On June 16, Dodd Middle School eighth graders walked onto Cheshire High School’s Alumni Field with great anticipation. While the students will still have the summer break before entering high school, they enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate their promotion ceremony together.
“It feels great,” said Grace Hurlbut. “This school year was definitely a challenge, but it is good to see how everyone came together. It is crazy how fast our time has gone by (at Dodd).”
Just one year ago, the coronavirus pandemic caused Dodd to hold a virtual ceremony for families to watch in their homes.
“This was huge,” said Dodd Principal Mike Woods, of setting up an in-person promotion. “We came close to almost not having it again. It was great that the community pulled through to make this happen for these students.”
To kick off the morning program, Woods thanked secretaries Lori Braun, Nancy Liebler, and Melissa Veleber, as well as Lisa Raczka, Deb Manke, Pat Cruess, and Mike Solimine, for their help with the event.
Following the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, Woods returned to welcome the crowd to the ceremony. Over the last few days, he said, he had been trying to think about what to say to the students that they can take with them in high school and in life, but came up with nothing that they don’t already know or haven’t experienced this past year.
“Speeches like this are filled with words, like perseverance, patience, and grace, that are applied as moral standards that should be embedded in you and will make you a huge success in life,” said Woods.
As he reflected, Woods said that the students had passed his test, as they had been through a unique year that had challenged the very fabric that makes them adolescents.
“But, in that time, all of you to your own degree rose to the occasion to persevere through each and every day to make education work and still maintain a high standard of excellence in Cheshire,” added Woods.
After the opening remarks, three traditional citizenship awards were handed out. Eden DeNeen received the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Alphonse Grasso Award. Sarah Goldstein followed as the Michael Molly Award recipient, and then Jacob Tierney was announced as the Nancy Kucinskas Award winner.
While having been honored earlier in the year, Assistant Principal John Perosino announced that Tierney, Jack DeJoseph, Mia Niglio, and Ava Sink had received Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendent’s Awards. Lydia Ghaly and Brady Potyrala were also acknowledged as Connecticut Association of Boards of Education honorees.
Next, team teachers called students up to receive their promotion certificates.
“It was exciting,” said Jillian Falcone. “It has been a long year for us to get here.”
Falcone and Leah Pisani felt that the event symbolized how far their class has come.
“We went from a small elementary school (at Highland) to coming into a big school,” reflected Falcone. “We’ve made a lot of friends and learned a lot.”
For this year’s promotion ceremony, Woods chose Sarah Silverman to give the Farewell Address. She recalled Friday, March 13, 2020, when all the students and parents received an email saying that Dodd would be closed for next 14 days and it ended up being the rest of the school year.
“Luckily, Cheshire found a way for the school system to operate somewhat normally. As you would expect, it wasn’t normal, so we had to learn to adapt,” said Silverman, of students needing to wear masks in the school or perhaps learning from home.
She felt that the pandemic forced the students to grow up a little more quickly, but she urged her classmates to not forget childhood memories, like watching raindrops race down the car window.
“Just remember those youthful moments and take time to appreciate them, because when you are older, you forget and lose those memories that you once had,” stated Silverman, who will attend CHS this year.
To wrap up the program, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeffrey Solan expressed gratitude to the parents, the Dodd staff, and the students.
Last summer, Solan recalled meeting with hundreds of parents and teachers, many of whom expressed concerns about if the students could wear masks in school and not get discouragedor disengaged.
“It turns out that, like usual, you were role models for adults. I’ve never heard students complain about wearing masks. Not that you enjoyed it, but you did what you had to do,” stated Solan. “You came to school and you put your best foot forward. You inspired us, the adults, to be better. Thank you.”
While this year was not without challenge, Solan said that the community didn’t just survive this journey, but thrived together. He said that is something to be proud of and added that everyone will share that experience together forever in the Cheshire Public School community.
For eighth grader Sofia Della Porta, promotion may be the last event she attends with her collective class. In being Cheshire Academy’s Town Scholar recipient this year, Porta will receive a four-year scholarship to attend the prep school.
“It will be different changing schools, but I can still hang out with friends and attend (CHS) football games,” Della Porta said.
With her mother having received the Town Scholar in 1993, Della Porta is excited to follow in her footsteps.
“I’m interested in the diversity of the student body,” stated Della Porta. “As a singer, I want to get involved in the music program.”
Like Della Porta, Hurlbut feels that Dodd has prepared her well for high school. Among her experiences, she enjoyed learning social studies from Tim Baker.
“He made classes fun. He is a great teacher,” said Hurlbut.
As a multi-sport athlete, Hurlbut looks forward to playing soccer, basketball, and lacrosse at CHS. Her older sister, Anna, has already played those three sports for two years in high school.
“It will be nice to know someone when I get there,” said Hurlbut.
Classmate Aydin Fell said that he is nervous heading into his freshman year.
“I know that I’ll get used to it. I’m looking forward to meeting new people,” stated Fell.
After persevering through a challenging year, Woods is optimistic that the community has turned the corner on the pandemic.
“Going into the fall, I hope the positivity rate stays low and vaccinations continue to increase,” said Woods. “We would love to have a normal school year coming up.”