CHESHIRE — While still in their teens, members of the Cheshire High School Class of 2022 feel like they have already faced a lifetime of challenges.
When the coronavirus broke worldwide more than two years ago, the students were forced to adjust to working in quarantine and cohorts, as well wearing face masks.
The pandemic created a unique setting at CHS, but many students said they felt the adversity served as a unifying experience.
A total of 371 students graduated Wednesday night at Alumni Field in the school’s 68th commencement ceremony. Just before, Tess Givens described her feelings as bittersweet.
“I think a lot of us can’t wait to move on at this point, but we will miss the memories we’ve made here,” Givens said. “I enjoyed playing (sports) and being a part of the community.”
At the start of the ceremony, Principal Mary Gadd welcomed the crowd and members of the school’s Honors Choir performed “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Class President Mei Griffin, the first speaker, asked classmates to think about how far they’ve come as students and individuals.
“I proudly stand alongside one of the most talented, hard-working, smart, fun-loving, athletic, and accomplished classes that has ever passed through Cheshire High School. This class has left a mark in CHS history,” Griffin said.
Class salutatorian Vincent Zhu compared the high school experience to a computer game.
“You started the game when you took your first steps in the high school your freshman year. Yes, we hopefully all at least knew where we were, but I don’t think many of us knew exactly who we were,” Zhu said. “In the coming four years, each of us would find certain signs, read books and stories, meet and love new people, and explore every inch of the building known as Cheshire High School in order to find out not where we are, but who we are.”
Valedictorian Tyler Tan credited his classmates for teaching him to connect with the community.
“Whether you are on a sports team, part of the drama club, or a violinist in the orchestra here at CHS, appreciate the community this school has provided and continue to find your place in the herd,” Tan said.
Students Annabelle Kailan and Joseph Volpe gave commencement addresses.
“We must take care of ourselves because each and everyone of us has so much to give,” Kailan said. “We need to remember to let ourselves breathe and have to recognize that there is no shame in looking out for you.”
Volpe spoke about a school project in which he had to speak for two minutes about a message in a fortune cookie. His fortune read, “You are the architect of your own future.”
“I always hear people say kids are resilient and this class proved that to be true,” Volpe said. “Throughout every quarantine (and) every online class and endless days of seeing our classmates without being able to see their emotions, we persevered through it all to bring happiness into everyone’s lives. Without skipping a beat, we chose to take a front seat role, being advocates to change the world we are living in.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeffrey Solan advised the students to find community.
“It is simple yet a meaningful pursuit,” he said. “Community is about relationships and respect. It is about giving more than receiving. It’s about feeling confident and comfortable enough with who you are as a person that you can appreciate and grow from being around people who are different than you.”
Board of Education Chairman Tony Perugini talked about the adversity he faced during his career as a chef.
“You will face challenges and you will fail,” he said. “In those moments of failure, you can choose to accept it, learn from it, and grow or freeze and give up your pursuits. As you fall and get back up, you will build up your confidence. You’ll begin to realize the only person standing in the way of your success and happiness is you.”