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468 graduates celebrate at Norwich Free Academy

Norwich — The sprawling campus of Norwich Free Academy has prepared the 468 members of the Class of 2016 more than they might know for their next ventures in college — especially if they plan to remain in a northern setting.

On Friday's warm, pleasant afternoon, graduate Shandara Smith of Norwich reminded her classmates that life at NFA has given them memories of more than bus rides, tests and sports.

“Four years on this beautiful campus,” said Smith, who plans to attend the University of Connecticut in fall. “The Tirrell staircase, just dreadful. Rainy days, drenching. And walking from Bradlaw to Latham in 15-degree chill, sleet smacking off our faces. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about."

"Despite these challenges, we have managed to hike our way to this academic peak, to this rite of passage,” she said.

While Smith said the NFA diploma does not come with a map and directions for the future, class speaker Benjamin Rust of Bozrah said everyone who touched them at NFA helped guide them along their way.

Now, he said, he and his classmates have that same opportunity to influence others.

“I say with great confidence that all of us will make a difference in the world,” Rust said.

“Now, I'm not saying that we will bring world peace. I am not saying we will win a Nobel Prize. I am not even saying we will end world hunger," he added.

"What I am saying is that all of us will influence the lives of others," he said. "We will affect everyone we encounter in some way, and it is our choice whether that effect is positive or negative."

As it does each year — especially in perfect weather — the festive atmosphere spilled from the athletic field to the grandstands, campus picnic tables and along the fences that surround the field.

Graduate Isis DeLoatch of Norwich helped fill the stands, as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and a host of cousins stood ready to cheer.

Her grandfather Charles Andrews drove from Buffalo, N.Y., and her 1½-year-old sister, Charlee Wright, enjoyed being held by aunts and uncles as they waited for DeLoatch's name to be called.

“We moved here from Virginia just before she went to NFA,” her mother, Carla Andrews, said. “Best move we ever made. This place is amazing!”

DeLoatch also shared the graduation field with her grandmother Nancy Andrews, Class of 1966 graduate.

In a longstanding tradition, NFA invites the class of 50 years earlier to return for a class reunion and to join the current year's graduates.

On Friday, 86 representatives of the Class of 1966 processed onto the field.

Class of 1966 speaker Bonnie Friswell Levanto introduced the teen grads to a different academic and social high school world, when girls were not allowed to compete in varsity sports and school was never canceled for snow days.

Typing a paper meant using a manual typewriter, she said, and research meant hours spent in a library.

When they moved away, they carried their record players, heavy boxes of records, radios under their arms and maps in their pockets.

“When you leave today, you will have a computer that fits in your back pocket that does all that and more,” Levanto said.

But she said much in the world remains eerily similar.

“Some of us went on to college,” she said. “Some went to work. Some joined the military. We faced many uncertainties in the world, including war overseas and clashes over rights and freedoms here at home."

"You will have your own challenges, and you'll watch the world around you grow in fits and starts, just as we have,” she told the Class of 2016.


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