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Most high school kids, awash in self-interest, see the world three ways: through me, myself and I. Maybe that's what true "graduation" is about. Is there anyone, on their voyages of self-discovery, who can teach them to see the world through different prisms?
They graduate tonight at Waterford High School. An extraordinary class. A class that has endured death and illness and yet has prevailed with intrepid spirit. School spirit. Human spirit. A class that repaid two of their favorite teachers with a surprise act of selflessness, indicating that Greg and Megan Gwudz taught them well.
This was almost a month ago now when Greg Gwudz, the boys' basketball coach, and Megan, a three-sport assistant coach before motherhood, thought a teacher vs. student basketball game was a fundraiser for the senior class.
Turned out the senior class made it a fundraiser for Greg, Megan and their infant son, Wade, who was born last August with a rare genetic disorder. The kids kept it a secret until the game was over.
"Donny (Craig, a senior all-state guard) came up with the idea," class president C.J. Hersom said. "We wanted to give a thank you back to Gwudz for everything he's done over the years and how he's been a father figure for a lot of kids. I played freshmen baseball for him and understood the exact feeling. Being class president, I could help make it happen so we could surprise him."
They even sought corporate sponsorship to raise more money, beyond ticket sales. Craig got the team together. Adam Goss and Connor Lewis officiated. Thomas Sutera and Griffin Beaney narrated.
"Gwudz connects to every kid," Hersom said. "The athletes, of course. Or my brother, who talks about mowing the lawn and plowing. Gwudz can get along him with just the same. It makes you want to play for him. Megan is great. She really relates, too. And they put others before themselves. They are always there. They were right in the middle of all the stuff for (late history teacher Josh) Mr. Eudy."
Megan Gwudz had a normal pregnancy. They never fathomed Wade would be one of roughly 70 children in the country with MECP2 Duplication Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder. There is not much information. Wade's future is unknown.
"When he came out, they weren't telling us everything," Megan said. "He had low (muscle) tone and he wasn't eating, so he got transferred to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at Hartford (Hospital). They kept running tests. Eventually, they figured it out."
Megan and Greg spent 13 days at the hospital.
"Usually one of the parents is a carrier. But we're not," Megan said. "We don't know why this happened and probably never will."
Greg: "It's hard for us and hard for our parents. We want to know why. You do some soul searching. He was here 36 hours and you're already pleading that whatever he has just give to you.
"We go to Boston every three months. They are adamant that the information out there is based on a very small sample size. It's kid by kid, case by case. Just kind of taking it day by day. He's doing well for what he has and what point he's at right now."
He sure is. During this interview, he inhaled some yogurt and a piece of cheese, playing in a walker and smiling.
Meanwhile, there are the other kids who belong to Greg and Megan. This senior class. They watched Eudy die in December. But not before a school-wide tribute. All while knowing what befell the Gwudz family. And yet they packed the basketball games, home and road, Lancer Nation, the envy of all other student sections.
They cheered en masse all the way to the state semifinals.
"He makes us feel like we're part of the team," Hersom said. "He's trying to build the culture of the school and he knows everyone has to be connected in some way. He makes us want to show up."
Waterford High School is a different place. Maybe the kids have just seen more and endured more. Maybe their parents, many of whom run the benevolent Cactus Jack Foundation, taught them well. But the esprit de corps is unmatched anywhere else.
"It almost makes you cry. Those kids, I've gotten really close to them over the last four years," Greg said. "Incredible. It restores your faith. We have good days and bad days. You realize the importance of celebrating the day, being happy and taking the small things. That was the message all season to the kids. You never know what's going to happen, so you win the day."
Hersom: "If any two people can handle something like this, it's them. They'll provide the best life they can for him. We love them."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.