MERIDEN — Isaiah Thomas and Mi’khel-Bryce Nieves each had diploma in hand, having walked across the graduation stage when they shared a giant hug, fist bump and laughter as newly minted H.C. Wilcox Technical High School alumni.
They were among the 179 members of Wilcox’s class of 2021 who graduated Wednesday afternoon in three separate ceremonies.
Many will attend college next fall. Others will join the workforce in the trades they studied throughout high school. Another group of Wilcox’s latest graduates will join the military.
Both Thomas and Nieves were students in Wilcox’s electrical shop, a group who were part of the day’s second wave of graduates. Thomas will head off to college in Oregon next fall.
“It’s good to know that we’re opening up another chapter of our lives. I’m happy for the experiences, to the friends, to my brothers, who have molded us,” said Thomas, who was among the scores of students who wore blue caps and gowns Wednesday afternoon.
Wilcox Principal Stacy Butkus told graduates they would be forever known as the class who survived the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I challenge you to let history tell the story of what comes after graduation instead of before it. Be the employees who thrive in your trades, the students who excel in college, and the servicemen and women who keep our country safe,” Butkus said. She urged graduates to be difference makers and heroes to those less fortunate.
Wilcox math teacher Felicia Williams, who served as co-advisor for the class throughout their four years, described the graduates as a dedicated and strong group, who were able to overcome adversity, like that imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“... They understood the purpose of their education. They persevered,” Williams said. “... They’re strong kids. They were willing to adjust … It’s so interesting to watch them grow and develop into the young people they’ve become. They’re ready.”
Melanie Perez, who was president of the class of 2021, said despite a challenging year, she had enjoyed her high school experience. Perez’s shop was health technology, and she had acquired her license as a certified nursing assistant.
She will progress in the medical field, studying nursing when she starts at the University of Hartford in the fall.
She had parting words for her classmates prior to going their separate ways, after a senior year that was not necessarily one they had sought.
“But we have all persevered and I think that is one thing that all of us have learned after this past year, that we need to persevere through anything that life throws at us. We showed our strength and our dedication to everything that we do. And I’m so proud of each and every one of us for graduating today,” Perez said.
Amitojeroop Kaur, the class’s valedictorian, stressed the importance of being adaptable.
“In other words, people should be able to handle things that are different or unexpected. This only happens when a person leaves his or her comfort zone,” said Kaur, who heads to the University of Connecticut in the fall. “It is very important for people to be able to do this, because life is filled with ups and downs, as we all experienced.
“We need to be ready to face whatever is coming our way. This applies to all of us. Whether we’re going to college, entering the world of work or serving in the military. We need to become strong mentally and remain flexible because nothing is set in stone,” Kaur said.
Montgomery Rios, 17, of Meriden, heads off to nearby Central Connecticut State University in the fall. She plans to study psychological science. Now that her high school career has come to an end she described a senior year that went by in “a blink of the eye.”
Rios’ shop at Wilcox was hairdressing. She plans to work in that field while attending college.
She credited a psychology teacher at Wilcox for inspiring her decision to study psychology after high school.
“I got more intrigued the more we talked about it,” Rios said. On Wednesday, she was focused on having just wrapped up high school.
“It’s crazy. All the memories I’ve had since freshman year are going through my mind, and I just can’t believe we’re leaving,” Rios said.