Diversity a strength for graduating New London seniors

New London — A city native and New London High School graduate, Felix Reyes told graduating seniors that he credits his upbringing in the city and its rich diversity with giving him an edge as he climbed to positions of responsibility in the corporate world.

“It was kickball at State Pier, marbles on Federal, delivering newspapers on Colman Street, cookouts on Laurel Drive and playing basketball at the Martin Center,” Reyes said.

“In the home that I grew up in and where my parents still reside today ... across the street was an Asian family, to our left an African-American family, at 2 o’clock a Jewish family and, to the right," a Caucasian family, he said. “The diversity is very special in this city. I tell you there is an advantage there."

Reyes, recently hired as the city’s director of the Office of Development and Planning, addressed the more than 220 graduating seniors at Tuesday’s commencement for the New London High School and Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut. Both schools are located on the same campus.

The diversity Reyes spoke of was evident in the faces of the seniors and the families who cheered them on Tuesday.

The class included 46 students who earned a Seal of Biliteracy, an acknowledgment of proficiency in English and at least one other language.

Ana Ruiz, 18, who is fluent in English and Spanish, was among that group and proudly wore a “para mi familia” message on her cap as she walked with classmates onto Cannamela Field as the band played "Pomp and Circumstance."

“They’re so happy for me,” Ruiz said of her family. “I’m happy we all made it.”

Nicole Stacy, an 18-year-old transplant from the Philippines, was similarly excited. She is fluent in English, Tagalog and Ilocano.

“Finally, after four years I’m going to graduate,” she said.

Tuesday’s ceremony was highlighted by class speaker and valedictorian Chris Jensei Alemania, who managed to earn a grade point average of 4.801, said STEM Magnet High School Director Laurelle Texidor.

Alemania told fellow seniors that to use their brains and hearts.

“We need passion, discipline, consistency and intelligence. 'You are what you repeatedly do,' Artistotle once said. To be successful, you must make a habit out of excellence,” Alemenia said.

He said education was the key to being prepared for opportunities but that “school doesn’t equal education.”

“It doesn’t matter if you go to Yale. It doesn’t matter if you go to Harvard or go to some community college or are not going to college at all,” he said. “As Mark Twain once put it, ‘I never let school interfere with my education.’ We control our own education."

g.smith@theday.com

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