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New London — A class that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano described as unique for being the first "to grow up in the Internet age" graduated Wednesday from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
Napolitano gave the commencement address Wednesday to 233 graduates inside Leamy Auditorium. The ceremony was delayed an hour and moved indoors because of foggy, wet weather.
"You will don many hats as you leave this academy because it means a lot to be a member of the Coast Guard," she said. "You are rescuers, protectors, first responders, law enforcers, teachers and public servants."
Like every preceding class, the graduates had mixed emotions about moving on. At the 131st commencement, many said they were excited to have passed all the tests to become a Coast Guard officer, but they didn't want to say goodbye to the close friends who helped them get through the challenges of the past four years.
Jay Fernandes III said he was excited and a little nervous to leave his familiar surroundings at the academy and report to his first ship.
"Really, my book is just beginning," said Fernandes, 23, of Branford, who has been assigned to the Cutter Resolute. "It's an old cliche, but it should be a great ride and I'm ready to go for it."
"You go through so much together, there's no way you couldn't become best friends with each other," said Danny Piazza, 23, of Pawling, N.Y. "They're your support system."
Piazza will be a groomsman in his classmate's wedding next week, then will report to the Cutter Alex Haley in Alaska. Even though it felt great to graduate, Piazza said, "It's bittersweet."
In her speech, Napolitano said she was challenged to use the names of the Coast Guard's 210-foot cutters. She told the graduates they have learned about self-"Reliance" and have remained "Resolute" in the face of obstacles. She entertained the audience by continuing to incorporate the names.
On a more serious note, Napolitano reminded the graduates, which included three international students, that they live in "a world of evolving threats and unconventional enemies, a world where the battlefield often has no boundaries or uniforms."
Last year alone, the Coast Guard rescued more than 3,800 people, made about 40 percent of the interdictions in the drug transit zone, and saved the lives of nearly 2,500 refugees.
"The Coast Guard's work will continue to require people with a range of talents, possibly unmatched anywhere else in public service," Napolitano said.
She praised the graduates with the highest grade point averages and recited a lengthy list of athletic accomplishments. She complimented the cadets who had built an autonomous sailboat and another group that had come up with a "Mobile Biodiesel Batch reactor," which uses fryer oil to produce diesel fuel.
"You are the first class to be born after the end of the Cold War and to grow up in the Internet age," she said. "You have faced uncertainty and change throughout your lives. And the world around you will continue to change, often in unpredictable ways."
But, Napolitano said, she was confident they would excel.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. said he could "not be more proud" of the new ensigns, who he said have "earned America's sacred trust."
"These are exciting times, but they are also challenging," he said. "This is when good people step forward. There's no telling all the things that will happen over the course of your careers, but I can assure you that the voyage will be exciting, worthwhile and fulfilling."
Papp singled out one graduate, Joseph Durfey, who has been assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Rush — the same cutter that Durfey's grandfather commanded 42 years ago.
"I stress 42 years. His grandfather's ship," Papp said. "Only in the Coast Guard could that happen. But there is a ray of hope. Secretary Napolitano is working very hard to get us those new national security cutters."
Katie Schumacher, 21, addressed the class as the distinguished honor graduate. She spoke about how 233 unique individuals came together to become one unified class.
Papp told the graduates they should rely on the oath of office to guide them as officers. He normally would administer the oath, but he said he was delegating the honor to Vice Adm. Brian M. Salerno, the Coast Guard's deputy commandant for operations.
Salerno's son, Michael, who was one of the graduates, said after the ceremony that he didn't know whether he could live up to his father's accomplishments, but that he would try. And, he said, he couldn't wait to get to his cutter in San Diego.
Many parents, either still serving on active duty or retired, presented to their children the commissions conferring the rank of officer. Robert Priesing, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, said he felt relieved and proud.
"It's here, and she made it through," he said as his daughter, Katie, wiped away tears.
"It's emotional saying goodbye," said Katie Priesing, 22, of Havelock, N.C.
One graduate, Christopher Monacelli, got down on one knee as he crossed the stage and struck a pose in the style of NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.
Once all the names were called, the new ensigns threw their cadet shoulder boards in the air.
Matthew Hurtt, 22, of Old Lyme said he felt great since the ceremony was "a long time coming." He said he was nervous about reporting to his cutter in Key West, Fla., but that the academy prepared him well and he was proud to be a member of the Class of 2012.
"This is the culmination of everything over the past four years," said Ethan Prol, 22, of West Caldwell, N.J. The past four years had some "rough times," he said, but "it's in the middle of those tough times where you build those strong friendships.
Devin Quinn, 22, of Voluntown said he chose the academy because he wanted to challenge himself, and he had grown to appreciate the experience and the opportunity.
His fiancee, Heather MacDonald of Norwich, said she was proud of Quinn. They plan to get married next week and move to North Carolina, where Quinn will serve on the Cutter Diligence.
"It has been a long road," Quinn said, "but I'm definitely glad it has come to this."
