'Time to shine' for Grasso Tech graduates

New London — Both student speakers at the Ella T. Grasso Technical High School's graduation Wednesday night began their speeches with quips about how they almost didn't show up to their own commencement ceremony.

Salutatorian Tanairi Acevedo-Ramos joked that if it wasn't for her dad imbuing her with the courage to speak in front of her classmates, she would have skipped. Lawrence Ravel, this year's valedictorian and senior class president, said he had been so busy all week helping with graduation preparation that he was almost too tired to go.

Ninety-one students made up the Groton school's Class of 2018, graduating this year at Leamy Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Chris Jones, senior class advisor and head of the tourism, hospitality and guest services management department, said this was the first time in school history that graduation wasn't held at the school itself. Due to continuing construction of the new school, next year's graduation also will be held off-site.

After performances by the Noank-Mystic Community Band and the New London Firefighters Pipes and Drums, Principal Patricia Feeney addressed the nearly full auditorium. She noted how this year's graduates were part of an elite group of Connecticut students who leave high school with not only the academic experience to pursue higher education but also the trade skills to pursue meaningful employment.

She recognized several groups of students for their academic and trade excellence over their four years, including the senior class officers, students who passed certification exams in their fields, students planning to open their own businesses after high school and students planning on going into the military.

"Life is always competitive, no matter what you do," she said, challenging the class to go forward in life with strength of purpose and conviction to change the world for the better. "I want you to leave here tonight believing in yourselves and knowing that you can achieve your loftiest dreams."

Ravel took classmates on a trip down Memory Lane, bringing them back to freshman year when, in addition to missing the bus on the first day of school, he learned what a tight-knit community the Class of 2018 was and would become. He specifically cited its first pep rally, when it was the loudest and most enthusiastic of the four grades.

"Personally, I'm grateful I'm in a generation of people that truly protects each other," he said. "I'm proud to say that I will walk out of this building with my best friend and my closest friends by my side."

Acevedo-Ramos drew inspiration from her childhood in Puerto Rico for her speech to her classmates. She said her timid and quiet nature was the result of an epilepsy diagnosis at age 5, which led to learning difficulties, bullying by classmates and being told she would never be able to read.

She learned to read at age 7, flew through her academics and hasn't had a seizure since she was 9, but she kept her guard up because of the mistreatment.

"My advice to the Class of 2018 is to never allow anybody to tell you what your dreams are going to be," she said, choking up a little as the crowd rose for a standing ovation. "You are the light of the world, and let your light shine on others."

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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