Published June 20. 2014 4:00AM Updated June 20. 2014 11:48PM
Stonington - An incident last Friday not only changed Haley Barravecchia's graduation speech but also her outlook on life.
Barravecchia, the Stonington High School senior class president, was trapped in her car after a crash on Route 78 and said she saw her life pass before her eyes before she blacked out.
"I thought it was over. I wouldn't be at graduation today," she told her fellow 171 graduates who gathered on the football field for Thursday night's commencement ceremony.
When she regained consciousness in the hospital, she said she heard doctors and nurses whispering about whether she was "the Route 78 girl" and how they thought she didn't make it.
"We all have to value what we have because it could be gone in an instant," she said while standing before her classmates. "Life is precious."
"Whatever you want to do, go and do it. Don't let anything stop you," she told her classmates.
Barravecchia, who will attend Belmont University, said she may have to give up some things because of her injuries. "But I won't let that stop me. We all have things in our way. Don't let that stop you."
Salutatorian John Dong said he still does not know what he wants to be in life, but there are a lot of things he would like to try for a day, such as being an Aeropostale model, a rapper or the leader of North Korea.
He said teachers have always told students they can be whatever they want, but he said that's not true.
"I can try as long as I want, and I won't get pregnant," he joked.
"We are limited in what we can do, but our possibilities outweigh the limitations," said Dong, who will attend New York University.
Class speaker Abby Gibney, who is retiring as a physical education teacher and coach after 42 years, had asked seniors what life lessons they had learned at the high school and what they wanted to hear in her speech. She used those as the focus of her remarks.
The one students mentioned over and over was that hard work pays off, she said.
"I'm glad to see that," she said.
She left graduates with the email or text she sends her two grown children in Colorado every day: "Have fun, stay safe and I love you."
Valedictorian Matthew Fields, who will attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, poked fun at all the cliches used in graduation speeches but ended using some of them by the end of his remarks.
On a more serious note, he told the students that while Stonington High School is a great school, their experiences at the school will not earn them any special treatment anywhere else.
"You have to be determined enough to add experiences to your resume," he said. "Go out and do what you want to do and make the experiences at Stonington High School mean something. What you and I have to do is be special on our own."
STONINGTON HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 2014:
Leonardo Aguirre III, Chelsea Alfonso, Andrew James Armstrong, Jillian Elizabeth Avery, Haley Marie Barravecchia, Zachary James Bazydlo, Erica Veronica Beebe, Alexis Savanna Best, Alyssa Cheyenne Best, Tessianna Melo Bettencourt, Michaela Lee Elise Blair, Daniel Mellor Bockowski, Julia Kristine Boisoneau, Emily Kate Brainard, Rebecca Victoria Antoinette Brand, Katherine Anne Brandon, Megan Nicole Briggs, Rachael Marie Brown, Benjamin Eric John Bundesmann, Emanuel Harry Calmar, Santos Antonio Caraballo, Emily Grayce Cassata, Kyle Michael Cavanaugh, Margaux Manon Chamoux, Quinten William Chandonnait, Madison Olivia Chaney, Isaac Andrew Chase, Daniel Eaton Chevalier, Forrestt Ryan Clucas, Falicia Dawn Colprit, Evan George Conlon, Andrew John Cordeiro, Celeste Colleen Courtney, Emily Anne Craig, Caitlin Mackenzie Creedon-Booth, Victoria Jade Cullen, Cole Andrew Curtis, Heaven Leigh Datino, Daniel Arthur DeDominicis, Adrian Lucius DePietro, Charles Joseph Dipollino III, John Francis Dipollino, Helené Olivia Donahue, Jefferson Ladd Donath, John Dong, Devin Harrison Douton, Ryan Angelo Duguay.
Collin Matthew Esquirol, Gabrielle Elenor Fabian, Ashley Stegdra Facey, Edward Martin Farrell III, Kassia Quinn Faulise, Conor James Ferguson, Matthew Evan Fields, Wyatt Romano Floyd, Danielle Kristen Foley, Ryan James Francis, Morgan Tyler Gagne, Nicholas Robert Galli, Laura Catherine Gallicchio, Michelle Elizabeth Garvey, Giorgio Graham Genovesi IV, Dale Clifford George, Holly Anne Gienau, Connor George Gilbert, Kyle Christopher Gillick, Makaella Briones Glaza, Samuel David Godfrey, Emily Green, Emily Angeline Grey, Peter James Grills, Thomas William Gross, Paige Elizabeth Hackney, Taylor Maureen Hackney, Elizabeth Ann Hall, Jamie Elizabeth Hayes, Jane Anna Hefel, Mia Alyssa Henningsen, Jamie Danielle Hines, Lauren Taylor Hultgren, Graham Edward Hutter, Heather Rose Jackson, Rachyl Elisabeth Jackson, Kara Lyn Jones, Henry James Kaczman, Theresa Susan Kane, Sierra Christine Keeley, Kelsey Hannah Kelleher, Anne Elizabeth Knizeski.
Tia Sheniya LaFrance Boyce, Aiyanna Sepeyeonk Lamphere, Sarah Elizabeth Loson, Joseph Lawrence Luketich, Ariana Marie Magowan, Gwyneth Ann Mahoney, Alissa Maché Malhoit, Christian Alexandra Marshall-Jones, Erik Joseph Martell, Amethyst Lynne Maynard, Shenice Ann McCarthy, Andrew Alan McCauley, Marlena Rae McCue, Rachel Sybille McGinn, Charlotte Eve McSweeney, Savy Maurice Meach Jr., Makenzy Louise Merritt, Morgan Rose Miller, Jakob William Miner, Lydia Mae Miner, Edward Joseph Mitchell III, Elizabeth Rosemary Morrison, Drew Mackie Morse, Zack Albert Mueller, Valerie Ann Müller, Laina Muroni, Austin Lee Myers, Caitlin Esther Near, Joel Hawley Nelson Jr., Brianna Michele Nolan, Claire Marie Nordness, Akásha Teccawitha Northup.
Meg Alyce O'Lari, Alexander James Orf, Nirali B. Patel, Pooja M. Patel, Jaylen Alberto Payne, Selena Marie Perry, Joseph Tyler Peterson, Cassy Rae Plowchalk, Zachary Philip Poirier, Lyndsay Mary Faith Pratt, Austyn Bradley Provost, Emily Elizabeth Prue, Paige Connie Pyles, Megan Alexandra Roberts, Breana Nicole Robinson, William McCullough Robinson, Nicholas James Rosa, Karlie Elizabeth Rose, Austin David Rosenberg, Ryan Storrs Russ, Nicholas Dean Ryan, Miranda Jean Schlachter-Hall, Ethan Robert Schroeder, Douglas David Schweid, James William Shabarekh Jr., Caitlyn Elizabeth Shaw, Kyle Michael Shea, Samantha Mary Aleda Shroyer, Quinn Elyse Slocum, Drew Jordan Solomon, Riley Patrick Sorrento, Garrett William Spicer, Kyle Robert Srednicki, Thomas William St. Rock, Max Avery Steinmetz, Francis Holt Sternberg, Bridget Margaret Stover, David Byron Swenarton, Jared Michael Thibault, Amanda Frances Thomas, Tiffany Tieu, Bradley Seth Turner IV, Virginia Caroline Louise Verde, Rochelle Wang, Avery Corbin Wells, Chelsea Nicole Wheeler, Caleb Michael Whewell, Divante Derrick White, Megan Elizabeth Wilkins, Elizabeth Anne Windle, Steven Floyd Zelepos.