Sunday, August 01, 2021

Local News

New Roads Ahead for Branford High School Class of 2021

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The procession of the Branford High School Class of 2021 gets underway Friday, June 18, as the 194 members of the Class  2021 march onto the school field. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

The procession of the Branford High School Class of 2021 gets underway Friday, June 18, as the 194 members of the Class 2021 march onto the school field. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

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Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class  2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class 2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

3

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class  2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class 2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

4

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class  2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class 2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

5

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class  2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class 2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

6

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class  2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class 2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

7

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class  2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class 2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

8

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class  2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Members of the Branford High School Class of 2021 proceed onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class 2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

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Branford High School Class educators share the excitment with the BHS Class of 2021 during the processional onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class  2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Branford High School Class educators share the excitment with the BHS Class of 2021 during the processional onto the school field on Friday, June 18, at the start of the Class 2021 graduation program. Look for The Sound's full graduation photo gallery coming June 24. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

New roads are ahead for the 194 members of the Branford High School (BHS) Class of 2021, who marched onto the school field for graduation together on Friday, June 18 after 15 months of encountering "stop signs, detours, pot holes and speed bumps," along the road to graduation, as described by BHS principal Lee Panagoulias.

"Fifteen months ago, we all thought the road to graduation was a highway. But I think we can all agree that we've had to re-route more than a few times this year," said Panagoulias. "I am so proud of the students that sit in front of me, the faculty and administrators that sit with me, and the community that stood with us during this time. You all showed the ability to shift gears, change lanes and build new roads so we can get here today."

Graduates in caps and gowns of Hornets red applauded their educators, and a large crowd of family and friends in attendance, for supporting senior year events and goals which allowed the Class of 2021 to come together for experiences including prom, senior class trip and graduation. As part of their graduation garb, academic achievement was on display on caps bearing gold tassels for high honor graduates, silver tassels for honor graduates and in other regalia and notations in the night's program indicating membership in the National Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, World Language National Honor Society and earning the Seal of Biliteracy.

In his comments, Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez shared his annual letter of congratulations penned to the graduating class.

"We are so excited to see you reach this milestone, and know you each  have many more wonderful milestones in your future," said Hernandez, noting among the many attributes demonstrated by the Class of 2021 was an "unwavering sense of perseverance."

"Most recently, during the last 15 months, you have earned the right to add an asterisk to the remarkable Class of 2021," Hernandez told them. "By bearing witness to a historic pandemic, you have a unique perspective on how to be stewards of the world. "

Congratulations and a message about the district's continuing emphasis on prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion was provided by Board of Education Chair John Prins. Prins also shared a personal story about encountering racism, and thanked community members including the Gill family and Rev. Sharon Gracen of Trinity Episcopal Church for helping to make diversity, equity and inclusion more prevalent in the Branford community.

In his wish for future success for members of the Class of 2021, Prins noted, "Make sure whatever it is you're doing, you're enjoying it and you're having fun. When you wake up every morning and get to where you're going, [may] you smile and say, 'I can't believe I get paid for what I do.'"

Branford Public Schools traditionally unveils the top two students of each graduating class during commencement exercises. On June 18, Panagoulias called to the podium Class of 2021 Valedictorian Nami Bolat and Salutatorian Hanna Bloomquist to receive their awards. In addition, assistant principal Joseph Briganti recognized National Merit Scholar Nicholas Shoemaker. The night's awards also included an historic tie among faculty votes for the annual Faculty Key Award, which was presented to Hanna Bloomquist and Ashley Duong.

As Class President, Duong shared a message with her peers in a speech which urged every member of the BHS Class of 2021 to "come alive," find their passion, and not to let others tell them, "...what should and should not make you come alive in this quiet and beautiful world, because this life is your life, not anyone else's."

She also encouraged them to train themselves on world human rights issues "...and how you yourself might be involved in oppressive systems. Look inward at your internal biases and correct them. The world around us needs changing. And the world needs people to find their passions and purpose to do so. This year especially, we've seen the strength of collective power. So make sure you all stand on the right side of history. Our generation needs to undo the systemic racism and inequalities that generations before us created; to create a better life for the generations to come. To pass on not hatred, indifference or prejudice; but love, equality, justice."

In addition to Duong, BHS Class of 2021 officers were treasurer Noor Issa, secretary Sophia Coppola, historian Shae Lepre and social chairs Sophia Esposito and Sean McCarthy. Student Council officers were co-presidents Michaela Ang and Hanna Bloomquist, co-vice presidents Gabriella Sapp and Colin Shuff, corresponding secretary Ava Cosgrove and parliamentarian Chloe Nixon.

Esposito introduced the night's commencement speaker elected by the BHS Class of 2021: retiring faculty member Helen Elperina, a leader of the BHS Science Department.

Born into a family of teachers in Minsk, Belarus, Elperina's first career was as an electrical engineer with a degree from the Minsk Polytechnic Institute. She came to Connecticut in 1989 and became certified to teach, joining BHS in 1994.

"Like many of my colleagues, I leave behind thousands of Branford students who I hope I was able to help," said Elperina.

Elperina also described for the Class of 2021 what it was like to be born into a country under dictatorship.

"My life story is very different from yours. I graduated from school in Minsk, Belarus, 50 years ago. It is very hard to explain how difficult it is to live in a dictatorship which proudly proclaimed itself as a country of developed socialism," she said. "It is hard to describe what it means not to be free. The same way you don't notice the air you breathe, you also don't appreciate the freedoms you have. The lack of freedom is only obvious when you experience it. How do you feel if you are the unlucky one to be born in a dictatorship? You feel unprotected in so many ways. You are poor because no matter how hard you work, you still earn next to nothing...people are being persecuted for criticism of the government. You are locked in within the borders with no chance to escape."

She said when her family was lucky enough to move to America in 1989, she encountered the "normal" immigrant experience of adjusting to a strange new country.

"Everybody drove a car. The grocery stores had shelves filled with food. This was very shocking. I remember my mother crying in the middle of Stop & Shop when I took her first time shopping [sic]. But the main thing, we were free," said Elperina, adding, "...in 1994, the Branford community took a chance on a teacher with a heavy Russian accent. And I'm still grateful they did."

In addition to recognizing Elperina with a 2021 Honorary Diploma, BHS Class of 2021 honorary diplomas were also bestowed upon retiring faculty members Leslie Casanova, Marie Drotar, Eileen Duran, Susan Sacchetti, Michael Griffin and William Watts. Honor escorts for the night's retiring faculty were BHS Class of 2021 members Bo Yun Brainerd, Masha Mastroianni, Brandon Diaz, Aaron Speller, Stephanie Toste and Alexis Mascaro.

The night's program also recognized Class of 2021 Advisors Michael Martone and Andrew Tremagoli, introduced and thanked by Coppola for their "tireless work" over the past four years. Musical interludes were provided by BHS Band, directed by Mallory Legman, and BHS senior choral students, directed by Michael Martone.

Just ahead of the night's distribution of diplomas, and with gathering clouds dispensing a few light rain drops, Panagoulias shared some surfer wisdom with the Class of 2021, with the hope they each would find their wave in the future and catch it.  Then, as the first step on their road to the future, each of the 194 members of the BHS Class of 2021 walked across the stage on the school field to receive their high school diploma, with their educators, community, family and friends cheering them on.









Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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