Valley Regional graduates 150, ready to face the world

DEEP RIVER - As spring came to a close, so too did the high school careers of the Valley Regional Class of 2011 Monday night.

And as the sun began to set, the assembly marched toward a ceremony on the athletic fields outside the school that would allow the graduates to further pursue their hopes and dreams outside the confines of the classroom.

The graduates were not alone, though. Gathered were friends and family of the 150 students from all over town and the state - some even had family that had traveled from throughout the country. Arianna Vassallo had her own cheering section, complemented by her grandparents, who flew in from Chicago, and her father, who made the trip all the way from Texas.

“She’s graduating in the top 10 percent of her class and she’s worked so hard, and we’re all so very proud of her,” said Arianna’s mother, Meagan.

Accompanying Vassallo’s family were noisemakers, blow horns, homemade T-shirts that read “ARI V FAN CLUB” and a 7-by-4-foot banner congratulating her on all her accomplishments.

But Vassallo was not the only one whose family and friends came prepared to celebrate. Members of the Deep River and Essex Emergency Response Unit, as well as members of the Essex Fire Department, came to celebrate several graduates who have volunteered for the respective branches over the past few years. Every time a volunteer member’s name was announced, the sirens of the response vehicles blared loudly over the audience’s applause.

All of the excitement and fanfare came with good reason, too. Valley Regional was able to celebrate the accomplishments of its student athletes, some of whom brought home a Class S Championship in boy’s basketball, as well as having tremendous seasons all around. The fervor was also felt when Superintendent Ruth Levy announced that Valley had recently been ranked in Newsweek’s top 500 high schools of America for 2011, one of only 12 Connecticut high schools to make the list.

Levy continued with how most of the graduates were filled with pride, even though some were fearful of what the future may hold. To help ease any doubts, Levy compared the graduating class to the characters from the "Wizard of Oz." Levy said that the graduates own all of the characteristics needed to succeed, just like the characters in the movie, even if they aren’t sure of themselves.

“You have demonstrated a brain to think; you have all achieved academic success to be here this evening," Levy said. "You have all demonstrated heart in our communities, in our schools and in your homes.”

The one attribute Levy focused on the most, however, was the courage the class has shown.

“In combination with thoughts and heart comes the courage to step onto your own yellow brick road, and what lies beyond this evening for you,” said Levy. “Courage is the power to step forward and lead when it’s easier to follow the crowd.”

Like Levy, Valley Regional’s Valedictorian Nick Takaki spoke of how he and his classmates can stand out among the rest, and rather than allow others with a bitter mindset get in their way, Takaki encouraged his classmates to maintain the Valley Regional Warrior ideology of accepting and encouraging others.

“Rather than disappear, our class is going to spread the message of inclusion and mutually assured triumph wherever we go,” said Takaki.

As the final names were called, tassels were flipped and caps tossed. An eruption of cheers and sirens roared as the Class of 2011 completed their high school journey, knowing that they have all they need to succeed in the real world: hidden courage, friendship and loving family who travel halfway across the country to support them

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