Graduates bid sometimes tearful farewell to Wheeler High School 'family'

North Stonington — Town residents crowded around a grassy hill beside Wheeler Library to see the town's 43 graduates receive their diplomas Friday.

Friends and family members spilled out onto the field, some sitting on blankets alongside their dogs, or in the back of vehicles parked on Main Street.

Class speaker Ellie Banker remarked on the breadth of the town on display, noting that "in North Stonington, there is no occasion that gathers so many people at one time to focus on the same event" than graduation.

"It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child; this village has done an excellent job in raising its children — as can be witnessed by this very fine group of young adults sitting on this grassy knoll before you," she said.

She said she felt a "large hole" at leaving the school system and possibly losing touch with the students.

In order to fill that, she yielded some of her time to each member of the graduating class, calling them to the podium to share what "nugget" of wisdom they had picked up and valued in young adulthood.

A few members of the class began tearing up as graduates shared their experience learning resilience or patience and compassion from their extended family.

Resilience was echoed by Superintendent Peter Nero, who spoke about making use of the "butterfly effect" of their experiences at Wheeler High School and, like a butterfly, using the challenge of breaking out of their chrysalis to build the strength to survive in the world.

Board of Education Chairman Robert Carlson identified "passion" as his impression of the overarching theme of the Class of 2016 that he saw at a National Honor Society induction.

Carlson decided to share a few stories about students he coached at T-ball or children of friends that he saw grow up in town, and said they all were able to find their passion and hold onto it throughout their school experience.

"This class is full of passion, and if they can retain that passion through college, through their career when they become parents, citizens, leaders, then they'll always get to where they want to go ... the Wheeler family will always be proud of you and the town of North Stonington will always be proud of you," he said.

The plan to renovate the schools also received applause during a presentation of awards.

Students, as they received their diplomas from Superintendent Nero, also got a rose from Vice Principal Ryan Chaney.

Pointing to the things that the graduates would be looking forward to following graduation — going to new places, meeting new people, trying new things — Class President Justine Gouvin then reminded students of all the people who helped them along the way or simply went through the same things.

"Your family out there now fed you, believed in you, and stood up for you countless times," she said. "Everyone around you has made emotional attachments to you that can never be taken away."

She ended by quoting author Joan Didion, asking the class to keep in touch with their younger friends and younger selves so they are able to give advice to their children when they grow older.

"Do what you can to keep your old selves alive," she said.

n.lynch@theday.com

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