The 98 students of the class of 2023 graduated from Cheshire Academy early Saturday morning on the campus’ sprawling central green. Despite the overcast sky and cold weather, the parents and students were in high spirits during the ceremony, clapping and cheering for every speaker and student who crossed the stage.
The valedictorian Aishlinn Parrinello and salutatorian Devan Fernando both gave speeches at the event, with Parrinello receiving the school’s highest honor - the Sheridan Plaque - which goes to students demonstrating academic excellence, strong character, and extracurricular drive.
This year’s ceremony's major themes were perseverance, the willingness to take chances, and the idea of going forward into the world and being the positive change that impacts the future. The trials of the pandemic loomed large over the graduating class, though many of the speeches emphasized how it presented an opportunity for the students to understand the value of what they’d lost during the lockdown and push through their challenges.
“Today we stand as a testament to our strength and our resilience. We accepted challenges, seized opportunities, and pushed beyond our limits. Respect, responsibility, caring, citizenship, civility, morality, fairness, and trustworthiness. These are not just words, they are the pillars upon which our high school journey has stood,” said Osajie Imevbore, the student body president who offered the welcoming speech, “Our resilience empowered us to become a catalyst for progress, leaving an indelible mark in our school's history. My fellow graduates, as we stand on the threshold of our next chapter, let us continue to embrace these values.”
The ceremony’s commencement address was made by Angelina Casanova, chairwoman of the government contracting company Command Holdings - a company founded in 2017 that already oversees 600 employees and makes $100 million in revenue.
Casanova is a member of the Mashantucket Pequot tribal nation, and through the nation’s sponsorship was able to receive an education at Cheshire Academy, graduating in 2000.
“Your resiliency and determination remind me of the many challenges I faced growing up. The odds were stacked against you like they were for me, but you've done it and made it. Give yourself an applause. You deserve it,” Casanova said.
She dedicated much of her speech to anecdotes about her life, looking to encourage the graduates with stories of her own resilience. She too used her experience as a woman of color to encourage the other women in the audience to never give up and always be assertive of themselves in every facet of life. One of the major questions she left the class however, was how they wanted to define the future for themselves and others after them - as in 20 years, they’d be the ones making changes to shape the course of the country, and their communities.
“What will the world be like in 2043? In 20 years, you'll make decisions affecting future generations as business and community leaders,” Casanova said, “ Remember, you're always good enough. Don't lose hope in humanity. Be fair, give grace and unapologetically do what's right regardless of your career choice. We can all be change agents, but we must be willing to take a risk and to consider the collective.”
Afterward, administrators handed out a number of awards to members of the student body, 12 in total, recognizing all those who managed to achieve academic excellence in their high school careers and be leaders in the community at the academy.
The procession of students then filed across the stage and accepted their diplomas, with rousing applause and cheers from the assembled crowd. With the band playing the classic graduation song” Pomp and Circumstance,” students filed out of the tent between the flags representing the nations of the different graduates and shook hands with their teachers one final time in a long procession.
Graduates then broke for a brunch following the ceremony with their families. All were ecstatic, and looking forward to what comes next following their time at Cheshire Academy.
“It feels amazing. I've been here for four years putting so much work into this. It’s nice to see it all pay off,” said Dennis Brunelle, a four-year student at the academy who will be attending Boston College in the fall. He had only positive words for his time at the school. “It's unlike any public school, and I went through public school, through middle school. It's a completely different experience. The support you get here is just amazing, unlike any experience I'd ever had.”
Celia Frissora, a three-year student at the academy, echoed similar sentiments. She will be going on to Butler University to pursue a major in dance to work alongside a professional ballet company.
“I've had such an incredible three years, I've made the most incredible group of friends. It's just become my second home. It's a great community … It’s really, really emotional,” said Frissora. “I haven't had my good cry yet, but I was going down the line of all my teachers I was starting to feel it. And I know when I see my friends I’m going to cry. It's just very emotional, I'm very excited.”