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Wheeler senior helps her community through video

North Stonington — Later this month, Gracie Anderson will be graduating from the brand new high school that her videography talents helped get off the ground.

The school renovation project, which took more than 13 years of discussions and two referenda before the new middle/high school building opened in March, has been going on almost as long as Anderson has been alive. That process, and the general feeling of Wheeler pride, is an important part of her — from a petition she presented to the Board of Education in fourth grade to her college entrance essay on the project.

As a freshman, she worked with now First Selectman Mike Urgo, who at the time was a volunteer on the school building committee, to create a video promoting Wheeler to drum up interest around the first referendum in 2016, which only passed by three votes. The second referendum, held in February 2018 after residents opposing the project petitioned for a revote, passed by a vote of 1,352 to 611.

"The fact that so many of (the staff) have stayed and are still persevering and pushing students to do their best throughout this time when they're not even sure they're going to have a job teaching, that's the ultimate role model available for students at Wheeler," Anderson said. "I wouldn't want it any other way."

Anderson's videography career started with classes in eighth grade, inspired by her aunt's vocation as a film professor. She has since attended classes through the school and in New York.

Her partnership with the town and Urgo renewed in 2017, when as newly elected first selectman he pitched the idea of a weekly video update to keep residents in the know on things going on in town. The five-minute videos go live every Friday and have included interviews with town officials and features on major projects, like the emergency services building completed last year or the town strategic plan.

"I really can't say enough about her. I was very impressed with her even as a middle school student," he said, highlighting her commitment and passion. "There's just some people that you know if you give them a job, it's going to get done and it's going to get done well. She's one of those people."

Anderson's work also includes area nonprofits, including Horses Healing Humans in Stonington and Help the Homeless RI in Pawtucket, R.I., the latter of which was the subject of her senior project. She made a quilt that she auctioned off to support the organization, and she interviewed clients to share their stories.

Outside of the editor's chair, Anderson is a three-season athlete, representing Wheeler in soccer, cheer and lacrosse. She has also held multiple roles in student government and class advisory over her high school career, including president.

Class of 2019 adviser Shannon Curioso, a social studies teacher at Wheeler, said she has worked with Anderson both as a club member and a student; in addition to her adviser role, she had Anderson as a student freshman and senior years.

She said Anderson has grown a lot over the four years, from a shy and reserved student to an accomplished leader. One of her ideas as a sophomore, a spring spirit week to boost morale, has become a school tradition. She said Anderson also worked hard this year to come up with activities for the seniors to ease the transition into the new school, such as bringing picnic tables to the school for outdoor lunch and decorating graduation caps in place of the senior bricks at the old high school.

"I think she's going to go places and be very successful," Curioso said. "I think she has a lot of grit and a lot of great ideas."

Anderson will be attending Fordham University in the fall without a declared major, but she said she wants to go into international relations or international law. Both of her parents are lawyers, and she loves being able to travel and experience different cultures. She said she plans to apply to a United Nations affiliation program at the school.

Through summer film classes, "I realized that I don't want to be a director ... but I really like bringing that field into my other interests," she said. "It's a great method of communication."

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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