Times change, Tourtellotte remains

Times change, Tourtellotte remains

By Sarah L. Hamby - Staff Writer

Tourtellotte Memorial High School’s 2010 class president, Danielle Dion, set the mood when she stepped behind the podium to welcome students and guests to the 100th graduation ceremony at the historical North Grosvenordale high school on June 21. Dion, of course, welcomed the large audience, and also drew comparisons between the students of today and the students who graduated 100 years ago. Joseph Lindley, president of the Tourtellotte Alumni Association, said he believed that, while there were graduates from the school in 1909 and 1910, the first official commencement exercises took place in 1911, with just eight graduates – a far cry from the nearly 100 students who received diplomas on Monday.

“It’s a landmark evening,” said Superintendent of Schools Michael Jolin, who said that graduates should look for a source of inspiration. Jolin finds his own in the recently-deceased John Wooden, a UCLA basketball coach. Wooden’s philosophy encouraged Jolin to say that, while some feel today’s leaders “must have a ruthless side and must command through fear,” that a different kind of leadership – he mentioned President Obama – is commendable.

Even before he offered his greetings to the Class of 2010, First Selectman Larry Groh, Jr., said he was pleased to share his excitement about the 100th commencement at Tourtellotte. Long a supporter of the school, Groh’s support of the Jacob F. Tourtellotte and Harriet Arnold Tourtellotte Trust Fund for the Maintenance and Extension of the Free Memorial High School, and his personal involvement with the district, demonstrate a long-term affection for the long-lasting facility. “My wife, Erica, and I,” he said, “offer our congratulations.” Groh said he hopes that the founders of the school would be proud.

“Things have changed,” said Principal Penny Hebert, after sharing a list of facts that have changed over the last 100 years: life expectancy, the price of postage, minimum wage, the speed limit. One hundred years ago, only 6 percent of all Americans graduated. Now, 68.6 percent do. “Some would call these improvements… for some, the jury is still out,” said Hebert.

Rebecca Witkowski, Class of 2010 salutatorian, is pleased to be one of the 68.6 percent of graduates. “It’s crazy,” the accomplished student and athlete said, “but it seems like only yesterday our parents were holding our hands to help us on to the school bus in the morning.” Witkowski talked about the things she’d miss (her friends) and the things she wouldn’t miss (underclassmen and getting up early), speaking poetically about leaving the past behind as the Class of 2010 moves forward. “If your past troubled you… do not let it haunt you,” she said. “Follow your heart.”

Perhaps World War II veterans who received honorary diplomas on Monday as part of a recognition of veterans at the graduation ceremony have a different view on the changes of the last century. Bill Mayo, Class of ’36, left school in search of work and then went to Normandy, living his life without finishing his education. Maurice Negip, ’44, was drafted just before his 18th birthday, and the three-letter athlete never received his diploma. Mary (Mayo) Alongi received Mayo’s diploma on his behalf and Negip stepped up to the podium to receive his diploma from Lindley. No one at the graduation ceremony had dry eyes when Negip was also presented with a letter jacket – one his family could not afford more than 60 years ago.

After a patriotic musical break and the acknowledgment of students who received a total of $374,000 in scholarships, it was time for the accomplished valedictorian, Brett Kenneson, to speak. “Now is a time to apply what we have learned to our futures,” he said. “The future is ours.”

Following the presentation of diplomas, students turned their tassels, under the direction of Dion, and marched past family and friends before tossing their caps up in the air in celebration. “I never have to go to high school again,” said Alexandria Tetreault. Tetreault leaves for Army basic training in September. “That’s so much better,” she laughed.

The new Tourtellotte alumni were secreted away for 24 hours of fun after graduation. The mystery trip has been a tradition at the school for 20 years, according to Board of Education member Robert Bentley.

Students were bussed to Club Getaway in Kent for a pizza party with a DJ, sports and other fun games and then, at 1 a.m., comedians were going to bring on the laughs. Following Tuesday morning’s breakfast, students signed up for archery, mountain biking, canoeing, tubing, zip-lining and other activities before taking a trip to Lake Compounce amusement park in Bristol, and arriving home Tuesday night, around 11 p.m.

The parent-funded event was set up as a way to make sure new graduates stayed safe. “It’s so no parent gets that dreaded phone call,” Bentley said.

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