MERIDEN — Nathan DeMaio joined his classmates in front of Wilcox Technical High School, happy to reconnect after a three-month separation, and eager to move forward with his education and career.
Monday’s Wilcox graduation was bittersweet after students spent the past several months practicing distance learning away from classmates and teachers during a statewide closure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It was an opportunity to reconnect in their royal blue caps and gowns before moving on with college, careers and the military.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said DeMaio, who received his certificate in electrical technology. “Everyone gets along.”
Wilcox graduated 173 seniors in career certification programs including automotive collision repair and refinishing, automotive repair, carpentry, culinary arts, electrical, electronics graphics technology, hairdressing/cosmetology, health technology, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, information systems technology, plumbing and heating and precision machining technology.
The school hosted 10 processions Monday for the various programs. Students in caps, gowns and face masks with the school’s logo walked to collect their diplomas after their names were called. Parents driving decorated cars dropped students in front of the school, and continued to the rear parking lot to watch the ceremony.
A full video of the processions and recorded speeches from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, administrators, salutatorian Tyler Haggerty and valedictorian Chloe LaBissoniere will be available via livestreaming later.
“I think they did a great job, considering. And it was a beautiful day,” said Jennifer Rich, whose family decked out their Jeep to honor senior Carley Rich.
Rich, an electrical technology student, is heading to Southern Connecticut State University to pursue a degree in education, she said.
“It was pretty challenging but we made the best of it,” Carley Rich said.Particular hurdles for tech students
Technical high school students, like their public school counterparts, finished out the final months of 2020 through virtual lessons. But technical students faced particular hurdles given how much of their instruction involves hands-on learning. Fortunately, most of the seniors had completed the majority of their requirements prior to the shutdown and loose ends were finalized in the remaining months, educators said.
“They were short changed not only their senior year, but the senior experience,” said Athletic Director Steven Wodarski, who helped with the ceremony. “I don’t think the distance learning can ever replace the hands-on component you get in a tech school. Our teachers are great. They did the best they could. (The students) certainly got a lot more theory than they normally would.”
DeMaio plans to become an emergency medical technician. He credited his instructors and classmates for making the best of the situation.
“You had to adjust,” he said.
Principal Stacy Butkus praised the graduates for their fortitude and offered encouragement for future endeavors. The challenges with distance learning and the social restrictions distinguished the class, she said.
“You worked with everything you have to prove yourselves right in your decision to attend Wilcox,” Butkus said. “A theme that resonated with us was your ability to face adversity. Each time, you were able to pick yourselves up and carry on. Grit is defined as the courage and resolve to move forward. Grit can be used to describe one’s strength of character. You all displayed grit.”