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Ledyard - Graduating senior Michael J. Daggett Jr. embodies the spirit of Ledyard High School - just ask anybody at the school who has ever had any contact with him.
He has a trademark smile, an infectious excitement about the things he's passionate about and a knack for lifting the spirit of classmates or faculty members even on their worst day, said Patricia Webb, a paraprofessional and Braille transcriptionist who has been friends with and worked with Daggett since he was in kindergarten.
"I've never seen Michael have a bad day," Webb said. "He's just an amazing person."
Webb is with Daggett daily, lending her support and translating texts to Braille for him to read. He has been blind all his life, but that fact does not appear to be a challenge for someone so interminably upbeat.
"I'm going with the flow," Daggett said. "Nothing here is too difficult."
In addition to special tutelage from the Board of Education and Services for the Blind, Daggett has weekly physical therapy sessions to help tone his muscles and occupational therapy sessions to hone his motor skills. There is also a day of speech therapy.
When asked about his condition, Daggett says he was born flat-footed.
For what may seem like a daunting number of challenges, Daggett takes it all in stride.
He is a member of the band and chorus, recently attended the prom and twice a week reads the morning announcements. He's not too modest to let people know that on the trumpet, "I'm pretty good." He's also scoring a "solid A" in Spanish class.
He fondly recalls that one of the highlights from his high school career came in his freshman year with the band. The band was playing the song, "We Are Family," and he says something just clicked with him.
"I felt so happy. ... It felt like I was playing with my brothers and sisters," he said.
On a recent visit to the school's wellness center for his weekly workout session with physical therapist Jennifer Tuohy, Daggett walked the hallways with confidence, swinging his cane from side to side and pausing occasionally to note aloud where in the building he was, or which classroom he had just passed.
He expects the confidence to grow when he moves from his home in Preston to The Perkins School for the Blind in September. It's where he plans to gain more independence and perhaps learn how to read music. It is a necessity, he said, if he intends to fulfill his desire to become a chorus instructor for the blind.
Daggett credits his family support in part for his success. He lives with his mother, Raphaella, and two siblings, brother Teagan and sister Taylar.
He lost his father, Michael J. Daggett Sr., six years ago in a motor vehicle accident. Michael Daggett, who was 33 when he died, was a star football player at Ledyard High School and executive director of the Mashantucket Pequot Utilities Department.
Daggett lights up at the mention of his father, fondly recalling his dad teaching him to fish at Sawmill Pond.
"He was a great fisherman and hunter ... the best dad ever," he said.
Faculty and student body alike agree that Daggett's absence from the school will leave a void. He recently was awarded the school's Blue and White Award for school spirit.
This year's yearbook was dedicated to Daggett. In it, Editor-In-Chief Kelsey Johnson summed up what Daggett has meant to the school:
"His acceptance of others has always been astounding and his inability to see has never hindered his ability to make friends, be extremely friendly and be an active member of this community. Thank you for inspiring us all."