By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — After enduring more than a year of going to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the mood as Naugatuck High School’s class of 2021 came together June 9 for graduation was celebratory and thankful — despite the scorching heat.
“We persevered through many obstacles, between not being in school for most of the year last year and then some of us being online,” said graduate Sara Whiteley, as she prepared for graduation at the high school. “I think it’s just amazing that we all finally did it and we’re here.”
Graduates Elma Rahman and Christopher Akinduro were thankful to be graduating with all their classmates, a year after the school hosted five separate ceremonies for the class of 2020.
“I’m really happy that we got to go to school,” Akinduro said. “It was really different from going online to coming to school. I’m glad that we got a full year and it never stopped.”
“Even though we went through a whole pandemic, I felt like it brought us together,” Rahman said.
A few hundred family members and friends watched as the class of 2021 marched onto the turf field for one final night together.
Valedictorian Kharissa Moore said the class showed resilience through the many challenges it faced and the graduates defined themselves as individuals.
“It all comes down to having good character, which I think all of us have exemplified this past year,” she said. “I don’t think challenges will stop after we graduate, no matter the path we decide to take.”
Moore said the character the graduates developed over the past four years will help them navigate the bumps and challenges they may face as they walk down their chosen paths.
For Brody Moore, one of three co-salutatorians along with Justin Carroll and Diana Rebelo, his classmates feel that the path he takes will lead him back to the high school. Moore was selected “most likely to work at Naugatuck High School” by the class.
Moore said the selection is an honor because it means he exemplifies the traits of teachers and staff at the high school.
Moore spoke of how teachers John Forish and Melissa McInvale went to the hospital to teach his brother, Avery Moore, after he sustained a rupture of the fifth cervical vertebrae in his neck during a car accident in 2018. He talked about how teacher Amanda Naugurey ate lunch with Avery, who also graduated last week, when he was unable to be in crowds.
“If I were truly perceived to have the heart of someone who is most likely to work at Naugatuck High School, that would be a tremendous honor,” Moore said. “I hope my class of 2021 that we all can lead with a heart of those that are ‘most likely to work at Naugatuck High School.’”
As Class President Mumthanu Emilah bid her classmates farewell, she said pondering the would-ofs, should-ofs and could-ofs of “a year that could’ve been” will only hold the graduates back from the future that awaits them.
Emilah, who choked up for a moment with emotion, said the class turned life’s challenges into possibilities.
“We constantly beat challenges as nothing more than life’s dramatic effects,” she said. “Life would be bland if we had nothing to fight.”