Helmi Aboud, Bryan Andrews, Stephanie Antonietti, Samuel Arnold, Stephen Atwell, Trevor Auth, Emily Balingit Clark, Derek Balke, Anthony Bareno, Kermon Beache, Alex Berg, Ivanna Bertin, Daniel Beshoar, Kenneth Bock, Christopher Bodner, Jordan Bogden, Fallon Bowers, Kristen Bradley, John Brass, Andrew Breen, David Brinkmann, Madeline Buchert, Patrick Buckley and Andrea Byrd.
Also: William Campbell, Kathryn Cappetta, Benjamin Cariddi, Charles Cassiano, Andrew Chevalier, In Choi, Sarah Colmenero, Jacob Conrad, Samantha Coonan, Nicholas Cosenza, Amanda Cost, Robert Costolo, Alexander Cropley, Brendan Crowley, Ryan Cuga, Katelyn Dacimo, Justin Daniel, Tyler Dewechter, Joseph Dillier, Erich Dix, Eric Doherty, Logan Donahey, Christopher Dunn and Joseph Durfey.
Also: Jasmine Elliott, Matthew Faha, Nicholas Fain, Amanda Faulkner, Hayley Feindel, Jay Fernandes, Eric Ferree, Brittany Fifer, Tara Fitzgerald, Ryan Flanagan, Rebecca Follmer, Michael Francis, Benjamin Fulwyler, Christa Funk, Mark Funke, Jacob Gamble, Andrew Gavelek, Brett Gayman, Heidi Gayman, Cortland Gazda, Nicholas Giancola, Melissa Gilday, Garrick Gillan, Caroline Gilmore, Jonathan Girot, George Glock, Brett Godiksen, Michael Gonzales, Brian Gracey, George Greendyk and Adam Guarno.
Also: Charles Hall, Amanda Hamlet, Peter Harrington, Julianna Harvin, Joseph Hill, Kristen Holloway, Ryan Huebner, Kimberly Hulbert, Kent Hunt, James Hurtt, Peter Imbriale, Angela Ingram, Christopher Izurieta, Kiley Johnson, Edward Kalankiewicz, Thomas Kane, Derek Kelley, Jonathan Kelly, Thomas Kennedy, Jamie Kim, Justin Kimrey, Ian King, Michael Klakring, Johnson Knox, Matthew Kolb and Daniel Kubasch.
Also: Jason Lassiter, Michael Leath, Rachel LeClaire, Michelle Leclerc, David Lee, Nicolle Lirette, Samantha Little, Alexander Lloyd, Jenifer Lopez, Nicole Losey, Holly Madden, Anders Manley, Alex Martfeld, Christopher Martin, Nicholas Martin, Christopher Martinez, Katharine Martorelli, Brandon McCampbell, Myles McCarthy, Kieron McCarthy, Spencer McFarland, Brian McGuiness, Tara Mead, Elizabeth Mestemaker, Claire Miller, Jonas Miller, Tyler Miller, Mary Mills, Kenneth Miltenberger, Daniel Mishler, Jeffrey Mistrick, Gregory Mitchell, Douglas Mittermeier, Christopher Monacelli, Orlando Morel, Brett Morris, Evin Moses and Brian Muldoon.
Also: Khiem Nagy, Sean Newmeyer, Erin Nolan, Kevin Noll, Kelli Normoyle, Kevin O'Brien, Matthew Odom, Tyler Otabara, Sarah Otey, Jarrod Owens, Joseph Palmquist, Tyler Patrick, Kathryn Peek, Nicholas Peters, Adam Petersen, Daniel Piazza, William Pie, Nicholas Powell, Cory Pray, Kathleen Priesing, Ethan Prol, Nathan Quellhorst and Devin Quinn.
Also: Rebecca Rebar, David Rehfuss, Reginald Reynolds, Evan Rice, William Rimmler, Amanda Robinson, Christine Roselli, Steven Roth, Ronaqua Russell, Justin Ryan, Michael Salerno, Colin Schembri, Katie Schumacher, Dustin See, Rebekah Seifer, Shannah Shelton, Ryan Sherman, Brian Shields, Christen Shih, Christopher Shivock, Natalie Shuntich, Abraham Sifakis, Anthony Signorello, Justin Sikora, Trevor Siperek, Hillary Smith, Jesuar Smith, Stephen Spotts, Sean Stadig, Alexander Stewart, Gene Storer, Kyle Stover, Evan Strathman, Preston Strobel, Matthew Stroebel, Tess Swiecanski and Daniel Symansky.
Also: Elizabeth Tatum, Stephen Taylor, Rachel Thomas, Stephen Thomsen, Daniel Trainor, Sarah Trochglock, Jacob Tronaas, Collin Tuttle, Tiffany Vegter, Katherine Ward, Hunter Warren, Heather Watka, Patrick Weaver, Wryan Webb, Alex Webber, Ryan Webster, Richard Weiland, Nathaniel White, Morgan Wilder, Jenilee Williams, William Williams, Brandon Wilson, Daniel Woodman, Bohdon Wowtschuk, Jamie Wright, Emily Young, Nicholas Zablotny, Mark Zanowicz, Tiffany Zehnle and Anqi Zhao.