HARTFORD – If the Howell Cheney Technical High School Class of 2021 has proven anything over the past four years, it’s been the students’ ability to work hard and tackle obstacles, big and small.
Those qualities will serve them well for the rest of their lives, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told the 150-plus graduates from the Manchester-based technical high school in a pre-recorded commencement address.
The Class of 2021, clad in green and white caps and gowns, and hundreds of their friends and families gathered at Dunkin’ Donuts Park Saturday morning to attend their in-person graduation ceremony.
The joy of celebration hung in the air throughout, right up to when the graduates went up to receive their diplomas and pause to have their pictures taken.
Across the country, the novel coronavirus upended many seniors’ last year of high school due to the shift to remote or hybrid learning, but many of the graduates Saturday were grateful they at least got to enjoy a relatively normal graduation.
Valedictorian Andrew Baten of Manchester told his fellow graduates that the past four years have taught them many lessons, but after spending some of the year physically separated from his classmates, he’s realized they’re far better together than apart.
Graduation, this “joyous occasion,” has brought them all together again, but after Saturday, the graduates will scatter, he said.
“Some of us are heading off to college and the military, while others are ready to jump into the workforce, but whatever the future holds, try to be the best of it,” Baten said.
Salutatorian Grace Aspiazu of East Hartford described this past school year as “rough” and “crazy,” as the pandemic created challenge after challenge — from the struggles of virtual learning to spending most of their senior year with their classmates over the internet.
Because of all of this, Aspiazu, who will attend the University of Connecticut in the fall, said she and her fellow classmates should be grateful to attend graduation in person.
“I just couldn’t believe when they say we’re actually graduating in person because everything’s been crazy and everything was online. So I’m really excited to have the opportunity,” Aspiazu said before the ceremony. “To be able to share this moment with your classmates, it’s really beautiful moment, as it might be the last time I’ll ever see some of them.”
Michael Little of East Hartford said the past year was different than they imagined, but they still made the best out of it.
While it wasn’t the senior year Little had in mind, he said he and his fellow classmates got to enjoy some sense of normalcy toward the end of the school year with high school staples such as senior day, prom, and graduation.
Little, who will attend Manchester Community College in the fall, jokingly said his main takeaway from his years at Cheney Tech would be a diploma before commenting that he’ll always remember the fun he had in the digital media program.
Mackenzie Spanner of Somers, who completed the information systems technology program, said she wasn’t able to do as much during her senior year as she would have liked because of COVID-19 but still enjoyed her high school experience overall.
Graduating in-person, she said, feels right, as she always expected to graduate with her classmates but also weird after the crazy last year.
Spanner, whose 18th birthday coincided with graduation, said she’s not sure where life will take her next. She had plans for after graduation but they fell through. Now, she said, she’s just enjoying her free time.
Isaiah Brothers said the past year of schooling has been such a struggle, but it means the world to him to be able to graduate in person.
“It actually means a lot to be able to get the experience and be able to do it with everybody,” he said of the in-person graduation ceremony.
Brothers, who will be entering the workforce upon graduation, said Cheney Tech provided him with his work ethic, adding that he got a lot of hands-on experience through the automotive program.
Some of those skills, he said, he wouldn’t have been able to get from a traditional high school, enjoying the hybrid structure of the program – half traditional learning and half automotive education.
These area students graduated from Howell Cheney Technical High School in Manchester on June 12.
Michael Albaugh, Isaiah Albert, Nicolis Alessi, Brent Arcari, Grace Aspiazu, Antoine Atterbury, Lydia Ayala.
Todd Banning, Andrew Baten, Maxwell Beauregard, Jocelyn Bernier, Colby Birse, Seth Bocynesky, Kurt Bombeto, Jahlee Bonfield, Daniel Bowe, Tessie Brookes, Isaiah Brothers, Jahmoy Brown, Christopher Burgess, Russell Burnett, Trevor Bussiere.
Nikaila Campbell, Alyssa Cantres, Jeremiah Celestin, Trevor Champ, Cole Chartier, Todd Chenelle, Braeden Christian, Roberto Colon, Aidan Connors, Donald Cosman, Dillon Cournoyer, Shantay Cousins, Aidan Crawford, Phillip Cross Tomas Cosme, Jason Cruz, Cipriano Cummings.
Mekhi Daley, Paul Denning, Andy Deschene, Joshua DeVaux, Alex Dietz, Iris Dillon, Johnathan Dynak, Jalah Edison, Alexander Estremera, Christian Fantry, Jayshawn Figueroa, Dominic Flores, Paul French.
Conor Galligan, Wade Gamache, Michael Garcia, Adrian Garcia-Vincente, Mark Gardner, Bruce Gaudet, Benjamin Gendreau, Jacob Gerber, Julia Giangreco, Kimberly Gobin, Jason Goulet, Jazzlin Grisby, Robert Guerrette, Brandon Gustafson.
David Hastings, Dillion Hepton, Justin Hills, Jared Holbrook, To’Mas Homar, Barry Howard, Brandon Hunter, Anthony Jimenez Rojano, Jacob Johns, Zeke Johnson, Nyesha Kenny.
Shane Labbe, Brandon Lambert, Daniel Langer, Kyle LaPlante, Anthony Lazure, Brian Lees, Daniel Leonard, John Lindroth, Michael Little, Leonardo Lopez-Romani.
Hunter Marchigiano, Elijah Marr, Taliyah Martinez, Gavin McGill, Katherine McNamee, Brendan Medeiros, Roy Medina, Christian Mereschuk-Diaz, Jaylin Morales, Kevon Morgan, Ryan Mullen, Garrett Norman, Alexander Notis.
Grace Olden, Thomas Olejarz, Jacob Pease, Joseph Pensavalle, Anthony Perez, Qiyen Philippe-Cole, Jordan Plefka, Alec Pontz, Megan Preste, Elijah Quiles, Aidan Quinn, Alejandro Quintero-Martinez.
John Rawlinitis-Chenery, Jason Repass, Anthony Reyes, Benjamin Richards, Jose Rios, Rocio Rivera Landaverde, Luis Rivera-Ramos, Shawna Robert, Raymond Robles, Shawn Rock, Angelica Rosario, Casey Rothe, Ne’vaeh Russ, Cody Rymarzick.
Andrew Salmon, Kassandra Saunders, Michael Scacciaferro, Shane Schiller, Silas Segar, Jayden Smith, Taylor Solito, Mackenzie Spaner, Sylvia St. Martin, Stephanie Staron, Morgan Stolinas, Nathan Stratton, Christina Sullivan, Sierra Szymkowicz.
Thomas Turner, Joseph Venti, Davonne Walker, Alexa Wilson, Marian Zajac, Cassandra Zajac, Nelson Zuna.