Graduates persevere the Woodland Way

Woodland Regional High School graduate Kasey Smith hugs her advisor Thomas Straub after receiving her diploma Monday night during graduation at the school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Woodland Regional High School graduate Kasey Smith hugs her advisor Thomas Straub after receiving her diploma Monday night during graduation at the school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — The Woodland Regional High School Class of 2013 — the 10th group of Beacon Falls and Prospect students to earn black and gold diplomas — shared their spotlight Monday with a man who handed out his very last one.

Principal Arnold Frank, the only person to hold that position at Woodland, presided over his final graduation after he announced his retirement last week. The 167-member class made sure to help Frank enjoy his swan song.

“Dr. Frank always showed leadership to the school and the community,” class president Jayme Schledewitz said. “He created the Woodland Way.”

Twin brothers Kirk and Ian Chamenko, both class officers, presented Frank with gifts from the class before school administrators Brian Fell and Dana Mulligan surprised Frank with an honorary diploma.

“He made the Woodland Way a way of life for everyone to follow,” Fell said. “He set the vision in motion that continues to bear fruit tonight and for many generations to come.”

Frank’s last graduating class trumpeted its accomplishments, including school-record test scores and the school’s first Nutmeg Scholar, valedictorian Rex Sturdevant.

“You may question why you put yourself through tough classes or tedious jobs,” said Sturdevant, who will attend the University of Connecticut. “All challenges are in advance of something great.”

Schledewitz acknowledged two individuals who enhanced her high school experience. Nancy Kiesel, a retiring math teacher who also received an honorary diploma, helped Schledewitz push through challenges.

Woodland graduate Rahmi Rountree shakes hands with Brian Fell, assistant principal and athletic director, after receiving his diploma Monday night during graduation at the school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Woodland graduate Rahmi Rountree shakes hands with Brian Fell, assistant principal and athletic director, after receiving his diploma Monday night during graduation at the school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

“I met with her during study halls, after school and during her bathroom duty,” Schledewitz said. “She showed me that even if I didn’t like the way things were going, I couldn’t give up.”

She also talked about Michael Lawrence, a special education student with whom she worked in the peer helpers program. Lawrence celebrated on stage when he earned his diploma in the same way many have seen him after sinking a 3-pointer during Unified Sports basketball games.

“Working in the peer buddies program helped me decide to pursue a career in education,” Schledewitz said.

Salutatorian Ainsley McMahon nearly didn’t make it to graduation day at Woodland — not because of grades, but because she plainly didn’t like the school at the beginning of her career.

“I tried to transfer, but I’m so glad I stuck it out,” McMahon said. “I consider each and every one of you a friend.”

See more photos from graduation here.