North Stonington— At the Wheeler High School graduation, Ciara Haines told her classmates to cherish their loved ones.
Friday was graduation day for 61 seniors at the high school but it also would have been Haines’ father’s 51st birthday. He died when she was 5.
“To my classmates, I want each of you to remember those who may not be here today, for whatever the reason, and to know that they are all extremely proud of everything you have accomplished,” said Haines, the class president. “And please don’t take the time that you have with people for granted, cherish that time and those memories.”
This year the ceremony was held inside the school due to the weather and the faculty wore academic regalia for the first time.
Bernard “Bing” Bartick was the speaker chosen by the graduating class. A long-time substitute teacher and town resident, Bartick shared what he has learned about living a happy, productive and rewarding life in the form of a recipe. The first ingredient, he said, is love, followed by acceptance, accept “yourself for who you are and others for what they are.”
Other key ingredients are forgiveness, persistence, knowledge, kindness and gratitude.
“You are the very best,” Bartick said. “May the force be with you. May the roar of the Wheeler Lions be heard forever. Congratulations and bon voyage!”
The superintendent of schools and the Board of Education chairman also spoke. Then the graduates enthusiastically accepted their diplomas and carnations in the school colors then tossed their caps in the air, ready to head off to college, the workplace or the military. Annie Luckhardt said she was excited to start something new but sad to leave her friends and the small-school environment. Luckhardt will go to the University of Rhode Island, where she hopes to get into the physical therapy program.
Her mother, Priscilla, said she was very proud of her daughter, who excelled with the many opportunities the school offered. Luckhardt was the class secretary and a National Honor Society member. She played on the soccer and basketball teams.
“It will be a big change, I loved it here,” Annie Luckhardt said. “I loved going to a small school. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”