logan Tonucc, Alyssa Torres, Sarah Tropnas, Morgan Turner, Fernando Velasquez, Otessa Velasquez, Colin Vidos, Robert Waddell, Bradley Walsh, Laura Webster, Daniel Weed, Jonathan Wibberley, Alexandria Williams, Nina Wojtkiewicz, Darren Wolters, Dustin Young, Kelsey Young.