A sea of 145 graduates applied mascara, hugged teachers and snapped self-portraits with their iPhones under the fluorescent lights in the basement of the Cathedral of St. Joseph Thursday.
"You did it," said Principal Jason Hartling, as the white- and blue-clad students chanted "East, East, East" and started a slow-clap round of applause.
East Catholic High School celebrated its 49th commencement at the cathedral, where the pews were packed with family and friends.
Graduating senior Lenard Pickering said he didn't put much thought into his choice of a high school, but now that he's done, he's glad he chose East Catholic.
"I always thought it was a good school, but back then I didn't really know," Pickering said. "Now I'm happy I did. We're more like a family; it's smaller."
Spanish teacher Mary Beth Lombardi-Mack said the class has grown closer than previous classes she's seen since she started teaching in 2000.
"They're one of the smallest classes we've had in a long time, and I think it unifies the class," she said. "They've all been very close to each other, but it's time to move on. All good things come to an end."
Upstairs in the cathedral, many people greeted each other as if they were old friends, and parent Frank Parisi, whose son, Thomas, was among the graduates, said many of them were. Parisi said he met his wife at East Catholic, located in Manchester, more than 30 years ago.
"I've known many of them for a long time." Parisi said. "I even have fellow graduates of my class that are here tonight, too. So it's a pretty tight-knit community."
As the graduates proceeded down the main aisle, a child sat on his father's shoulders looking for a graduating sibling, and a grandfather raised his silver-banded hat above the crowd.
The principal asked for people to applaud only after all the graduates' names had been read, so some families coughed loudly in unison, instead, to show support for their graduate.
Class Treasurer Margaret Mills said the class had grown close through their mutual connection to God. She remembered one moment where the entire student body took a moment to pray during the heated state championship hockey game between East Catholic and Fairfield High School.
"God has been with us these four years as we sat on the bus, as we prayed and as we drove in cars with our best friends and thought nothing could be better," she said. "And he will guide us to the future."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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