Gilbert School graduates after the schools 126th graduation ceremony on Friday, June 11.
Gilbert School graduates after the schools 126th graduation ceremony on Friday, June 11.

WINSTED — It was a tough year for students and administrators at The Gilbert School who had to deal with the worldwide pandemic during their time at school.

Despite the pandemic, they all powered through months of virtual learning, hybrid learning, along with several sports not being held this season, and several traditional student events not even being held at all.

Despite all the inconveniences the pandemic brought to this school year, seniors all persevered this year which brought them to the school’s 126th graduation ceremony on Friday, June 11 at East End Park.

“Although we traditionally hold graduations in the auditorium, having the ceremony in East End Park brings us back to Gilbert’s beginning,” Principal Susan Sojka said in her speech. “On September 10, 1895, the doors to The Gilbert School opened for the first time in what is now known as the Northwestern Connecticut Community College. Having our students process from W.L Gilbert’s gravesite on Grove Street, and walk the stage of the shadows of where The Gilbert School began, gives our students a sense of our rich heritage during these historic times. Being at East End Park being surrounded by friends, family, faculty, and staff, allows everyone here tonight to feel a sense of community, and belonging as we celebrate and honor our graduates.”

The theme of the speeches made at this year’s graduation was all about perseverance, including the speech made by Salutatorian Miranda Brennan.

“It wouldn’t be a graduation speech if I didn’t at least include one cliché, and mine is ‘work hard, and play hard,’” Brennan said. “I think the saying ‘work hard, play hard’ really does apply to the class of 2021. Although sometimes we focused on the ‘play’ part of that saying just a little too much, we still managed to put in the hard work to get to our high school graduation. Some of the memories that we made within the TGS brick walls will stick with us for life. But it doesn’t end here. We will continue to make memories, meet new people, and create our stories day by day. If there is anything I want my classmates to remember while pursuing their journeys beyond high school is to work to the best of your ability and don’t let any moments or opportunities pass you by in the process.”

“It is hard to believe that just six short years ago, many of us sat in our seventh grade English class looking at a question written in bold black ink on a whiteboard: ‘Who are you?’” Valedictorian Rebecca Dowling said in her speech. “It was the framework of our entrance into the big world of middle school, and the basis of nearly every part of our curriculum. While it appeared to be a seemingly easy task, we were all under the impression, whether it be promised or not, that by the end of the year we would know exactly what we were made of, and exactly who we were.”

Dowling said that both she and her classmates are still on a journey to answer the question posed many years ago on the whiteboard. However, Dowling did put into words a description of her generation and their struggles.

“Who we are is a generation born with the burdens of the past, and a set of expectations of the future,” Dowling said. “We were expected to conform to society’s needs and wants. We were expected to find solutions to problems we had not even begun to understand ourselves. We were expected to carry the burden of responsibility while maintaining our child-like innocence. In a sense, it quickly vanished under the scrutinizing eye of social media and society.  We grew up in an age of inescapable and unimaginable technology, with a constant flow of information and society’s standards of perfection bombarding us with every Instagram scroll and like. We became a generation surrounded by unthinkable and needless violence.”

Dowling said that “2020 was our call to action.”

“We are the generation raised by the events of our time, allowing us to change the future from what it can be, to what it will be,” she said. “I am so proud to be part of our generation and our class and to have gotten the privilege to watch all of you grow into some of the strongest people I have ever met. Your voice and your will are truly inspiring and one of a kind. Remember to speak out and use your voice to bring your dreams to life.”

This was the final graduation ceremony for Principal Sojka and School Superintendent Dr. Anthony Serio, who are both retiring at the end of this school year.

“These students have been nothing but patient during the last year-and-a-half,” Principal Sojka said. “They are persistent. Although there were restrictions, they took advantage of every opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments and future endeavors. All while being respectful, responsible, and kind. Graduates, as you enter the workforce, college, or military, I challenge you to go outside your comfort zone and meet new people. Take the opportunity to find out what you have in common with those around you, rather than focusing on what separates you. Find your voice and learn to use it. Speak and let yourself be heard. But also listen and hear what other people are saying.”

“It’s a new era for all of you and also for me,” Superintendent Serio said. “You are about to embark on a journey that will take you further in your education whether that is college, technical school, the armed forces, or the world of work. For me it will be a journey too, what is next in my life, just like you, I am sure education will be part of the equation to unlock the door to the future.”