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Groton - A group of 23 seniors became the first graduates of the 3-year-old Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton on Tuesday.
The graduates - from different walks of life but fearless in their decision to leave their traditional high school for the newly formed magnet school - collected their high school diplomas at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus, overlooking Long Island Sound.
"I would have never had the experience I had here at a regular public school, being able to do the things I do here," said Joe Boland of Griswold. "I would have never decided to do aquaculture. I would have never probably gone to the school I am going to now."
Boland will be studying aquaculture, or how to farm fish and other aquatic species, at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, he said.
The school emphasizes marine science education in addition to meeting the state's education requirements.
The magnet school "called to me," Boland said. Boland initially attended Griswold High School but wanted to go to the magnet school so badly that he was willing to repeat sophomore year. At the time of the school's opening, Sept. 1, 2011, the school was only accepting students in their freshman or sophomore year, he said.
"So I did five years, so I am happy to be, you know, out now, but it was an incredible experience," he said. "I wouldn't change anything."
U.S. Coast Guard Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, the commencement speaker, emphasized the importance of respect. People must first learn how to respect themselves, she said.
"Be true to yourselves," Stosz said. "You will feel a lot of pressure to be a round peg in a square. If it doesn't feel right, listen to yourself."
Next comes respecting others - Stosz encouraged the graduates to get out of their comfort zone and engage with and respect others. Third comes respecting the oceans and environment, she said.
In his speech, Principal Nicholas J. Spera emphasized all of the firsts that the graduates who had spent three years at the high school had experienced.
The funniest first for most of the students was probably when he visited an aquaculture class that was learning about the reproduction of oysters - or as the students called it, "oyster sex education," he said. The students asked him many probing and embarrassing questions, Spera said.
Other firsts included organizing the graduation ceremony, creating a class shield with the graduating class motto - "Charting the course" - and tailgating in the snow with hot chocolate, Spera said.
The valedictorian, Cecelia K. Hosley, who graduated with a 4.38 grade point average and is headed to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in two weeks, also spoke about the uniqueness of the 23 students at the Groton magnet school.
"Humans have 23 chromosomes from each parent, each set of 23 is what makes each and every one of you unique," she said. "Geosynchronous orbit occurs at 23,000 miles above Earth's surface, this allows us to use the global positioning technology that may have led you to UConn Avery Point today."
Therefore, 23, the number of graduates, must be a lucky number, she said.
Chester: Cecelia Kellogg Hosley
Deep River: Chad Caelan Millen
Essex: Michael W. Frazier
Griswold: Joseph P. Boland
Groton: Rachael Jordan Dellarco, Alec David DeSimone, Joshua M. Hatcher-Sneed, Crystal M. Hodges, Chase David Lettrich, Tristan Allen Re Maloy, Ethan Charles McDowell, Abigail Grace Plungis and Annalise Roy
Hebron: Meghan Murphy Wynne
Lebanon: Marley Elizabeth Crooks and Lindsay Kate Warner
Ledyard: Faith L. Bacon, Lily Lyn Bean, Mackenzie Leigh Cote, Hayley E. Fogg, Samuel Lee Sabilia and Nathan J. White
Stonington: Martin Vincent Huysman