Jockey Hollow and STEM graduates’ light continues to shine bright


MONROE, CT — Jockey Hollow Middle School’s class of 260 eighth graders received their certificates during a recognition ceremony on Masuk High School’s Benedict Field Tuesday, as family and friends packed the bleachers under a bright evening sun.

Principal Julia Strong spoke from the podium onstage, using April 8th’s solar eclipse as a metaphor for the transformative journey her students have undertaken during their time at Jockey Hollow’s main campus and STEM Academy.

“Each one of you possesses the power to create extraordinary moments of light and change in the world,” she said. “You have shown us that you are capable of achieving great things, both inside and outside the classroom. Your curiosity and compassion, your perseverance and your problem solving have been nothing short of phenomenal.”

The commencement was attended by Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza, Assistant Superintendent Sheila Casinelli, members of the Board of Education, First Selectman Terry Rooney, State Rep. Tony Scott, R-Monroe, teachers and administrators.

Jockey Hollow Middle School Principal Julia Strong welcomes families to Tuesday’s Recognition Ceremony.

Strong told the graduates their success was nurtured by Jockey Hollow’s “fantastic teachers” and she encouraged them to hug their parents after the ceremony and thank them for their love and support.

“I’m inspired by your contribution and I know you’re prepared for high school,” she said. “Congratulations to the phenomenal Class of 2024.”

Trisha Chandrika Srikanth delivered the commencement address for her class.

“Today we come together to celebrate a remarkable day graduating from middle school, something we could not have done without the help of our marvelous staff, teachers, friends and family,” she said.

Srikanth said she and her classmates made new friendships and incredible memories they will cherish for the rest of their lives.

“If there ever was a year that sums up all the years in middle school, it would be eighth grade,” she said. “Eighth grade has been the coolest, happiest, craziest, funniest, most phenomenal year of all. The highlight of our lives thus far.”

Trisha Chandrika Srikanth gives the commencement address.

Now, Srikanth said she and her classmates will embark on their next chapter: high school.

“I am so excited to spend the next four years of my life with all of you,” she said. “We are all so unique and interesting in our own ways. But when we come together, we are the Jockey Hollow Lions — living our values of respect, responsibility and safety.”

The superintendent addressed the Class of 2024 as the ceremony’s guest speaker.

Kobza reflected on how the world has been obsessed with artificial intelligence over the past year, specifically ChatGPT and other generated AI platforms.

“Much of what we read about AI can seem pretty scary,” he said. “How many jobs will disappear? How can I believe anything is truly original?”

Dr. John Spencer, an education professor and former middle school social studies teacher categorized the things AI does and does not do well.

Superintendent Joseph Kobza delivers a speech.

Among the positives were synthesizing information, creating systems and generating fast responses.

Some of the things it does not do well is empathy and emotional intelligence; adaptive, ethical and divergent thinking and textual understanding, factual accuracy and providing a clear voice.

“This list is the one that makes the difference — the one that will move our world forward in a positive direction,” Kobza said of AI’s drawbacks.

Throughout their academic journeys, he encouraged students to maintain their humanity, while discovering and embracing their authentic selves.

“Question the facts that others present, embrace different thinking, and never lose your empathy for others,” he said.

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