'You made it': New Milford High School graduates more than 300 students

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

NEW MILFORD — Pursuing dreams and tackling life’s challenges were said several times at New Milford High School’s 124th graduation Saturday afternoon.

A total of 304 students received their diplomas at the graduation, which was held on the school’s football field.

In his speech, Principal Greg Shugrue referenced the pandemic, saying roughly 120 days into students’ junior year, “the world changed. Our world changed.”

“Spring of your junior year, you were just starting to get your stride — then it all came to a screeching halt,” Shugrue said.

He said, however, that he’s a “glass half-full” person.

“We need to acknowledge our successes and we need to celebrate. You’re here. You made it. You have endured. You have risen to the challenge. You are New Milford strong and don’t you ever forget it,” said Shugrue, amid clapping and cheers from students and audience members.

Shugrue added he hopes the last 15 months taught the graduates that “you can conquer what you put your mind to.”

Life lessons students have learned over the course of the pandemic, according to Shugrue, include becoming more sensitive to issues and people, becoming more tech savvy, improving communication and collaboration skills, and becoming more flexible in the ability to adapt to change.

Addressing the class of 2021, Shugrue asked, “What excites you?” “What intrigues you?” “What makes you tick?”

He told them to pursue those dreams and aspirations “which point to a sense of purpose. Be the best that you can be.”

Universities and colleges New Milford’s class of 2021 will be attending in the fall include Boston University, Harvard, Holy Cross, NYU, Purdue, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Miami and the University of Washington.

Shugrue said about $203,000 in scholarships and grants have been accepted by students through state and local organizations.

Also speaking at the graduation was Stephen Donahue, a math teacher who was recognized as Teacher of the Year for New Milford Public Schools in 2019.

Donahue gave the graduates some “words of wisdom” they can take with them into their future.

“Keep challenging yourself,” he said. “Remember that routine is the enemy. You’ll find that by pushing yourselves into unfamiliar surroundings and unfamiliar territories, you will be able to achieve things that you never thought possible.”

He also told them to develop a moral compass.

“You will be faced with choices and opportunities,” Donahue said. “Some of these will be good opportunities, some of these will not be such good opportunities. Each of us has to decide what we stand for and then stick to our conviction. Don’t let others coerce you into doing something that you know is wrong.”

Donahue encouraged the graduates to question everything.

“Don’t go through life accepting everything you were told. The question ‘why’ might possibly be the most important question that you can ask,” he said. “If it can’t be answered, then there’s a good chance that you found a place where some sort of change is in order.”

Valedictorian, Jackson Caldwell, who will be attending UConn, spoke of the resilience of the class of 2021 and referenced specific challenges members of the student body overcame during the pandemic.

He referred to the band, performing one show as opposed to seven or eight, and challenges of wearing a mask and practicing virtually. He also mentioned class achievements in sports, in the high school musical, and with drives and fundraisers despite the “obstacles of online learning and low in-person attendance,” he said.

He added, however, the class of 2021 did not symbolize “tragedy and missed opportunities,” but instead, “triumph over adversity.”

sfox@milfordmirror.com