Tolland High School Class of 2013 told to ‘become great’

By Jessica Ciparelli - ReminderNews
Tolland - posted Tue., Jun. 25, 2013
The final Tolland High School graduate to receive her diploma, Alayna Zevallos anxiously awaits her name to be called. Photo by Jessica Ciparelli.
The final Tolland High School graduate to receive her diploma, Alayna Zevallos anxiously awaits her name to be called. Photo by Jessica Ciparelli.

Applause rang out as the last (alphabetically) of Tolland High School's 244 graduates, Alayna Zevallos, took her seat on June 21 in the school's gymnasium, among the sea of blue and white gowns and mortarboards. It was time to graduate.

But before the diplomas were handed out and tassels were turned, graduates were given advice from fellow classmates, the school's principal – even a NASA astronaut, who also happens to be a 1979 Tolland High School graduate.

“Here we are, ready to graduate, ready to move on, ready to commence with the rest of our lives,” said salutatorian Mary Trainor. “As we graduate and turn in our caps and gowns, we don't leave [behind] the lessons we learned in this building,” she said, noting she didn't mean lessons such as conjugating verbs or solving math equations. “It's the life lessons and values instilled in us. Our time here at Tolland High School has furnished us with a problem-solving tool belt, providing us with those strategies and thought processes to overcome our biggest obstacles in life.”

Valedictorian Garett Tirrell called his class “Lucky 13” and noted the Class of 2013 has been in school for the whole millennium, so far. In a moment that made many in the audience laugh and Tirrell to say, “that came out wrong,” the valedictorian asked, “What separates me from everyone else here, other than my GPA?” With that, Tirrell acknowledged a number of his classmates for their accomplishments.

“Good luck in whatever it is you choose to do,” Tirrell told his classmates.

NASA astronaut, 1979 Tolland High School grad and graduation speaker Daniel Burbank said two moments – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon one week before his eighth birthday, and the 1970 release of a movie called “The Boatniks” – helped shape his life.

“I knew I wanted to be an astronaut and someone who rescues people,” said Burbank. He fulfilled both life goals by serving in the United States Coast Guard and has logged 188 days in space and seven hours and 11 minutes in spacewalk time.

There were two moments that helped shape Burbank's life, but he admits he felt “rudderless,” come graduation.

“Life is full of potential and it is empty of certainty,” said Burbank, who said it took six years and three applications before he was accepted by NASA in 1996. “You've done great things here and you will do great things. The world is full of opportunity,” he said.

Seven members of the Class of 2013 received a standing ovation from their classmates and the packed gymnasium, as they will serve their country by joining the Army, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.

“Make that diploma a stepping stone. Become great. Challenge yourself to be great. Become great,” said Superintendent of Schools William Guzman.

As the final diploma was awarded, applause thundered throughout the gymnasium. This time, it was to celebrate the graduates of the Class of 2013.

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