MERIDEN — Armando Romero felt a bit ripped off. Julia Casarella saw its perks. Clayton Bruenn felt triumphant just to have survived it.
They and the rest of the 236 members of Platt High School’s Class of 2021 graduated in a ceremony at the high school on Thursday night where the just-passing storm of the pandemic was as fresh and divergent a memory as the last minutes of their four years of high school.
With more than 2,000 people looking on, the class turned its tassels together, its last action as a whole, after being feted by school and city officials for their grit in surviving COVID-19 with strength and maturity.
Platt High Principal Daniel Corsetti said the class was as persevering as any he had ever seen. With so much of life yet to face, Corsetti said, the Class of 2021 had already faced so much — death and illness and everyday uncertainty of wondering who would be struck down next, by the virus or by economic devastation.
As of Thursday, the state had only eight probable cases of coronavirus, a sliver of the numbers reported in months past, but that good news is offset by Meriden’s 156 COVID-19 deaths and 8,157 probable cases over the last 14 months.
“Class of 2021, these 14 months have certainly been a time of defeat, of struggle, of loss, and for many, of suffering,” Corsetti said in his speech.
“You were doing all of those things that make senior year such a wonderful experience while at the same time finding jobs and working many hours, caring for younger siblings and making sure they got on their computers, caring for older relatives who got sick, or finding a quiet place to do schoolwork or just to breathe,” Corsetti added.
“But look at us now — here on this beautiful night celebrating with friends.”
Corsetti said he was proud that 156 students will attend colleges or universities, another 34 will go to advanced technical schools, 21 will go into the workforce and a half dozen will enlist in the military. Twenty-one students were National Honor Society students, Corsetti said.
Romero said he regretted that so many experiences that most seniors have were lost to cancellations and pandemic restrictions this year. Casarella said that she saw benefits to it. Studying at home forced her to really bear down on her schoolwork and also to be a good example to her younger siblings as they all sat around the kitchen table working on their lessons.
Bruenn, the class president and class’ eighth-ranked student, said he was grateful that the school system’s staff and administrators worked so hard to get them as many good senior-class experiences as they had.
Some parents saw their children grow in amazing ways due to the pandemic. Crystal Morin said her son, Jeremiah Johnson, opted to forego going to school every day because his stepfather, Alex Morin, was immuno-compromised.
It was a gutsy, compassionate choice for Jeremiah to make, his mother said. He willingly denied himself some once-in-a-lifetime experiences as a senior because he cared for his family.
“I have been fighting off tears all day because my baby is not a baby anymore. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and a good plan for himself,” Crystal Morin said. “His vision of what his senior year would be like was fractured. But whereas normal teens might be consumed with themselves, he learned how to look beyond himself. School became a lot more important to him. His junior year he struggled to pass, but he had high honors this year. He learned how one person could have a great effect upon others.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of this young man than I am today.”