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The Hartford Courant

Hartford Hails Ends, Beginnings

By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER, Courant Staff Writer

June 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved. 

Hartford Public, Bulkeley, Sports Academy Graduate

Flowers and balloons filled the ceremonies for more than 500 of Hartford's newest high school graduates Saturday.

Seniors from Bulkeley High School, the Sport Sciences Academy and Hartford Public High School received diplomas and words of advice at three graduations.

Balloons waved and audience members broke into frequent cheers in the packed Learning Corridor Commons Building in Hartford Saturday evening at the graduation for 213 Hartford Public High School seniors.

Valedictorian Victor Mantilla drew applause as he listed the types of students Saturday's graduation was for - those who worked hard, or struggled in class, or worked part-time jobs, or never even brought their books to school.

"This night is for all of us in the class of 2003," he declared.

Pablo Franco, a 1973 HPHS graduate and former track and football star who now works for the state Department of Children and Families, described his struggles to adapt to school after moving from Puerto Rico without being able to speak English. He was happy when his father promised he could return to Puerto Rico if he did not like HPHS after one year. But Franco found a coach who inspired him, and stayed in Hartford until he graduated.

On Saturday he urged the graduates to set goals for themselves, and to hug their parents, coaches and teachers before leaving the ceremony.

Bulkeley High School's 251 graduates filled the front rows of Central Connecticut State University's Welte Auditorium in New Britain Saturday afternoon as speakers reflected on the class' past and future.

Valedictorian Ilisia Shuke urged classmates to get past assumptions and fear of rejection to understand the people around them. She said she spent the first two years of high school without venturing out of her social circle because she was afraid of rejection.

She said it was easier to stay in your own group and make assumptions about those outside of it. "It's convenient to see those around us in one dimension, either good or bad," she said.

But after getting to know more of her classmates during their senior year, Shuke said, she learned that understanding is more important than convenience.

David Romanik, the National Honor Society president, said it was ironic that seniors often see graduations as endings, since they lead to changes and beginnings.

"We must accept change as a natural part of our existence," he said, and urged classmates to remain optimistic throughout their lives.

Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez asked the Bulkeley graduates to remember coaches, parents and teachers who had helped them, and to consider returning to Hartford to do the same for others someday.

In an intimate ceremony on the St. Joseph College campus in West Hartford, each of the 45 Sport Sciences Academy graduates delivered emotional speeches thanking classmates, family members and teachers as they received their diplomas.

The graduates, the third class in the magnet school's history, spoke of the tight bonds between classmates after four years together.

"If you look around, you know that we love one another not like classmates, but like brothers and sisters," graduate Pedro Flores said.

When some students paused during their speeches, overwhelmed with tears, classmates and friends shouted encouragement.

Christopher Brown urged classmates to remember the lessons of their school, which stressed community involvement and high academic standards.

"I encourage all my peers to go forward as ambassadors of education," Brown said. "Contribute to the education of the community and the country."

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