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As valedictorian of the North Branford High School Class of 2020, Ava Galdenzi videotaped her valedictorian’s speech and its positive message to her classmates for this year’s virtual graduation ceremony. The stand-out student athlete will attend Wesleyan University to play field hockey and pursue studying her field of interest, psychology. (Photo courtesy of Ava Galdenzi )
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No one could have predicted the pandemic, but those who know Ava Galdenzi can tell you that this exceptional young woman would find a way to help the North Branford High School (NBHS) Class of 2020 graduate on a positive note during a challenging time.
Had the restrictions of COVID-19 not come along, Ava, as valedictorian of the NBHS Class of 2020, would have given her parting speech and advice to her classmates during graduation exercises on the school field. Instead, dressed in her cap and gown of T-Bird purple and wearing her valedictorian’s medal, Ava gave a heartfelt talk to a camera lens outside her family’s home.
“I talked about how, with the pandemic going on, our class could have focused on all the negatives and how we’re getting some things taken away from us. But instead our community, our class and our teachers have been so positive,” says Ava. “Instead of focusing on the negatives, we have become stronger during this time, and we have been there for each other, and we can take our newfound strength that we have acquired during this time and use it in the future.”
Ava’s message is incorporated into a virtual graduation ceremony video developed as part of this year’s COVID-19 safe distancing NBHS commencement program. Ava and the members of the NBHS Class of 2020 received their diplomas individually at NBHS on June 4 and 5.
Not crossing a stage on the field in front of a celebratory crowd or turning their tassels and tossing their caps in the air together, is something Ava says they all will miss. But there was still a feeling of accomplishment when the diploma was placed in their hands, she feels.
“It was a special moment, but it was also hard because you’re usually doing that with your friends,” she says.
Ava characterizes the Class of 2020 as “outgoing and close-knit” and that showed during another special moment for the class for the NBHS Class of 2020, a drive-through graduation celebration parade on June 11 at the school.
Ava says she’s proud of how the NBHS Class of 2020 has come through the curves thrown at them by the pandemic, which closed school as of March 13, for what was first expected to be two weeks. Ultimately, school remained closed for the rest of the year, ending sports seasons and canceling out the traditional experiences that make up many senior moments, from prom to year-end awards, celebrations, and graduation.
“It was hard in the beginning, because I know a lot of us really didn’t get to say the goodbyes we wanted, because we were just thinking we’d be out for two weeks,” says Ava. “But we definitely have all come together and relied on each other for support during this time.”
Making the Grade
Ava attended North Branford Public Schools (NBPS) from kindergarten through high school and is thankful for the exceptional educational opportunities she was able to experience as an NBPS student.
“North Branford has a great education system, and they offer a wide variety of different types of classes and different levels of classes,” says Ava, who completed seven Advanced Placement (AP) courses during her time at NBHS, beginning in her sophomore year.
A member of the National Honor Society and Spanish National Honor Society, Ava’s academic awards and recognitions include the U.S. President’s Award for Educational Excellence, AP Scholar Award, National Field Hockey Coaches Association Scholar/Athlete, Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Scholar/Athlete, U.S. Navy Scholar/Athlete, Yale/New Haven Register Student Spotlight, and Four-Year World Language Award.
Ava was named to the CIAC All State Field Hockey Team, the All Shoreline Field Hockey Team, and the All New Haven County Field Hockey Team. Ava was also a varsity tennis team member at NBHS, although the team couldn’t compete this spring.
As a stand-out field hockey forward and a captain of the NBHS squad in her senior year, Ava was pursued by several colleges for her athleticism as well as her academic success. She’s chosen to play field hockey for Wesleyan University in Middletown, where she’ll also pursue studying for a major in psychology. She says NBHS sparked her interest in the field.
“I took AP psychology my junior year and I loved the class, and I also found it was something I was interested in,” says Ava.
While she didn’t set out with the goal of becoming valedictorian of her class, Ava says she did always set a goal of doing the best she could possibly do in every class she took on.
“I never really expected or was working up to this. I just worked my hardest in high school and it ended up happening,” she says. “I study for a very long time, and I also like to spend my time well. If I have a project due, I get it done ahead of time so it’s not last minute, so if I do have a test come up I have time to study.”
Even for this exceptional student, getting adjusted to distance learning during COVID-19 took some doing, Ava says. She adds that, for her, the added scheduling involved in sports seasons actually helps to keep her studies on a tight track to success.
“I definitely always get better grades when I’m in a sports season,” says Ava, saying of her COVID-19 distance learning experience, “especially since we were kind of trapped in our homes, it was just harder to motivate yourself to do work during the quarantine.”
As for advice she’d give to those underclassmen who will be studying at NBHS in the coming years, Ava says to “push yourself academically, even if you don’t think you can handle a class. It’s better to take a hard class, challenge yourself and maybe not get as good of a grade than to just kind of soar through high school by taking easy classes.”
And, while she couldn’t thank her teachers in person at graduation, Ava wants them to know she’s grateful for their support through the years.
“I thank my teachers for always supporting me and giving me any extra help that I’ve asked for, and for just being great people,” she says.
The 2020 guide to the Madison Chamber of Commerce has arrived!