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Graduates of the Branford High School Class of 2018 celebrated their commencement ceremonies on the Branford green on Tuesday, June 12. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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As Class President Katherine Spaulding said, for the Class of 2018, four years spent in the "BHS Bubble" may have come to an end, but the ability to use their skills and motivation to change the world was just beginning. On Tuesday, June 12, over 220 Branford High School (BHS) seniors stepped onto the town green in caps and gowns of Hornets' red for commencement ceremonies held on the Town Hall stage.
Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez encouraged every graduate to embrace challenges and live fulfilling lives, while never forgetting "...your families, your teachers, friends and this very special place you call your hometown, Branford."
With the past weekend's capturing of the Class M State Championship title – for the second year in a row – by the BHS Girls Lacrosse team, Hernandez and many others who spoke at graduation made sure to help celebrate the news; with Hernandez adding, at the end of his comments, "Go Girls Lacrosse!" to a round of cheers from the Class of 2018.
Board of Education Chairman Michael Krause encouraged students to take on challenges, even if they may fail at first.
"Face them head on and know that how you overcome them plays a key role in how you develop as an individual," Krause told the Class of 2018.
BHS Principal Lee Panagoulias Jr. then unveiled the names of the two top academic students among the Class of 2018, presenting awards to Valedictorian Caroline Erickson and Salutatorian Bradley Stutzman (each year, the BHS Valedictorian and Salutatorian are announced from the stage on graduation night). A look at each of Erickson's and Stutzman's achievements and Capstone Projects (noted next to their names in the program's alphabetical listing of graduates) gives just a hint of these students' academic capabilities. Both are High Honor Graduates and members of the National Honor Society, Science National Honor Society and World Language National Honor Society. Erickson's Capstone project was "Researching Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency" while Stutzman's Capstone project was "Construction of a Differential Swerve Drive Module."
Panagoulias also announced the student winner of the Faculty Key Award, Luna McCulloch.
"It is the highest recognition bestowed on a member of the graduating class," said Panagoulias of McCulloch's award. "It is awarded to a graduate the faculty believes demonstrates personal growth over time, the high ideals of unselfish service their school and community, concern for others and most important, the love of learning."
Honorary diplomas were presented to three retiring faculty members who together represented "...approximately 90 years of experience, dedication and support to our students," said Panagoulias. School Social Worker Suzanne Serviss; Guidance Counselor Doug White and AP English teacher and BHS Dramat founder/director Maria Ogren were honored.
Girls Social Chairman Caitlin Baker recognized Class Advisors Sarah Vitelli and Lisa Verzella for inspiring and helping to lead the efforts of the Class Officers. In addition to Spaulding and Baker, BHS Class of 2018 officers included Eunhee Lee, Treasurer; Charles Hall, Secretary, and Erin O'Brien, Vice President.
In introducing the Class President to the audience, O'Brien said that Spaulding "...is not only a bold, kind-hearted, intelligent leader; but she is a friend," who has taught her classmates to "love unconditionally and to always look on the brighter side of things."
In her President's message, Spaulding said, "...for each of us, for the last four years, we have made the BHS Bubble in this big, wide world our home. BHS has shaped, inspired and challenged us, and introduced us to friends that we will love for life."
Spaulding said she'd asked many classmates if they felt they'd done enough in their four years at BHS.
"This is a very simple yet monumental question, and the best part is, for every single one of us sitting in these front few rows, the answer is, 'No,'" she said. "It wasn't until then that I realized I was surrounded by so many people who had such a fervent desire to do more for themselves and also for the world around them."
Spaulding encouraged the class to be courageous, driven and make sacrifices to achieve goals, concluding, "My advice to you is don't think about what you want to do. Think about why you want to do it; and the rest will figure itself out... find the one thing that drives you and never let it go."
Hall introduced the night's commencement speaker, English teacher Christian "Bing" Miller.
Miller asked the graduates to turn around and, "...look for one last time, and just admire this beautiful green, and recognize the Branford community. They're ready to cheer you on; they've already supported you. Take one last look. Don't ever forget this community. You don't have to come back here to live or teach at the high school, but always remember the part of you that grew up in Branford."
With a bit of emotion briefly edging his voice, Miller also noted his dad, a member of the BHS Class of 1955, was in the audience; and his son, Christian "CJ" Miller was there, too; as a member of the BHS Class of 2018.
"It's bittersweet, knowing that out there is my son, my youngest child, who's moments away from receiving his diploma," said Miller.
Miller said he was be proud of the acceptance and support members of the Class of 2018 have shown one another.
"I see the diversity which has made your class special," he said. "You've accepted each other's differences, while embracing what makes you individually unique."
Miller advised them to take risks and get out of their comfort zone as well as to approach life's challenges as opportunities. He said how he'd followed his original aspiration out of high school to go into journalism; then later recognized a change was possible and went on to become a teacher, even though it was a difficult decision requiring change and hard work.
In the style of a true English teacher, Bing also presented his advice as a thesis statement, saying, "A variety of unique, different and surprising opportunities await you in this world. Your job is to face them with an openness and willingness that, although scary at times, will help you discover who you are."
Before the presentation of diplomas, Panagoulias reminded the Class of 2018 of the many achievements and growth they'd experienced as a class and as individuals.
"As I reflect on the last four years, I am amazed just how much this group of students has grown through their common experiences," said Panagoulias. "Seniors, think about some of the common experiences you have helped create just this year; and ask yourself, where you capable of having a part in their successful completion when you were freshman?"
Panagoulias listed a year filled with sports, arts and academic achievements and student organization of special programs ranging from Veterans Appreciation Day to hosting the Wreaths Across America convoy to a re-imagined Parade of Nations celebrating the school community's diversity to "...facilitating a peaceful, organized and powerful student protest advocating to keep our schools safe."
He congratulated them for challenging themselves, preserving through hard work, expressing creativity and displaying resilience, among other characteristics.
"If you are sitting in front of us now, you have not only satisfied our graduation requirements, but also developed these characteristics that this community values; and we are all so, so proud of you," said Panagoulias.
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