MERIDEN — As valedictorian Havi Nguyen stood at the podium on Maloney High School’s football field, she made a request of her fellow graduates.
“I urge you, my classmates, to remember the past and look to the future — but never forget to embrace the present,” Nguyen said during commencement ceremonies Wednesday.
Nguyen is among 316 graduates who make up Maloney’s class of 2022 — some 75% of whom will continue their studies in four-year and two-year schools and other trade programs. On a breezy and mostly sunny night, graduates clad in Maloney green caps and gowns, celebrated their high school years and marked the next transition — adulthood.
“This class has imprinted our hearts with pride as we have seen them persevere through the toughest of times. We have seen them reach for stars and achieve at high levels. They have shown strength, resiliency and compassion. They have risen above sadness and disappointment,” said Maloney Assistant Principal James Flynn.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona was one of several speakers to acknowledge the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, there were setbacks “academically and emotionally,” Cardona said.
But, he said, “To focus solely on that is to miss what our students have gained. Throughout the last two years, the class of 2022 learned more about family, about friends, about relationships, about persevering. Graduates, you’re stronger, you’re more resilient. You’re more intelligent in the things that actually matter.
“When the world threw us a curveball and life became unfair, you kept shining,” Cardona said. “When everything over the last two years was upside down, it was you, class of 2022, that kept us inspired. You kept us moving. You kept us believing things will get better. Seniors you taught us. You led us. We learned from you.”
Cardona was also among the proud parents celebrating. His eldest son, Miguel Jr., was among the graduates. When graduates walked across the stage, Cardona would give his son a strong embrace upon handing him his diploma.
Class President Brianna Skeen noted that what graduates will remember most about their high school years is not the homework assignments and studying that may have stressed them out or kept them working late into the night.
“The countless homework assignments, projects and early mornings to make it to school on time … that paid off,” Skeen said. She and her fellow graduates accomplished high school.
But each individual task and step it took to get to that point is not what has been etched into her memory, Skeen said.
What she can tell you are things she learned about each of her teachers and peers. She and her fellow graduates will remember the people they’ve met along the way.
“What I can tell you is Miss Soto doesn’t like chocolate covered strawberries. Mr. Lobner’s old house was definitely haunted. Or that Miss Regan is actually a professional TikToker,” Skeen said.
Solimar Landor Ayala beamed with pride as she stood in Maloney High School’s cafeteria earlier that evening lining up with her fellow graduates.
Landor was 14 years old when her family relocated to Meriden from San Juan, Puerto Rico. During her time at Maloney, she not only learned English, she learned how to advocate for herself. This fall, she will begin her next pursuit — a nursing degree.\
The spelling of Salutatorian Samuel Hurlburt’s name was incorrect in an earlier version of a photo caption with this story due to an error in the graduation ceremony program.
Reporter Michael Gagne can be reached at email@example.com.