Hawks leave the nest

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Woodland Regional High School Valedictorian Karissa Wilkinson, left, and Salutatorian Emma Poryanda lead the procession of graduates June 24 at graduation at the school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland Regional High School Valedictorian Karissa Wilkinson, left, and Salutatorian Emma Poryanda lead the procession of graduates June 24 at graduation at the school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — The advice Woodland Regional High School Principal Kurt Ogren offered to the Class of 2015 boiled down to four words: “live like a hawk.”

Ogren, speaking to the 162 members of the class during graduation June 24, rattled off several traits of what it means to live like a hawk. Be a keen observer. Swoop down on opportunity. Soar to new heights. Rise above it all. After each one, the graduates responded in unison, “like a hawk.”

“Always remember where you are from,” Ogren said. “But no matter where you call home in the future, serve your community in a positive and meaningful manner.”

As the Hawks spread their wings and leave the nest they’ve called home the past four years, Valedictorian Karissa Wilkinson told her fellow graduates to remember their lives have incredible power and impact on the lives of others.

“Now, as we graduate tonight and as we go forward, we need to keep one truth in mind — we are not here to help ourselves, we are here to help each other,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said there is no guarantee the road ahead for the graduates will be an easy one. There will be times when the graduates will get battered by a storm, she said. But they need to understand it’s OK.

“It’s OK to end up with battle scars because those scars simply show where we’ve been,” Wilkinson said. “They do not define us. We define ourselves.”

How someone responds to challenges and how they treat others is all that matters in the end, she said.

“Never fail to think, ‘What can I do to better the lives of my loved ones, my coworkers, my fellow students and the community around me?’ Do everything and anything you can. Don’t be afraid of the fight, and don’t be afraid to fail,” Wilkinson said.

Woodland Regional High School graduate Jason Rodrigues goes in for a hug with Principal Kurt Ogren June 24 at graduation at the school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland Regional High School graduate Jason Rodrigues goes in for a hug with Principal Kurt Ogren June 24 at graduation at the school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Class President Elaine Ferretti said each member of the class will be prepared for whatever life throws at them as they go their separate ways.

“Our class carries ambition, confidence, diligence and compassion, which will mold our bright futures,” Ferretti said.

Ferretti said the Class of 2015 bonded like no other class at Woodland, culminating in a water gun fight in the courtyard a week before graduation. She said the class will be remembered as the most approachable, most caring and most unified.

“When we leave today, I hope we do not forget each of us is a Woodland Hawk. … Everyone all around you is Woodland family,” Ferretti said.

A microcosm of the closeness of the Class of 2015 was on display when Salutatorian Emma Poryanda took the podium to address the crowd.

Before Poryanda started her speech, she invited up her close friend Emma Sardinskas to help her give the salutatorian address. Poryanda and Sardinskas battled for a top spot all four years of high school. When Poryanda ultimately earned the salutatorian honor, she asked if Sardinskas could join her at the podium.

The “battle of the Emmas,” as the Poryanda and Sardinskas put it, began in seventh grade. The Emmas explained they never had a class together before seventh grade and thought the only thing they had in common was their name.

From the first day of their friendship, the Emmas were compared to each other for seemingly no other reason than they shared names, they said. Over the years, a healthy competition developed between the two friends.

Woodland graduate Marinela Generowicz, left, helps fellow graduate Abby Nelson with her cap prior to graduation June 24 at the school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland graduate Marinela Generowicz, left, helps fellow graduate Abby Nelson with her cap prior to graduation June 24 at the school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Sardinskas said they never resented each other as the two competed. Rather, she said, the competition grew from respect and admiration. Being friends, she said, pushed them to go the distance.

Poryanda said, “When going through life it’s important to surround yourself with people who are going to challenge you, make you strive to be better and force you to achieve things you never thought you’d be able to achieve.”

Poryanda urged her fellow graduates not to surround themselves with people who will always agree with them. Pick people, she continued, that will motivate them to be the best they can be.

“When you do, you never know what you can accomplish,” Poryanda said. “Best of luck to you Class of 2015, and I hope you find that person like we did.”

See more photos from graduation here.