MONROE, CT — Masuk High School senior Colin Jarnutowski, wearing a red cap and gown, stood behind the podium on the stage assembled on Benedict Field to give the graduate address at the commencement ceremony for his school’s 290 graduating seniors Wednesday evening.
The graduates have fond memories from their four years at Masuk and Jarnutowski shared his personal favorite, leading the Red Army, the section of cheering sports fans mostly seen at Panthers’ football games.
Though he admitted to feeling out of place, Jarnutowski said the experience makes him smile because he took a risk in search of making lifelong memories.
“It is taking that risk that creates the most memorable moments,” he said. “I’ve played in hundreds of baseball games. I skied once. I can’t tell you what happened in those baseball games, but I can tell you exactly the fear that rushed through my veins as I learned to make my way down a slope.”
Jarnutowski said people often avoid trying new things because leaving their comfort zones can be scary, and “nobody wants to look stupid.”
“Good experiences make good memories,” he said. “Bad experiences make good stories.”
Jarnutowski asked everyone to think of three new experiences they want to try and, after they do them, to come up with three more.
“Class of 2022, it’s been a pleasure spending these past 13 years sharing classrooms with you, but our adventure starts today,” he said. “One day, years from now, I hope to run into each of you and hear the incredible stories and memories you have made in your exploration of life. Best of luck and enjoy every moment of the journey ahead.”
Valedictorians Jane Ding and Jackson Zambarano both asked their fellow graduates to remember their families, teachers and classmates who helped them to succeed over the past four years and expressed optimism over the future.
“If you keep working as hard as you have for these last four years, nothing can stop you,” Zambarano said.
“All of us will make our own history,” he said. “Yours might not be in the record books, but it will be celebrated by you, your friends and your family for years to come. Everyone, thank you for all the good memories. Good bye. Good night. And go Panthers!”
“The future is bright, untapped — it’s yours to create,” Ding said, “so look ahead and determine what you want this part of your journey and your life to look like and make it happen.”
“The sky is not infinite,” she continued. “In fact, our skies are beyond infinite, so take time, watch the sky, bask in the moonlight, shine in the stars and proceed to the future. It’s all just getting started.”
Board of Education Chairman David Ferris thanked all of the parents for providing endless support for their children, and for the staff at Masuk who work hard to help its students succeed.
“Graduates, be very proud of yourselves,” Ferris said. “Hard work does pay off — and here you are. Your family and district staff supported you, but you did it. This is your moment. Enjoy it. Savor it and start working hard on creating your next moment of accomplishment.”
Masuk Principal Steven Swensen asked all of the graduates who plan to serve their country through military service to stand up and be recognized. This included Joseph Iken, Michael Epifano, Lauren Henry, Veronica Martino, Ryan Perez, Wednesday Smetak, Victoria Gloria and John Takacs.
Swensen also recognized educators who are retiring this year — Jeffrey Seymour, Victoria Flam, Bonnie Waring, Nancy Zukowski, Jack Ceccolini and Darleen Fensore — who had a combined 180 years of service to Monroe’s public schools, according to Swensen.
He noted how Masuk’s graduating class had two principals in four years and showed resilience and perseverance, while going to school during a pandemic.
Swensen shared some lyrics from country music star Carrie Underwood’s song, “Whenever You Remember” with the class to convey his thoughts on their time together.
“Class of 2022, may all your dreams come true,” Swensen said. “Congratulations.”
Beacons of light
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza talked about Steve Pemberton’s book, “The Lighthouse Effect: How Ordinary People Can Have an Extraordinary Impact in the World.”
He described lighthouses as a selfless beacons in the night that guide ships away from disaster without recognition.
Kobza said he’s sure members of this year’s graduating class had plenty of lighthouses along the way, as family members picked them up when they’d fallen, course corrected when they were on the wrong path, or just stood by their side as they found their way.
“Know that they did this expecting nothing in return,” Kobza said. “They did it because they love you and they want you to be happy.”
He said students’ journeys through Monroe public schools were filled with lighthouses every step of the way, helping them to navigate the dangers and pitfalls that lie ahead, from teachers and counselors to coaches.
“Now it’s your turn to be the lighthouse,” Kobza said. “Go out and make the world a better place by serving as a beacon to others. Give altruistically of your time to a cause that is near and dear to you — and know that you do this without expecting anything in return. Be the lighthouse for someone else, because others have been lighthouses for you.”