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Groton — Graduating seniors at Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School donned their royal blue caps and gowns Friday evening, cheered themselves hoarse and received their diplomas.
Valedictorian Connor Lee Jackson said the Class of 2013's 140 members are a luminous group, ready to take on challenges such as violence, poverty and global warming.
He reminded his classmates that in their lifetimes, they have seen incredible advances in the treatment of disease, cellphones have become capable of performing like computers and the country elected its first black president.
"We are familiar with change," Jackson said. "So familiar that it shouldn't be overwhelming."
Salutatorian Catherine Gibson Nowakowski extolled the class' many accomplishments. Automotive students restored bikes for children. Cosmetology students treated seniors to spa days. Information systems technology students helped nursing home residents with their email, and hospitality students held a fundraiser for a children's program.
The plumbing, electrical and carpentry shops worked together to build the Grasso E-house, a 16-by-20-foot structure that is a model of green technology.
"We are ready, because we have been preparing ourselves," Nowakowski said. "Every one of us has both a trade and an academic background."
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told the students they are the next "greatest generation."
"I know you have the passion and dedication and work ethic, not just to better yourselves, but to better the country," Blumenthal said.
Many of the graduates are headed to college, though some said they would go directly into the workforce.
"Grasso taught me what I needed to know in the real world," said Robyn Delph of Groton, who completed the autobody program. She is working now but hopes to attend college eventually.
Zanovia Holston of New London, who was in the computer aided drafting and design program, said she is headed to the University of Hartford to study mechanical engineering. She said she got her first "stepping stone" at Grasso.
"I'm happy to start my life in college, but I'm going to miss my friends," she said.
Jesse Harder of Deep River, who completed the plumbing and heating program, said he is "more of a guy who goes right out to work" and that he is going to take the future "day by day."
Taylor Eichelberg of Ledyard, also a plumbing and heating graduate, said he has a job lined up.
"I start Monday," he said.
Heather Adams, John Ahrens, Aristides Alvarez, Kyle Augustine, Joshua Barnett, Nathan Barrett, Conrad Beebe, Kaela Bemis, Tyler Benevides, Rachel Bernier, Paul Beverley, Kaelin Boone, Toussaint Bradford, Niko Bree, Kacie Brennan, Bernard Brodnicki, Michael Bucaram, Kayla Burgess, Grant Buttermore, Genesis Cabrera, Benjamin Carter, Alexa Chalas, Ashley Chamberlin, Luis Collado, Alexander Cooper, Megan Cooper, Alexis Cormier, Matthew Cruz, Robyn Delph, Betsy Diaz, Connor Donley, Haven Driscoll, Rhiannon Dugas, Vernecia Dula, Tianna Edwards, Taylor Eichelberg, Erica Engelgau, Samantha Espada, Lawrence Espinal, Robert Feliciano Sambolin, John Fernandez, Deborah Florez, Joseph Foltz, Francis Galley, Amaranta Garcia, Carolina Garcia, Joel Garcia, Cody Getchell, Chase Gilman, Joshua Gomes, Amber Green, Nicole Greene, Michael Guzallis, Jose Guzman, Andrew Haddon, Gysiah Harder, Henry Hartman, Matthew Haskins, Amber Hickey, Voshon Hobson-Talley, Zanovia Holston, Cassondra Holt, Corey Horelick, Jeshlyanne Irizarry, Tabitha Ivory, Connor Jackson, Zachary Jalbert, Harry Johnson, Charles Koch, Stephen Kral, Mitchel LaFlamme, Sean Lamourine, Kasey Lawlor, Jalen Le, Justis Little, Hariany Lopez, Christopher Los, James Lowney, Ruben Maradiaga, Lissa Martin, Jacob Matzdorff, Brittany McCollum, Raymond McKinney, Tanessa McQuillan, Casey Mercado, Aidan Metayer, Stephonie Metzermacher, Sara Mineau, Meagan Mingione, Josuitte Monserrate, Kendrick Montoya, Naomi Munton, Mary Murphy, Christine Murray, Aryelle Newell, Richard Nieves, Catherine Nowakowski, Mariah Nunn, Allison Opol, James Pagan, Tatyanna Paige, Mitchell Pavao, Joshua Pedraza, Drew Pelland, Victoria Prejean, Josue Quiles, Ismael Ramirez, Robert Reese, Kasey Rich, Shayli Rivera, Steven Robarge, Christian Rosario, Christopher Rosario, Elizabeth Santana, Samuel Santiago, Harvy Serrano, Keylis Shephard, Abigail Soriano, Shanell Steward, Dante Stewart, Mario-Cassiel Tedeschi, Nicole Teixeira, Javiar Telfer, Brittany Tempesta, Zachary Thompson, Cindy Urena, John Valero, America Vanegas, Edward Velez, Matise Venett, James Villano, Cynthia Vitorino, Mayra Vitorino, Gabriel Vivas, Mackenzie Viveiros, Bryan Walenczyk, Tashawn Ward, Kylynn Washington, Gerrit Wildenhain, Brandon Williams, James Williams, Carl Willis, Zachary Willis, Jeffrey Winchester, Andre Young.