North Branford High School Class of 2021: 'Friends for Life'
141 members of the North Branford High School Class of 2021 participate in the turning of the tassels during their graduation ceremony on the school field June 14. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
NBHS Class of 2021 Valedictorian Caroline Shadman is congratulated by Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker upon receiving her diploma at graduation June 14. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
NBHS Class of 2021 President Gabriella Carofano prepares her classmates for the turning of the tassels as (l-r) NBHS principal Todd Stoeffler, Board of Education chair Shawna Holzer and Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker await. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Briana D'Onofrio flashes a peace sign to mark the moment after graduating with the NBHS Class of 2021. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Most NBHS graduates held onto their caps following graduation, with only a few flying into the sky in celebration on June 14. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Newly-graduated Sachin Archer (left) is congratulated by Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker and Archer's sister, Sanchia Archer-Palmer, following the NBHS Class of 2021 commencement exercises on the school field June 14. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
NBHS Class of 2021 graduate Mia DeLoughery shares a hug with her mom, Susan DeLoughery, following graduation at the school field June 14. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
These fans of new NBHS graduate Ava Raymond (center) brought special signs of support to the Class of 2021 commencement ceremony on June 14. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
Class President Gabriella Carofano holds her new high school diploma after graduating on the North Branford High School field June 14. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
At North Branford High School's June 14 commencent exercises for the Class of 2021, one graduate's cap asks a question that could be on the minds of many new graduates. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
After all their years together – especially the last two – the members of the North Branford High School (NBHS) Class of 2021 will always be "friends for life," said Class President Gabriella Carofano.
Carofano made the statement under clearing skies at the NBHS school field on Monday, June 14, when NBHS commencement exercises for the Class of 2021 were held. The class of 141 seniors, clad in caps and gowns of Thunderbird purple, marched onto the field as a crowd of family and fans, also provided with field seating, cheered them on.
The Class of 2021 heard remarks from Valedictorian Caroline Shadman, who referenced the school's SOAR acronym and emphasized the resilience of her peers in the challenges they faced and will face in the future. The night's program also recognized NBHS Class of 2021 Salutatorian Brianna Iuteri and Essayist Ethan Sabetta; as well as Class President Gabriella Carofano, Vice President Kelli Jacobson, Treasurer Gabrielle Gibilisco and Historian Christina Riggione.
In her remarks, Carofano took her classmates back to 2nd grade, when the kids from the former Stanley T. Williams School began attending Jerome Harrison School with "...the rest of us at JHS," she recounted.
"I still remember thinking, 'Look at all these new kids to make friends with.' Never did I expect us all to become as close to one another like we did. I think I speak for everyone when I say we made friends for life in this high school," said Carofano.
While the president's speech is one which always walks the graduates down memory lane, this one was a bit different as it took a turn into discussing the global pandemic which dramatically changed so many lives, and in the case of the NBHS Class of 2021, changed their school lives, beginning in March 2020.
"We can't look at Covid as an inconvenience, but an obstacle we overcame as a group," said Carofano.
Carofano also thanked the NBHS community for coming through the challenges, including, "...the students who made it to graduation despite the challenges. The teachers who have had struggles figuring out Zoom meetings and our sometimes difficult selves. The parents who have helped us along the way and planned exciting events for us like senior week. And North Branford school district, thank you for memorable years and forever friendships."
The evening's program also include remarks from NBHS Principal Todd Stoeffler, Board of Education chair Shawna Holzer and Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker. NBHS Teacher of the Year Eileen Simmons read the names of each senior coming up to receive their diploma, while also reading off all awards received by each student. Diplomas were distributed by Holzer together with NBHS Assistant Principal Gregory Gwudz and Class of 2021 Advisors Kimberly Towle and Mary Leapley.
An especially poignant moment during the distribution of diplomas was the entrance onto the field of a long line of North Branford and Branford police department members in uniform, there to honor Kaila Manner, daughter of the late Christopher Manner, as she graduated with the NBHS Class of 2021. Before he passed away in September 2020, Manner had retired as an NBPD Sergeant in 2011 after 25 years on the force and, in 2012, returned to community policing as an officer with Branford Police Department for eight years. (See related story).
Following the distribution of diplomas to all members of the NBHS Class of 2021, Carofano led the turning of the tassels, after which the graduates joined their families on the field. As Carofano had said earlier in her speech, "...I know it's hard to think we have to go our separate ways, so rather than saying goodbye to one another, we should be saying hello to the new beginnings we are going to encounter."