Grasso Tech graduates 'finally made it'
Groton — As the graduates rounded the corner, nearly every audience member in the jam-packed gymnasium sprung to action, holding out a smartphone to capture the last moments of their child, sibling or friend's high school career.
Members of New London's Pipe and Drums Corps thundered through the room, followed by the highly decorated mortarboards of the 123 graduates of the Class of 2017, to cheers from the audience.
"This is the culmination of four years of hard work," Principal Patricia Feeney said as the students took their seats within their 11 trade technology groups. "You few are carrying with you something only your fellow technical school graduates have ... skills that will develop your career."
Each student was asked to stand to recognize their accomplishments — from passing their state exams in cosmetology to participating in the SkillsUSA competitions, to, for six students, choosing to enlist in the military.
As salutatorian Robert McClardy, a student in the Information Systems Technology shop who placed 20th in the SkillsUSA challenge for technical computer applications, put it, when someone has a problem in their home way down the road, "we come around to fix it, as the electrician or mechanic," he said.
Class valedictorian Michael Whittle of Gales Ferry, who took the Mechanical Design and Engineering Technology program, used his speech to talk about the changes that students underwent to arrive at those career accomplishments.
He reminded the graduates of their years learning new skills and trades, and of students who came out of their shell and will go on to great careers "building cars, nuclear submarines, managing four-star restaurants and programming for Google."
"We made it through courses and our career path," he said. And now, "I think we're all a little sad: It's going to be a big challenge not seeing (you) all every day," he said.
McClardy said the class's supportive culture, created by students and instructors, helped instill in the students an indomitable spirit. Without music or the Interact Club, "he wouldn't have had as good a time here."
"You all have a future," he said, speaking inclusively about the many paths that Grasso Tech graduates take, and telling students that their growth at Grasso will stick with them whether they plan to go to college or enter the workforce or serve their country.
"I know you are all capable of overcoming challenges," he added.
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As Tropical Storm Isaias moves up the eastern seaboard, southeastern Connecticut is under a tropical storm warning until further notice.