Norwich Tech grads celebrate their futures putting practical skills to work

Norwich — Glitter, bows, flowers. Rap lyrics, a record and college plans. And one three-dimensional poop emoji. The seniors graduating from Norwich Technical High School put some creative thought and plenty of elbow grease into the decoration of their graduation caps, perhaps a reflection of the skills they were taught as part of their technical degrees.

The Class of 2018, just over 150 students who will parlay their certifications into hands-on jobs, college degrees or careers in the military, made a colorful bunch Thursday evening, packed into the technical school’s gymnasium along with their friends, family members and teachers.

On a night when three other local high schools also were celebrating their graduating seniors, Norwich Tech Principal Nikitoula Menounos told members of the school’s Class of 2018 that they are uniquely positioned, as graduates of the school’s programs in fields including engineering, carpentry, hairdressing and culinary arts, to make their way in the world.

"You set personal goals to graduate with a skilled trade ... (which) opens doors for employability as well as higher ed," she said in a speech.

In valedictorian Steve Allaby’s words to his classmates, "you’re not just a nerd, you’re a nerd that can use a power tool."

Allaby, who graduated from the pre-electrical engineering program, said getting handy with power tools wasn’t the only thing he took away from Norwich Tech.

"When you spend four years working alongside students with similar interests, you realize how easy it is to make friends with them," he said.

One of the chairs at Thursday’s graduation was empty, filled instead with a volleyball and a chef's hat. Christine White, a senior and member of the school's culinary program, died last month at age 17 in a car crash in Plainfield.

A small circle of White's friends gathered after the ceremony, tears in their eyes.

"We got really close as a group" after her death, Erin McBride said.

The group had decided to take a saying of White's to heart: "live your best life all the time."

For Mary Grossi, that meant one thing: "keep your friends close."

White's family accepted her degree on her behalf, stopping on the stage to take in a standing ovation from the crowd.

Kyle Tempesta, a graduate from the biotechnology program, also got an especially loud round of applause. Tempesta, who uses a wheelchair, sought help with a public appeal to ask school officials to honor a request he made in January that he be able to receive his diploma on stage. School officials initially told him that a ramp could not be installed in time for Thursday's ceremony.

A contractor working pro bono installed accessible ramps on both sides of the small stage in the gymnasium that everyone, including Tempesta, used to get on and off the stage.

For anyone uncertain about where their post-high school lives will go, salutatorian Ryan Stollman had some comforting words.

"There is no one road to follow," he said. "For many of us, what we choose now will not be our ultimate destination." And, he added, "it's likley many of our paths will cross later in life."

m.shanahan@theday.com

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