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North Stonington - Even in a graduating class of 47, senior class president Jacob Sylvestre said it's his peers' diversity that makes them stand out.
Wheeler High School's Class of 2013 is a class of artists, musicians, intellectuals, bookworms, tech geeks, country kids and city kids, Sylvestre said - a group from "all walks of life" that is more like a big family than a small class.
Peter Nero gave his first commencement address Wednesday as superintendent of the school district, calling it his "most trying" to write, as he's known the students only a fraction of time as the many teachers and administrators and other staff, who have seen many of these students through 12 years of school.
Still, Nero called the graduates a "remarkable group." Beyond their grades and test scores, Nero praised their college acceptance rate and technical school enrollment, the students who plan to serve their country in the military, their community service, and the way in which each of them care so deeply for each other - "Not common in many schools," he said.
"You are wonderful children," he told them, "who make us proud."
The tone from First Selectman Nicholas Mullane and class speaker Pastor Larry Chappell took a different turn.
Mullane congratulated the class members on the start of their adult lives, saying the whole town is proud of their accomplishments.
But the Class of 2013 will enter a "troubled world," he said, that will present many challenges. When those challenges occur, he told them, they must stop and take a step back, and draw on the wisdom of their elders.
Mullane asked the graduates to remember to give back, especially after so much has been given to them.
"Have a great life, and enjoy yourselves," he said.
Chappell, who recalled sitting on the same hill next to Wheeler Library 43 years ago in his cap and gown, offered similar advice to Mullane's. He encouraged the graduates to draw on history as they go out into a world plagued with economic woes and a high unemployment rate, particularly among young people.
"Imagine June of 1930," he told them, and what that senior class faced.
"Our present challenges basically are not new," he said. The predecessors of the Class of 2013 met their challenges, he said, by keeping at heart the big questions of life - where they fit in the wider world, what standards to make their moral choices by, and how to make their mark.
"Today we have drifted from believing there are answers to this most fundamental questions," he said, leaving this country "swallowed in a sea of uncertainty" and "floundering."
"That does not have to be your plight," he promised them, concluding with, "If your great-grandparents could do it, so can you."
Victoria Murphy Adams, Rachael Elizabeth Aldrich, Justin Alan Audoin, Taylor Marie Beattie, Austin Robert D. Bomster, Ryan C. Brunski, Alfredo James Carlson, Jeremy Scott Caswell, Summer Lyn Cipriani, Kyle A. Colechia, Kayla Marie Collins, Salina Elizabeth Connelly, Kirsten Leigh Crandall, Sarah L. Dalton, Kelsey Mackenzie Demara, Ashley Lynn DiScuillo, Mark David Durham, Kevin Nicol Fermini, Patrick Thomas Fitzgerald, Jessica Jayne Gray, Michaela H. Haines, Robyn F. Harwood, Korinne Eleni Hensley, Andrew William Janz, Kristin Anne Johnston, Brittni Victoria Manfredi, Taylor Lynn Mathwich, Steven A. McCloud Alfonso, John Joseph Mulhern, Valerie Ann Murach, Alison Elizabeth Neddeau, James Robert Owens, Asa C. Palmer, Harsh Yogesh Patel, Krishna Jitendrakumar Patel, Julianne Poirier, Julia Anne Redmond, Marley Nesta Robert, Chanda Sellon, Richard C. Serra, II, Shoshannah K. Smith, Ashley Nicole Souza, Mary Beth Steinbrecher, Nathan Christopher Storey, Coretta Marie Swift, Jacob Alan Sylvestre, Julie Anna Wanstall.