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NWR7 graduates 195

Members of Northwestern Regional High School’s graduating class of 2017 stood on stage during the school’s 59th graduation ceremony on Friday, June 23 at The Warner Theater. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson

TORRINGTON —  Northwestern Regional High School held its 59th annual graduation ceremony at The Warner Theater on Friday, June 16.

This year, 195 students graduated from Regional.

Before the event, hundreds of family members and friends jammed the hallway of the theater, standing bunched together, elbow to elbow as they waited nearly 45 minutes to get into the theater.

At the start of the event, senior class vice-president Alex Bannerman welcomed attendees.

“We made it,” Bannerman said, leading to loud cheers from the audience and graduates. “We are here today to celebrate all of the hard work and persistence of all of the seniors up here on the stage. 

“For the past four years, we have done our homework, completed our projects, taken our midterms and finished finals. We have studied for tests, run six laps for long-period gym classes and cleaned out our lockers for the last time. 

“Tonight is the night to recognize all of our accomplishments. All of us have worked hard and succeeded. We have all made friends we will keep in touch with for the rest of our lives and have become the closest class we can possibly be. We have all made memories in the hallways of Northwestern that we will carry with us forever. We had a great run and we have a lot more memories to make.”

The transition to adulthood

The next speaker, senior class president Alivia Bannerman, said that “it feels like it’s been a long haul.”

“We, as a class, recognize that we couldn’t have done this without each other, our families, friends and educators,” Bannerman said. “There are so many milestones to be reached in a lifetime. We have just accomplished a major one. 

“It is hard believe that our days as high school students have all come to an end. Now, we are expected to live our lives as adults doing adult things. No more packed lunches. No more curfews. Just freedom. Freedom to go where we want and to do what we want. Freedom to be what we want.”

Bannerman said that graduates should always remember their roots as they go forward with their lives.

“Northwestern is what we have known for the last four years,” she said. “This brick building on top of a hill has been our home. It has molded us into the capable individuals we are today. It is been the platform that will now launch us into the future. We have been surrounded by faculty that have constantly been encouraging us to do well and give back to our community. Now is our time to do so. 

“For the rest of our lives we will be asked basic questions that define who we are, including where we are from, where did we grow up and what school did you graduate from. We can proudly answer Northwestern because we will forever be Highlanders.”

Remembering virtues

The graduation’s keynote speaker, as chosen by the senior class, was history teacher Howard Winterson.

“[Doonesbury comic strip creator] Garry Trudeau once said that commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing students should not be released into the world until they have been properly sedated,” Winterson said. “Class of 2017, you have picked the right man for the job.”

Winterson said that, in going through this year’s class yearbook, he noticed a quote a student picked from Albert Einstein, who said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

“I thought about that and I tried to think about examples of what we do at Northwestern, but I couldn’t help but to think about all the sayings that are emblazoned [on posters] in the main hallway as you walk into the high school,” Winterson said. 

“One says ‘be respectful.’ I believe that one way to be respected is to always respect others. 

“Another one says ‘be responsible.’ You’re going to have to work with a lot of people as you go through life, and no one wants to work with an irresponsible person. 

“The last one says ‘be proud.’ I must admit I’ve always wondered a little bit about that one. As a medieval studies major, I am familiar with the ‘seven deadly sins’ and one of them is pride. Still, what that really means I believe is to practice self-respect. 

“So be proud because you are going to accomplish a lot of things but temper your pride with a good dose of humility.”

Remembering fun

Salutatorian Austen Royer told the audience what being a member of the class of 2017 meant to him.

“There is no doubt in my mind that our class will be remembered as one of the greatest,” Royer. “There is a plethora of stories that I know will be told about us years from now. 

“We’re the class that brought crowd surfing to homecoming and tried to bring it back to the prom. 

“One can say many things about our class, but they cannot deny our activism. Our class cared about organic food from local sources. So we raised awareness by taping fruits and vegetables to the windows of the senior commons [part of the school building]. 

“Our class was aware of the massive waste problem caused by an enormous human population. So we raised awareness by storing our garbage in the ceiling of the senior commons.”

Royer later switched gears in his speech to a more serious tone.

“When we are going through a time of pain or a period of great stress, there is also an opportunity for personal growth,” Royer said. “As we enter the next chapter of our lives, whether it would be college, the military or the labor force, the struggles of life are inevitable. Take advantage of this opportunity to become a better version of you. 

“All that is certain is that nothing is certain. When you encounter doubt in the path you have chosen, just remember that nothing is set in stone.”

The future is unwritten

The final speaker at the ceremony was valedictorian Alexa Urmaza.

“To our teachers and coaches, thank you for caring about us, pushing us to our limits and demanding the best out of us each and every day,” Urmaza said. “To our parents, family and friends, thank you for always being someone we can rely on for help no matter the circumstances.”

In her speech, Urmaza recounted her high school experience.

“Senior year has been full of ups and downs,” Urmaza said. “Besides enjoying the last days of our childhood, we finally began to picture how our lives would look once we have walked off of this stage. In senior year, we began to pick out our futures. 

“Wherever we go we will always remember what we have learned here. We learned how to work hard and to persevere. We faced the odds and came out on top. We silenced all of the doubters who said that we would never make and that we would never move on successfully. But we did it.”

Urmaza finished her speech by talking about the future of the graduates.

“So now what? What do we do?” she said. “There is no textbook answer to this question. For each of us it is different. All we know is that whatever we do now is all up to us.”