Marine Science Magnet High grads urged to follow their dreams

Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton Principal Nicholas Spera, center, delivers a private pep talk Tuesday, June 19, 2018, to his Class of 2018 students, moments before the processional portion of commencement, held at Leamy Hall of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton Principal Nicholas Spera, center, delivers a private pep talk Tuesday, June 19, 2018, to his Class of 2018 students, moments before the processional portion of commencement, held at Leamy Hall of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)

New London — The theme for the seniors from the Marine Science Magnet High School as they prepared to say their final goodbyes was clear: follow your dreams and this school will always be your family.

Sitting in the Coast Guard Academy's Leamy Hall, 56 students in the Class of 2018 became just the fifth graduating class in the history of the school after hearing speeches reflecting on their time together and urging them to pursue their dreams.

"Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world, because we are all dreamers," class valedictorian Maria Grillo said, quoting Harriet Tubman. "That's why we are here today, to change our world."

Grillo also urged her fellow classmates to pursue what they are passionate about and try new things until they find something that truly resonates with them.

Other speakers focused on the sense of community that was fostered at the school in Groton.

"No other high school I know refers to itself as a family, and the term is truly appropriate for the bond that we share," said Johann Heupel, the class salutatorian. "For four years, we have been given an incredible opportunity to gain a rigorous education ... but also to be a part of a family."

Danielle McIlquham, president of both the senior class and student council, emphasized a similar point.

"We are a school made up of kids from all over southeastern Connecticut, yet we have a bond like no other," she said.

She also reflected on several fond memories the classmates have shared, from Field Day victories and group meals to decorating faculty with toilet paper and persuading teachers to participate in a pie-eating contest all in the name of school spirit.

Graduates also received words of wisdom from their favorite guidance counselor, Christopher Contos, who offered his best advice when students ask him about the key to happiness. He highlighted the behaviors of happy people and urged students to be grateful for everything, to forgive completely, to cultivate relationships and to be unafraid to ask for help.

And as the evening wound toward its close, graduates also received one final "spep" talk from Principal Nicholas Spera.

"As obstacles come in your path, don't forget you all have that characteristic of grit to move those obstacles and continue onward," Spera said. "You're a special group, you're comprised of incredible people who have so much to offer our world."

c.clark@theday.com

Danielle McIlquham, left, Class of 2018 president, reacts Tuesday, June 19, 2018, as she listens to opening remarks by Principal Nicholas Spera during commencement for the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, held at Leamy Hall of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. Valedictorian Maria Grillo, right, looks on. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Danielle McIlquham, left, Class of 2018 president, reacts Tuesday, June 19, 2018, as she listens to opening remarks by Principal Nicholas Spera during commencement for the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, held at Leamy Hall of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. Valedictorian Maria Grillo, right, looks on. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Liam Stevenson, a member of Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton Class of 2018 walks under a wall of shields Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at Leamy Hall of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, prior to the beginning of graduation. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Liam Stevenson, a member of Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton Class of 2018 walks under a wall of shields Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at Leamy Hall of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, prior to the beginning of graduation. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Dayana Giraldo, right, 19, photographs her twin sister, Daniela, both members of the Class of 2018 at the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, prior to lining up for the graduation ceremony processional Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at Leamy Hall of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Dayana Giraldo, right, 19, photographs her twin sister, Daniela, both members of the Class of 2018 at the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, prior to lining up for the graduation ceremony processional Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at Leamy Hall of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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