New London senior asks fellow grads to put phone down, enjoy the moment

New London — Valedictorian Kathryn Ashbey said her high school experience was a balancing act of activities and stressful nights of school work that had at times led to dinners comprising “a bowl of Cheerios and two calculus problems.”

As a result, her advice to the more than 190 New London high school graduates gathered in a sea of green robes at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Cadet Memorial Field on Tuesday was to enjoy the moment and “do not forget to live.”

It was an especially potent reminder for students who grew up in a generation dominated by social media apps.

Ashbey asked the outgoing students to not let the glow of smartphones blur their memories as time passes.

“As you partake in your many adventures, remember to be in the moment. A few people I know that have traveled the most ... have the least amount of pictures to show,” Ashbey said. “My point is you know where you have been. You know what you have done. Instead of filling the memory space on your phone, fill your head with memories.”

The phone references led to cheers from the hundreds of spectators, some carrying balloons or flowers, in the bleachers facing the Thames River.

Ashbey was one of an unprecedented 13 seniors in New London High School’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program and headed for a career in the military.

She will be attending the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Also among that group is Bayron Mora, who was not in attendance at the graduation ceremony Tuesday because he had already started his career with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Guest speaker Juan Roman, the high school football coach and a 1984 graduate, reminisced about his time in the city and asked that the community continue to work for the betterment of city youths.

“Oftentimes you go to these functions and you hear it takes a village to raise a child. Well, guess what, village — we’ve got to help these kids get jobs in four years. We’ve got to help these kids out for the rest of their lives. We’re not done,” Roman said.

The graduation list for Tuesday’s ceremony contained 197 graduates, a mix of students who attended New London High School and the Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut.

New London High School Principal William “Tommy” Thompson III early in Tuesday’s ceremony read essays from students who honored game changers — people who have influenced their lives.

Graduate Kenya Capers is considering study in the field of the science of music education because of the inspiration of band teacher Christina Nadeau.

Capers said Nadeau pushed “me to grow as a person and as a musician.”

“Ms. Nadeau has helped me become the instrumentalist I am today… an awesome person and teacher, she made understanding music fun and easy,” Capers wrote.

Mayor Michael Passero said he and the graduates were on parallel journeys.

“Your hopes and dreams are fresh,” he said. “I stand with you today in a situation similar to yours, beginning a new journey with a new job leading our city. I, too, have fresh dreams and hopes for the future. I’m confident of success but I can’t really be sure.”

g.smith@theday.com

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