WINSTED — The 2019-2020 school year was a school year unlike any in Northwestern Regional High School’s history, and this fact was emphasized at the school’s graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 11.
For years the ceremony was held at The Warner Theater in Torrington.
However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ceremony was held outside at the school.
Graduating seniors were all in cars and each one had to wait inside of their car before being instructed to come on stage to get their diploma.
Almost all of the speeches were pre-recorded on video and played on an HDTV screen at the ceremony, along with the playing of the National Anthem which was created via individual recordings of students singing and playing musical instruments.
“This ceremony is going to be different, but it’s going to be special and memorable,” Principal Kenneth Chichester said at the beginning of the ceremony. “This is what life is all about: building memories.”
In his pre-recorded speech, Chichester spoke about the class of 2020, along with parents, teachers, and staff, all rising to challenges during the pandemic.
“Parents and students in our school community have made masks, shields, and gowns all to provide the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) so desperately needed to keep our medical workers safe,” Chichester said. “We have also seen our school community step up to help people find food and other resources to help people survive until things turn around. We have seen our teachers put together a distance learning program that usually takes six months to a year of planning in less than a week. We have seen our students rise to the challenge of doing the best they can while becoming accustomed to online learning.”
Chichester told the seniors that the class of 2020 will forever be known as the class that made history.
“There is not another graduating class from Northwestern that has ever had to face these particular set of challenges,” he said. “The last time school students had to face widespread school closures that were even close to this was in 1918 during the flu pandemic. But look at where you are. Not even Covid-19 could prevent you from graduating.”
“Today is one of those days where we get to celebrate our accomplishments, our achievements, our perseverance, and mostly our success as we grow up,” class Vice-President Aiden Bannerman. “It’s one of those times where we can take a break and reflect, feeling good as we have triumphed through all the difficulties that have been thrown at us. Today is not only an important day for you but also for the families and friends that are watching. Today they are all very proud of you.”
“We are finally here,” Class President Sarah Carfino said in her speech. “I knew that the buzzwords that had been floating in the news and on TV for the past 90 days were not going to make it into my speech because they do not define the class of 2020. For the past four years, Northwestern has given us a home, a place to discover who we wanted to become filled with opportunities, challenges, victories, and defeats. From the moment we stepped off the bus in freshman year, the road that we chose was ours. We were soon on our way to becoming a Highlander from guidance and support from Northwestern’s staff we grew into who we are today.”
Carfino said she was looking for inspiration for her speech, and inspiration came from the Northwestern graduation lawn sign that she was given to put in her family’s driveway.
“When my mom put the [graduation] sign by the driveway, it had the words I was searching for,” she said. “The sign had the words that define the class of 2020: ‘Forever a Highlander.’”
“I would like to begin by thanking all of our teachers and administrators,” Class Salutatorian Victoria Duffy said in her speech. “They have dedicated their lives to giving back to the world by educating young individuals and helping them pursue their dreams. Even if those dreams now involve cutting one’s own hair or finding the last roll of toilet paper.”
Duffy thanked her family, teachers, school administrators, and the friends she made at her time at Northwestern.
“To my friends, those who I have lost throughout the years of schooling that we have experienced together, and to those, I have gained: I hope the memories that we have created will have a lasting impact on your lives,” Duffy said. “No matter if we stay in contact through the coming years, or only remember each other when we reconnect on Facebook or our virtual 10-year reunion.”
“When we first got the phone call in March that school was canceled, we all thought it was going to be for just two weeks,” Class Valedictorian Madeleine Giaconia said. “Two weeks turned into a month. A month turned into two months. Two months turned into the summer. April, May, and June was all the time left we had left the way we were. That time has been taken from us. Now instead of saying that we should cherish old memories, we never had the chance to make so many of them. Instead of telling you to shoot for the stars, I wonder how the world will have been altered by the time we get to do so.”
Giaconia said that her class had been through “some of the greatest disappointments in our lives so far” over the past few months.
“So when I sat down to write this speech my natural first instinct under these circumstances was to pen a letter of motivation to tell you all how we are all strong, resilient, and can make it through this,” she said. “However, as I sat with my fingers hovering over a keyboard, I realized I was unable to do that. To make this speech uplifting would be to dishonor the grief we are all feeling. The pain of losing something we always thought we would have. It would dishonor the tears we have shed over the prospect of all of us never seeing each other in the hallways again.”
Giaconia said that, instead of making her speech uplifting, she told stories and memories about her time at Northwestern.
“I remember walking into school on a sunny August morning, looking around with a sense of bittersweet peace that this would be the first of many lasts,” she said. “I remember eating lunch outside in the courtyard for the first time, the summer air refreshing after hours indoors. It was peaceful until the first bee descended upon my food and I spent the rest of my lunch period fighting off yellow jackets. I remember cheering until my throat was raw in the last seconds of the pre-winter break game when the girls on the volleyball team brought home the victory against the teachers for the senior class. I remember what became my final bow in theater. I looked around me at all the friends that I made over the years and it was like I could see every moment we spent together flashing by at once. Although many of you did not take a final bow on stage, I know many of you had a final game, match, tournament, meet, competition. I know you all experienced that special kind of pride. The feeling of accomplishment you shared with your team, whoever they may be.”
Giaconia talked about the last day she and her fellow students walked out of the school building on March 12.
“For me, it had been a good day,” she said. “Although it felt like dark clouds were hanging over us, I was happy. I didn’t know it but that was the last time I would leave the building on a normal school day. I remember joy, and laughter, and sometimes pain. But most of all I remember faces. All of your faces, every single one of you. The people I learned with, celebrated with, and grown up with. Today, when I remember these things it makes me sad because I should have had so many more memories to look back on. However, it is said that when we lose someone there comes a time where we are reminded of them and smile back at our best memories instead of feeling pain at the worst. My hope for the class of 2020 is that one day we can look back at these long months and instead of weeping for the memories that we didn’t get to make, smile for the ones that we had.”