Smiles at Stratford High

High fives, handshakes and a few happy dances colored the evening at Stratford High School’s 2015 graduation ceremony.

The cloudy skies above Penders Field couldn’t dampen the joyful feelings among the more than 200 graduates or the audience of family and friends happy to see their graduates make that special walk to get their diplomas. Many of the red- and yellow-clad graduates waved as they marched onto the field to take their seats. They later thanked and hugged teachers and friends upon getting those most valued pieces of paper.

While the day is an exciting and happy occasion, SHS Valedictorian Alex Masi said graduation day shouldn’t be the end of the learning process.

“How can you expect a young person to identify themselves and their true passions by the end of high school?” Masi said. “This is why you must continue to expand the chapter of your life titled ‘learning.’ This chapter is synonymous with our growth as individuals. This is what our past has set us up to do. Never forget that. Whether or not you have a keen education from a textbook or a lecture or a teacher, learning is everywhere and it is what defines us all.”

 

Stratford High Valedictorian Alex Masi speaks to his classmates at the June 18 graduation ceremony with outgoing Principal Joe Corso looking on. — Melvin Mason photo

Masi encouraged his classmates to “discover something new for the joy of finding it.”

Senior Class President Kylee Vitka-Lainey echoed the call for continued learning, saying that graduation is only the beginning.

“We have just started learning. We have so much more to learn about life and ourselves. We have so many more chapters that we have been preparing for,” she said. “As you president for the past two years, I am grateful to have shared the beginning chapters with you.”

Vitka-Lainey added that the diplomas the students are walking out with are not the most important things the graduates will take with them. They will also carry responsibility, self-assurance, accountability, stamina and the knowledge that they never quit even when times became difficult.

“The future is bright for us. Regardless of which direction we are heading off in a few short months, we will always be connected,” she said.

Salutatorian Nathaneal Domschine said the Class of 2015 should be ready for change challenging times ahead.

“We cannot always control the change in our lives. Life always has a monkey wrench to throw in our plans,” he said. “Many of us have different plans for the days to come, yet not all of those plans will be achieved as desired. But that’s OK. As country singer Jimmy Dean once said, ‘I can’t always change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to reach my destination.’”

Principal Joe Corso wished his outgoing seniors the best, but hoped that the students’ best years were not their times at SHS.

“If you look back at your years at Stratford High School and say those were the best four years of your life, we have failed you. When you are 40 years old — I know that seems far away, but trust me, it comes up fast — and you look back at your experience at Stratford High, you should realize that high school was not the best four years of your life. Rather, let Stratford High be the springboard that propels you into adulthood as a prepared learner, trusted friend and responsible, moral citizen.”

For one evening, however, graduation was a highlight of the four years and the students soaked it in while thinking about what comes next.

Jesse Rosa, 17, simply said he felt “good” upon graduating.

“I’m thinking about going forward and doing me,” said Rosa, who plans to go to Housatonic Community College and eventually go into the military. Rosa’s goal is to become a police officer.

“It really feels wild,” he said.

Anna Velasquez, 17, said the idea of graduating from high school felt “shocking” and she still didn’t think it was over.

“It still doesn’t really feel real to me, I don’t know. It hasn’t hit me yet,” Velasquez said, a broad smile on her face as she held her diploma. Her next stop: Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Psychology is a possible major for her.

Thinking about college convinced her that it indeed was real.

“I think I’m mostly thinking forward. We all worked so hard in high school and now I’m just excited to get a new start and work hard again,” she said.

Raiquonn Wong, 18, said the special day left him feeling great. “I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life,” he said. “The future is now and I’m ready.”

He plans to go to culinary school with the goal of becoming a chef, just like his father.

“My dad was a chef and I want to be just like him,” Wong said.

“Amazing” was the feeling for Natacha Jean, 18, getting hugs from well-wishers after the ceremony was over.

Jean said she was to recall her high school years while thinking ahead to attending Housatonic Community College before moving on to Southern Connecticut State University to study nursing. First, though, she’s headed for a nursing internship in Texas.

“I’m happy I accomplished something like this,” she said. “It was really nerve-wracking, but now that [it’s done], we walked and got our