Jockey Hollow’s Class of 2023 emerges from rain and a smokey haze, certificates in hand

Members of Jockey Hollow Middle School's Class of 2023 receive their certificates during a Recognition Ceremony on Benedict Field at Masuk High School Tuesday evening.

MONROE, CT — Jockey Hollow Middle School’s eighth grade class delayed the start of their Recognition Ceremony by a half hour as heavy rain with thunder and lightning passed Tuesday evening, before gathering on Benedict Field at Masuk High School under a white sky, hazy from the smoke of wildfires in Canada drifting over the state.

Nothing stopped the 272 members of the Class of 2023 from receiving their certificates before cheering families, who filled the bleachers, many holding umbrellas.

Early in the ceremony, Abigail Carey spoke from the podium, announcing that the certificate presentation would happen first to ensure every student received their certificate in case it started to rain again. But the weather held up and the event went on.

Principal Julia Strong, who completed her first year as Jockey Hollow’s principal, addressed her first graduating class.

“I’m so proud of this pride of Lions and I am so proud to share this milestone with you,” she said.

Strong took a moment to recognize all of the school’s staff members who are retiring. Among them are teacher Laura Chadwick, STEM Academy librarian Kathleen Ducharme, paraeducator Diane Garwacki, paraeducator Evelyn Ramos and teacher Lisa Roman.

Strong told the graduates to hug their parents after the ceremony to thank them for the love they’ve shown over the years, helping with their homework, driving them to events, and coming out to see them receive their certificates in wet weather conditions.

Principal Julia Strong addresses the Class of 2023 during Tuesday’s Recognition Ceremony at Masuk.

“I’m inspired by how far you’ve come and I know you’re prepared for the road ahead,” she said. “Congratulations Jockey Hollow Class of 2023.”

Nikol Kupieieva, a student who emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine in March of 2022 after the war with Russia began, gave the commencement address. She had moved in with her aunt and uncle and recalled the fear she felt starting school at Jockey Hollow.

“My English was awful,” Kupieieva said, adding she was “a girl without a voice.”

However, she said teachers and students at the school soon made her feel comfortable and part of the Jockey Hollow community.

“My advice is not to be afraid of change,” Kupieieva said. “With the help of family, friends and teachers we will always have a voice.”

Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza told the graduates how everyone experiences self doubt and fears being an outsider at some point in their lives, then went on to say how much the students’ middle school years have changed them, with self discovery and more meaningful connections with their peers.

Director Mark Bilotta leads the Jockey Hollow Band.

Monroe Board of Education members participated in the certificate presentation and the ceremony was also attended by First Selectman Ken Kellogg and State Rep. Tony Scott, R-Monroe.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Sheila Casinelli was among the many educators.

Student Meagan McCaffrey led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance, Director Amanda Morrison led the Jockey Hollow Chorus in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Director Mark Bilotta led the Jockey Hollow Band in “March of the Majestics” by Robert Sheldon.

In addition to receiving their certificates, many students received awards for excellence in academics and community service.

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