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Waterford grads celebrate new paths, open minds

Waterford — Jack Terence wanted to be a pilot. Casey Kozlowski wanted to be a veterinarian. Bruce Taggart hoped to be an aeronautical engineer. Eric Pinch eyed an NBA career. Meah Zerio planned to be a pastry chef. And Sophie Wang — high school valedictorian — expected to teach one day, according to the Oswegatchie Elementary School yearbook she flashed to the crowd Thursday at the Waterford High School graduation ceremony.

"When we were in the fifth grade, our ambition was uncontained," Wang said. "There was no such thing as an actuary or a college counselor, all seemingly obscure jobs that are not glamorized in film or the media."

Wang said she and her fellow students might have "a rough idea" of where they're headed after their years in Lancer Nation, but she was "sure those aspirations will continue to evolve, and that's OK. Change is inevitable. Change is OK. Change your career, your favorite color, your favorite subject. Uncertainty can be good sometimes because it means you are open to the endless possibilities around you."

Embracing change with an open mind while staying true to oneself was a consistent message to the 59th graduating class of more than 190 students — who, for the first time in the school's history, convinced officials to let them decorate their caps with a mix of designs and funny or inspirational quotes.

"I didn't like the idea when I first heard it," Principal Andre Hauser admitted with a laugh.

But Hauser encouraged the class — which he knew would be "an awful lot of work" four years ago — to keep pushing to achieve their goals, and to keep helping those in need. He cited the class's tireless efforts to improve the environment and spur community involvement.

"If you're willing to speak your mind and change your mind, you can change the world," he said.

First Selectman Dan Steward — a 1968 WHS graduate — encouraged students to remember their lessons at the school and said they already were adept at embracing rapidly changing technology at a time when "our economy continues to change."

Board of Education Chairman Gregory Benoit warned students that "life offers no guarantees and issues no participation trophies. Be true to yourself ... do not handicap yourself by doing anything other than your best."

Salutatorian Sophie Joseph told students to confront future challenges with positivity and confidence.

She channeled the awkward yet sometimes profound manager from "The Office," Michael Scott, who said, "Sometimes I'll start a sentence and I don't even know where it's going. I just hope I find it along the way."

Joseph, who also quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower — "plans are useless but planning is indispensable" — said recognizing "that sometimes we have to figure things out as we go is essential. If we embrace every experience, be it good or bad, we will undergo growth and uncover opportunity."

Wang reminded her classmates that amid great change, they should be true to themselves, noting many graduates have maintained the same qualities they assigned themselves in their fifth-grade yearbooks.

"Your values, your beliefs, those are the things you should hold on to no matter where you are or who you are with," she said.


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