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Montville graduates celebrate resilience in unprecedented times

Another class of Montville High School seniors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic graduated 142 students strong on Tuesday.

Hundreds filled the bleachers, as well as the many chairs placed on the school football field, in a return to normalcy after an adjusted graduation last year. Parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, former teachers and administrators carried signs and balloons and cheered loudly for the seniors. 

The graduates expressed affection for their time in Montville despite the pandemic.

Valedictorian Tenzin Dadon’s speech touched on larger themes of future professional choices. She didn’t mince words when she said the process “is not going to be easy.” She warned her peers that the world is unpredictable.

“Our current dreams may evolve in the next few years," she said. "We might end up on a path to another career or we might scratch everything and start over, which is completely OK.”

Dadon, who told The Day last week that she’s disappointed with the country’s current partisan political divide, told her classmates that their generation “will be tasked with fixing the great divides that exist in our society.” She encouraged empathy and compassion, and championed “our desire to improve the lives of others.”

“We must be the positive light in a world often overshadowed by negativity,” she said. “No matter where life takes us, remember not to fear the unknown. The unpredictable is where our opportunities lie. The journey itself has just begun. We will carry our compassion and hope into this new chapter.”

Principal Heather Sangermano welcomed spectators to Montville High School’s 57th graduation ceremony. She said students overwhelmingly chose culinary arts teacher Barbara Mann, who has taught in different roles at every Montville public school, as the guest speaker.

Mann spoke of the community and applauded students' “compassion, kindness and generosity toward your fellow man and neighbor.”

She then turned to the Class of 2021: “I’d like to apologize and congratulate you at the same time.”

“For the last year and a half you have lived in a world forever changed,” she said. “As teachers, one of the things we have always tried to convey to you as students is to overcome adversity and be successful. I believe you have done exactly that. In the shadow of all these challenges, you have achieved and graduated from high school.”

She told students she was proud of them after seeing them grow from elementary school students to the young adults they are today.

Amber Carlson, class co-president, took a moment to appreciate the fact “that we are actually here in person, with the class as a whole, and not watching on our computers through Zoom or sitting in our cars.”

Her speech was about appreciating high school and this time in these students’ lives because it goes by so quickly. She spoke of Montville affectionately and called the members of the town’s school system “family.” And she discussed what her classmates had been through, including referencing the highly publicized “fight club” organized by a substitute teacher when they were freshmen. 

“Even though we weren’t able to have certain senior privileges, we persevered and still attended our Zoom classes while sitting in our beds,” she said. “Our class has been through it all, from fight club freshman year to COVID senior year.”

Salutatorian David Baukus was frank in noting that the Class of 2021 had “overcome the most formidable challenges that any group of high schoolers had to face here in Montville.”

“It all started our freshman year with an infamous club that I would be rue to break the first rule of,” he said. Sophomore year allowed a short break from any craziness, but, “It all started up again during the fall of our junior year, when we couldn't stay out past 6 p.m.”

“It has been pretty hectic recently, but way back when, we had Triple E, the mosquito-(borne) disease that freaked out pretty much all of our parents,” he continued. “Games were moved up, practices rescheduled, and every after-school activity was done before the sun even thought about going down. Looking back, it’s almost fortunate that we had to deal with Triple E: it gave us some practice. I don’t think any of you have quite forgotten yet, but that winter was the start of a once-in-a-century pandemic that has shaped each and every one of our lives in dozens of different ways. We were truly, as has been said countless times before, living in unprecedented times.”

Baukus stood in awe of his classmates’ versatility during such uncertain times.

While students had their names read, those in attendance remained rather quiet, by Superintendent Laurie Pallin's request, until someone sounded a horn during one student's introduction, after which every student received great fanfare.

s.spinella@theday.com

From left, Kayla Gaughan, Joelle Mendez and Brooke Cronin, graduates of the Class of 2020, scream as they reach out to friends that just graduated in the Class of 2021 ceremony June 15, 2021, at Montville High School. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
From left, Kayla Gaughan, Joelle Mendez and Brooke Cronin, graduates of the Class of 2020, scream as they reach out to friends that just graduated in the Class of 2021 ceremony June 15, 2021, at Montville High School. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Photo gallery

For a gallery of more photos from the graduation ceremony, click here.

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