A family at a 'fish school,' Marine Science Magnet graduates 62

New London — As a young child, Hannah Roby asked questions like, "How do you make a baby?" and "If I ate a watermelon seed, would it grow in my stomach?" Into middle school, she asked indignant questions like, "Why would swear words be invented if we weren't allowed to use them?" and, when told to clean her room because people were coming over, "Why should I clean my room? Are we having dinner in there?"

In high school, she asked questions about ocean acidification, and if it's possible to genetically engineer coral to adapt to climate change.

The Marine Science Magnet High School senior is off to college to study marine biology, but first she has a message for her peers: "Keep asking those questions. Never stop learning."

With a 4.34 GPA, Roby is the valedictorian of the Class of 2019, which had its commencement ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on Tuesday evening. She was one of 62 graduates, all of whom have been accepted to a college.

Principal Nicholas Spera recognized Mia Cost for choosing to attend the Coast Guard Academy in the fall and Cooper Olson for heading to the Air Force Academy.

While what Spera a few times called a "fish school" is only celebrating its sixth commencement, the Groton school has shown a dedication to maintaining traditions, between the selection of a class motto every year — the one for the Class of 2019 is "no limits" — and the presentation of an individualized class shield.

Salutatorian Anthony DiPasquale, who will major in ocean engineering at the University of Rhode Island, surveyed his peers on why they chose to attend MSMHS, which Spera noted can draw 500 applicants.

He got somewhat facetious responses, like "I loved fish," "I just want to play in the simulator," "My parents made me come here," "I just wanted that free laptop." But he also got more serious responses, about hitting the reset button and about the school's unique opportunities.

He recalled the first morning meeting and his first experience with Spera, who he called "a very loud and overly energetic Italian principal who would eventually become our school dad."

Drawing a parallel to his own young kids and reflecting on how fast they grow up, Spera told the parents, "You're sitting in Leamy Hall, watching your toddler walk across the stage at their high school graduation. It must be surreal." He graded them an A+ for their parenting.

Spera noted that the school scored first among all Connecticut high schools in science in 2017, and that U.S. News & World Report ranked it the sixth-best high school in the state in 2018. He said that close to 40 percent of the Class of 2019 are first-generation college students.

Ultimately, he urged the students to remember to laugh every day.

Class President Scott Davidson said he got the best education not at MSMHS but on the oncology floor at Hartford Hospital. He has been going there since age 5, having been diagnosed with stage 2 inoperable brain cancer.

"I learned that adversity builds character," he said. "I learned that you can truly fall seven times and stand up eight. I learned that you really can't appreciate the good days without the bad ones."

Echoing the ocean imagery woven throughout all of the speeches, Davidson told his classmates to "push out, set sail, explore."

e.moser@theday.com

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