Remember your Wheeler family, speakers tell North Stonington graduates

North Stonington — Assembled under the shade of a large tree on the Wheeler Library lawn, with a good chunk of the town on hand to watch, the Class of 2017 was reminded by their speakers that the intimate connections of their small high school will only grow as they get older.

Each speaker lectured on the importance of family as parents and friends sat picnic-style on blankets and lawn chairs with their kids, spilling out into the street and enjoying the warm weather.

The Wheeler High School band and chorus performed renditions of "Time After Time" and "Rivers and Roads" as the 53 graduates awaited their diplomas at the high school's 61st commencement ceremony.

Robert Carlson, the chairman of the Board of Education assured everyone that he wouldn't take the same tact as last year and embarrass students with his stories about their childhoods, many of which he remembered intimately as a volunteer at many school functions.

Instead, he said, he would talk about what he sees as the core of the Wheeler experience: family.

He said he's always struck by how big the families are in town, noting he "always knows" a cousin of pretty much everyone.

"Family is a very important word in this town, which was built by a few big families: the Mains, the Coates, the Lewises, the Wheelers," he said.

And even if a student moves away once they graduate, and as their priorities change as they grow older, they will always have a friend from their graduating class who will treat them like a family member, he added.

The close connections were on display as the ceremony proceeded to the awarding of scholarships, with Robert Carlson's son Andrew Carlson, the class president, capturing the bulk of them.

Fittingly, he, too, spoke about family, imploring the assembled students to remember the circles of teachers and students that enabled them to grow as a person.

"I ask that you be a conscious member of one of these 'villages'" of educators, Carlson said.

Retiring teacher Suzanne Starr, who followed the class from the elementary school to the middle school and was chosen by the seniors to deliver their class speech, channeled the audience as the ceremony came to a close and each graduate received a rose and their diploma.

"Know that they are immeasurably proud, and you will always have families to go home to," she said.

n.lynch@theday.com



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