Woodland class of 2021 navigates uncharted territory

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

Woodland Regional High School class of 2021 Valedictorian Kayleigh Huk, left, shakes hands with principal Kurt Ogren after delivering her address during graduation June 11 at the high school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Woodland Regional High School class of 2021 Valedictorian Kayleigh Huk admittedly struggled as the COVID-19 pandemic forced life to take an unforeseen and unpredictable turn.

“We saw everything change; school, work, you name it, everything forced us into uncharted territory,” said Huk, as she addressed classmates, family and friends during graduation June 11 at the high school.

Huk learned how to manage the stress brought on by the pandemic by living in the moment, having a positive perspective on life, and striking a balance between work and play — lessons she said will still apply post COVID.

(See more photos from Woodland Regional High School graduation) 

“As bad as this last year was, we are going to face even greater tests in our future, and I for one don’t want to be blindsided the next time,” she said.

Woodland Regional High School class of 2021 President and Salutatorian Austin Roberts leads the procession of graduates during graduation June 11 at the high school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Although COVID took a lot of experiences away from the class, Huk said there are positives that came out of the pandemic, including learning to adapt and use technology in new ways.

“We realized we are stronger than we thought,” she said. “We identified problems and worked together to create solutions, and no matter how crazy it got, students, teachers, administration and families all worked together to solve every last conflict. This shows how successful we can be when we listen to one another and how strong we truly are.”

Austin Roberts, salutation and president of the class of 2021, said moving past hardship takes the will to work hard. It’s a lesson he learned after failing the first quiz in honors geometry — twice — as a freshman.

“This taste of failure has taught me an indispensable lesson,” he said. “Although math still proves to be a challenge, I’ve learned that all it takes is the will to work hard to move past this hardship.”

Roberts told his classmates it’s not what happens to them that will define them, but rather how they decide to react. He spoke of growing up gay in a small town and the uphill battle he faced, as some made fun of him or laughed at what he wore to homecoming.

Woodland Regional High School graduate Lindsay Lionetti is all smiles after getting her diploma during graduation June 11 at the high school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

“For some, being gay is unfamiliar, and because of this it’s scary,” he said.

Roberts said the words used to pick him apart hurt but he learned to use those words as fuel to achieve his dreams, and he encouraged everyone to use what others have against them to fuel their own journey.

“Understand you are not broken or flawed because some people refuse to acknowledge your worth,” he said. “You are more than a preconceived notion by those that do not know you.”

The journey the 154 graduates took their senior year was like no other, principal Kurt Ogren said, but it was not a lost year as some feared it night be.

Ogren said the graduates “rolled with the punches” and thrived despite the numerous challenges they faced during the year.

“The members of the class of 2021 have been forced, due to circumstances beyond their control, to become expert problem solvers and innovators,” he said. “These attributes will benefit them greatly in the future.”