A few thousand watch as 497 graduate Norwich Free Academy

Graduate Morgan Langley executes a dramatic hair flip as she takes the stage to accept her diploma during commencement exercises for the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Graduate Morgan Langley executes a dramatic hair flip as she takes the stage to accept her diploma during commencement exercises for the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Norwich — The 497 graduates on the athletic field at Norwich Free Academy were taken on a 50-year journey to the past, and were asked to imagine themselves 50 years from now, when today’s star athletes, Serena Williams and Aaron Judge, are slowed by arthritic knees.

“Forget driverless cars,” Wally Lamb, Class of 1968 speaker and best-selling author told the Class of 2018, “by 2068, passengers could be flying the friendly skies in pilotless planes.”

Lamb, who taught English at NFA for 25 years, said a couple of incidents in science classes might have sealed his career path as a fiction writer. In 10th grade, Lamb was in charge of feeding the jars of fruit flies being used for a genetics experiment. One day, he forgot to tighten the lid after dropping in the rotting banana. The next day, all four floors of the Tirrell building, including the basement cafeteria, were swarming with fruit flies.

In senior year, Lamb’s honors physiology class was trusted with the dissection of dead cats preserved in formaldehyde. Lamb and a few classmates decided to stage a wedding between two of the carcasses. Back to the door, Lamb was presiding over the ceremony when the teacher — the husband of his 10th-grade science teacher — appeared unannounced behind him.

Lamb turned serious at times, listing a few of the world-altering tragedies he and his classmates witnessed — the Vietnam War and assassinations — and continued the chronology to the present, when today’s students have witnessed the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

A scattering of applause followed when he asked: “Why is the door now being locked” at Lady Liberty instead of welcoming newcomers with her light?

“I entreat you to roll up your sleeves and help fix this imperfect world,” Lamb said. “You owe that to yourselves and to those future descendants whose DNA you hold inside you.”

Class speaker Guercie Guerrier said her family taught her the value of education. Her father immigrated to the United States in 1999 from Haiti. His wife soon joined him, and Guercie was born here. Her older sister remained in Haiti for another eight years. Guercie’s parents were educated and skilled, her father a pastor and her mother an accountant, but their credentials weren't recognized in their new country. So they worked hard, menial jobs for years as they learned English, Guerrier said.

“Because of my parents’ selfless actions, today I have an education with credentials that are recognized,” she said.

Joleigh Yim, class Ivy Orator, said she saw herself and fellow graduates as architects, as they built their academic careers over the past four years.

“Now, we are the architects of our lives as Norwich Free Academy alumni,” Yim said. “This is the grand finale of our journey along this red and white brick road.”

She said each graduate is a “construction in progress” and now are the architects of their era.

“Where will you go from here?” she asked fellow graduates. “What road will you construct? Will yours be a gravel footpath, a two-lane street or a multi-lane freeway?”

Bright sun with intermittent clouds and a pleasant breeze helped to attract an overflow crowd to the graduation ceremony.

Plenty of people toted the traditional balloon and flower bouquets, signs and air horns. But 1½-year-old Mari Jarmon sported a T-shirt announcing that he was the “Super proud little brother” of graduate Jaylen Jarmon. Their mother, Tanikka Davis, had her own custom shirt, featuring Jaylen in the center wearing his No. 59 football jersey.

“This is the last one, Hallelujah!” Merle Matthews, said as her youngest son, Maloyid Perkins marched onto the field. Perkins plans to attend the University of Connecticut Avery Point to study electrical engineering.

One night earlier, the NFA Foundation, a private entity that supports the academy, awarded $377,826 in scholarships, awards and prizes to 308 graduates.

“They’re an amazingly talented group,” NFA Head of School David Klein said.

c.bessette@theday.com

Author Wally Lamb waves to the graduates after offering his remarks to the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 during commencement exercises on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Author Wally Lamb waves to the graduates after offering his remarks to the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 during commencement exercises on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Graduate Ziehr Davis steps onto the stage to accept her diploma during commencement exercises for the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Graduate Ziehr Davis steps onto the stage to accept her diploma during commencement exercises for the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Katie Robbins, back, embraces Amanda Robbins as they wait for their names to be called to accept their diplomas during commencement exercises for the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Katie Robbins, back, embraces Amanda Robbins as they wait for their names to be called to accept their diplomas during commencement exercises for the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Class speaker Guercie Guerrier embraces teacher Megan Frayne as members of the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 prepare for commencement exercises on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Class speaker Guercie Guerrier embraces teacher Megan Frayne as members of the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 prepare for commencement exercises on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Graduate Sapphire Kelly captures the moment as her classmates sing the alma mater at the conclusion of commencement exercises for the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Graduate Sapphire Kelly captures the moment as her classmates sing the alma mater at the conclusion of commencement exercises for the Norwich Free Academy Class of 2018 on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Norwich. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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