This is a printer-friendly version of an article from

06/16/2022 12:00 AM

NBHS Class of 2022: Be Curious and Persevere

With a stand full of fans, members of the North Branford High School Class of 2022 celebrated commencement on the school field June 15.Pam Johnson/The Sound

Sunny skies and some sage advice help celebrate 127 members of the North Branford High School Class (NBHS) of 2022 during commencement exercises on Wednesday, June 15.

Marching onto the school field in their caps and gowns of Thunderbird purple, the Class of 2022 took their seats as one large group to hear from several speakers and share in some special moments during the ceremony.

Valedictorian Regan Leete encouraged her peers to value their education, as there are those in the world to whom education is denied. She also encouraged them to stay curious and remain lifelong learners.

"Learning is what makes us grow, the same way exploration and discovery advance society. So, whether you're graduating or heading off to college or not, be more curious and question the world around you," said Leete. "Work to become educated about the world around you. Keep an open mind when coming across different things, people and experiences [and] even if you have the tiniest interest in something, explore it. Take a risk, because you never know what could come out of it."

During her speech, Class President Grace Marra reviewed highlights for the Class of 2022 from recess excursions in elementary school days to the fidget spinner craze of grade 7 and facing the early unknowns of high school, with the added challenge of two years impacted by the pandemic, and coming through to this moment. She exulted her class to continue to persevere and stay connected, as they had through COVID and other challenges.

"As a class we have endured anything but a so-called normal high school experience," said Marra. "I will always say we are the class that persevered. Carrying on to the real world, we have to always remember that. Persevere through any obstacle. Persevere to achieve a desired goal...I challenge you to do everything you can to reach your full potential. Persevere. The future is truly in our hands, so let's make the most of it."

The senior class was cheered on by a crowd in the stands and parents of seniors on the field.  The parents added their own note the the night with a Fenway-worthy sing-along to the NBHS instrumental performance of "Sweet Caroline." In addition to singing the national anthem, the NBHS select choir also performed a musical selection, "Run to You" by the Pentatonix.

On behalf of NBHS, Principal Todd Stoeffler included in his remarks a fond farewell to NBHS Assistant Principal Gregory Gwudz, who's leaving the district to become a middle school principal in Gwduz' hometown of Montville. Stoeffler thanked Gwudz for his "comprehensive efforts" during the past 7 years.

"Your positive impact has supported and led our positive school culture and strengthened our collaborative relationships with students, staff and faculty," said Stoeffler.

Stoeffler asked the seniors to continue to make an effort to continue the types of actions they'd undertaken to support SOAR, a vision-for-the-graduate program adopted by NBHS 3 years ago. SOAR students are Socially responsible contributors, Open minded engaged citizens, Achievement focused students and Resilient lifelong learners.

In closing, Stoeffler said, " the Class of 2022, thank you for your contributions, seize the day, good wishes as you look forward beyond North Branford High School."

Board of Education (BOE) chair Shawna Holzer said "bittersweet" described the students' moment of commencement.

"As one phase of your life comes to an end, another one begins. Take a moment to reflect. Celebrate your successes. Learn from your disappointments and chart your path forward," said Holzer.

On behalf of the BOE, she added, "Mighty Thunderbirds, it has been our privilege to watch you grow and mature. You have made us proud in so many arenas. It's now time to remember your roots and spread your wings."

During his remarks, Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker emphasized the importance of family.

"Know that you are blessed with a family that accepts, supports and will do almost anything to help make your dreams a reality," he told the Class of 2022, adding that he hoped they would always remember their parents have "...built the foundation for you to set your future in motion."

Schoonmaker also focused on class member Jerom Bombenza as one who inspires others. He noted Bombenza has used a wheelchair since birth and has overcome many obstacles, including, at age 11, the loss of his sole caregiver, his father, to a two-year battle with cancer.

"Jerom's dad left him with a passion for the arts which he plans to pursue in his honor. Jerom is determined to turn his disability into a superpower. He does not focus on the things he cannot do but on the things he can to overcome obstacles and adapt," said Schoonmaker. "Jerom rides the bus from New Britain to North Branford each day to be part of this school community. He inspires those around him with his positive attitude...I am proud of our North Branford High School community who have embraced this young man's perseverance and persistence. There are great things ahead for you, Jerom. We look forward to watching you follow your dreams as you continue to be an example for all of us."

Schoonmaker also announced Bombenza as the inaugural recipient of a newly unveiled annual graduation recognition award, the North Branford High School Grit Award.

Ahead of confirming that the 127 members of the Class of 2022 had met all requirements allowing them to receive their high school diplomas, Schoonmaker gave the following advice, "Always listen more than you speak and never forget the inspirational people that helped you achieve your goals...think back on your 13 years in North Branford and the many opportunities you were given to thrive, live and give back."

The night's program noted additional top students of the Class of 2022 including Salutatorian Taylor Levine and Essayist Braeden LeBeau. Members of the Class of 2022 graduating with distinction wore gold cords, National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society members wore medallions, while students earning the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence were also recognized in the program. Those receiving the awards and/or 14 additional awards listed in the program, had their awards announced with their names when receiving diplomas.

During the presentation of diplomas and awards, NBHS Teacher of the Year Eileen Simmons was the reader. Diplomas were distributed by Holzer, Gwudz and Class of 2022 Advisor Jill Feltus and Class of 2022 Assistant Advisor Jacqueline Thurston.

During the presentation of diplomas, members of North Branford and Branford police departments joined the family of the late Sgt. Chris Manner to congratulate his son, Ashton Danz-Manner, as he walked up to receive his diploma. They formed a line on the field for hugs and handshakes with the new graduate.

After all members of the NBHS Class of 2022 returned to their seats with their diplomas, Marra led them in the turning of the tassels to signify becoming new graduates, eliciting cheers from the graduates and the crowd.

Stoeffler told Zip06/The Sound the NBHS Class of 2022 had exercised decorum by not tossing their caps in the air at the end of ceremony. The night's dignified recessional procession of all graduates to exit the field was also a new NBHS commencement element.

Sunny skies shine over the 127 members of the North Branford High School Class of 2022 during commencement exercises on the school field on Wednesday, June 15.Pam Johnson/The Sound
NBHS Salutatorian Taylor Levine receives her awards with her diploma and congratulations from principal Todd Stoeffler, at right is Board of Education chair Shawna Holzer.Pam Johnson/The Sound
During the presentation of diplomas, members of North Branford and Branford police departments joined the family of the late Sgt. Christopher Manner to congratulate his son, Ashton Danz-Manner, as he walked up to receive his diploma.Pam Johnson/The Sound
New NBHS graduate Jemay Cope gives a smile as she carries her diploma.Pam Johnson/The Sound
Jerom Bombenza, the inaugural recipient of the North Branford High School Grit Award, receives his diploma from principal Todd Stoeffler.Pam Johnson/The Sound
NBHS Class of 2022 Valedictorian Regan Leete gracefully manages a challenging breeze while carrying off numerous academic awards with her diploma.Pam Johnson/The Sound
Valedictorian Regan Leete encouraged her classmates to continue to be curious and explore new learning opportunities they may encounter in life.Pam Johnson/The Sound
Lauren Pietarndrea smiles after receiving her diploma.Pam Johnson/The Sound
Class Essayist Braeden LeBeau manages a handful of awards received on graduation night.Pam Johnson/The Sound
NBHS science teacher Rebekah Polemeni applauds the new graduates during the recessional, including (center, right) NBHS Class of 2022 president Grace Marra.Pam Johnson/The Sound