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New London High School grads celebrate culmination of a tough few years

New London — In 2020, graduates from New London High School sat in their cars with family members watching prerecorded speeches on an inflatable large screen drive-in style.

It was a stark contrast to Wednesday’s graduation ceremony, held at Cannamela Field outside the high school with a sea of visitors cheering on their family members and friends for enduring a last few years of school like no other.

The New London Multi-Magnet Campus, a combination of New London High School and the STEM Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut, graduated 239 students.

“Even a global pandemic couldn’t stop us from being one of the most academically and athletically talented classes in NLHS history,” class valedictorian Annette Park said.

Class President Lizbeth Polanco said there were times, because of the separation between the students in a year of hybrid and distance learning, that she thought the class would not come together.

“But strangely enough, this year of isolation and quarantining has brought us closer than ever. We all now share an experience, a collective struggle,” she said.

While students missed out on some sports, clubs and other in-person activities, Polanco said it wasn’t all bad.

“We learned to have patience, we learned to be grateful, and I hate to say it but some of us have even learned how to wash our hands for 20 seconds,” she said. “If this year has taught us anything let it be that everything is unpredictable, and some things are out of your control.”

New London High School Multi-Magnet Campus Principal Jose Ortiz called the year a roller-coaster ride that ended on a good note.

“Parents, teachers and students were asked to adapt to a new norm of learning," he said. "We began the year unsure of the future, whether senior events would could even be held. I am so grateful we are standing here as one to celebrate this incredible class and their accomplishments.”

The school continued its “game changer” tradition in which students honor faculty members who have made a profound impact in their lives. Graduate Bryson Doughty, in an essay read by Ortiz, praised Thomas “Chef Tomm” Johnson, head of the school’s culinary department and founder of the nonprofit Whalers Helping Whalers. Tomm helped Doughty come out of his shell, taught him how to cook and helped him find a job at Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock and inspired him to volunteer.

“He has always been there if I needed to confide to an adult or if I am just hungry,” Doughty wrote.

Danni Cruz, who is headed to the University of Connecticut and intending to become a teacher, thanked staff member Erica Bammerlin for support and inspiration.

“I am forever grateful for the hard work you put into my success,” Cruz wrote. “Mrs. Bammerlin, I can say for sure you are a huge part of my motivation to pursue a career in education. I am hoping one day to be like you, prioritizing students success and education.”

Amid the crowd of family members on Wednesday was Joe Ortiz, who came to cheer on his grandson, Keeano Gonzalez, a standout athlete and a “respectful and good kid.”

“It was just so tough for those kids with everything going on. I am very proud of him,” Ortiz said.

g.smith@theday.com

Teshuah Williams does 21 pushups after receiving his diploma Wednesday, June 23, 2021, as members of New London High School's Class of 2021 cheer during commencement exercises for at the school's Canamella Field. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Teshuah Williams does 21 pushups after receiving his diploma Wednesday, June 23, 2021, as members of New London High School's Class of 2021 cheer during commencement exercises for at the school's Canamella Field. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Photo gallery

For a gallery of more photos from the graduation ceremony, click here.

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