The touching ceremony at West Hartford’s Hall High School included a tribute to a member of the Class of 2023 who died of brain cancer in April.
By Paul Palmer. Photos by Craig Rosenberg
The clouds cleared late Tuesday afternoon, leaving behind a bright blue sky and endless possibilities for the Class of 2023 at William Hall High School.
Generations of family members gathered with friends, teachers, and school staff to honor a class that began high school with COVID and emerged as the Titans.
“These past years are just a small part of your experiences,” Assistant Superintendent Andrew Morrow told the graduates. “They are not a defining point of who you are, and I hope it fades to a footnote in your future.”
A very special moment took place at the start of the ceremony honoring the nearly 400 graduates. Principal Dan Zittoun spoke of one senior who was not there to share in the moment. Jackie Hamad was a three-sport athlete, a member of the National Honor Society and according to Zittoun was an outstanding friend. Hamad was diagnosed last July and lost her battle with brain cancer in April – but despite her ongoing treatments, completed her course work to earn her diploma.
“Her classmates commented about her wonderful smile, her kindness, and how she always put her heart into everything she did,” Zittoun told those on hand. The members of the class of 2023 and many of those gathered as Zittoun presented Hamad’s diploma to her father Michael, mother Pamela, and Jackie’s brother, Sam.
Ari Steinberg, the vice chair of the Board of Education and mother of a Hall senior, thanked the students for continuing to show up through the tough times. “You have found ways to cope with disappointment and losses that many adults did not have to face until later in life. I want to applaud you for your perseverance and determination to keep moving forward. You kept showing up, which is not only a testament to your resilience and grit but also speaks to your strength of character,” she told them.
Steinberg also encouraged the graduates to surround themselves with people who will not only support them but also challenge them, and to also remember to cut themselves some slack.
“When you’re finding yourself being critical or unforgiving to yourself, take a moment to change your messaging to something you might say to a friend who is struggling. Recognize that ‘your best’ might look different depending on the day – we are all human and some days will be tougher than others.”
The Hall Choraliers performed a rendition of “Homeward Bound,” and senior members of the ensemble lead the signing of the Hall High School Alma Mater.
In her role as the student speaker, Marnie Fronczek centered on a theme of life being like living in an ocean and having to ride out the waves to reach a destination.
“Each of us has found a home at Hall,” she told her fellow classmates. “The connections we have made here are unlike any other.”
Mark Corey was selected as the faculty speaker by the students – an honor he said “was one of coolest, most rewarding moments I’ve experienced because of what I know to be true about this class.The class of 2023 is funny. This class has made me laugh pretty much every day I’ve been here because they’re witty, goofy, and aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves.”
Corey – a Hall graduate himself – praised the Class of 2023 for how they have gotten to this point in their lives. “This special group was forged and strengthened through adversity. They are a group who, as freshmen, had to navigate how to interact with new people in a new school.” Corey said. “And then they had to learn how to interact with those same people behind screens. And then they had to relearn how to interact with each other again in person. All while dealing with the everyday struggles of, you know, learning things, and finding acceptance being their authentic selves.”
Corey told them that what sets Hall apart from other schools is a staff that cares about them and wants them to thrive and be happy. He told the grads that the next step for them was going to be different, and that through his own life experience, he knows that plans can change, but they should never give up on themselves.
“Whatever step you decide to take, do it with passion, conviction, and a smile on your face,” he told the students. “You all are ready. And no matter where you go, you will always have a community of people cheering on your successes, and ready to help you back up when you inevitably fall on occasion. You are ready to find and pursue the things you’re passionate about, and you’re ready to keep making the world a better place. Take your next step: GO BE GREAT!”
In his remarks, Zittoun told the members of the Class of 2023 that they had endured and persevered not only through COVID and its changes, but also, the everyday obstacles everyone faces. “You adapted to remote learning, overcame technological hurdles, and maintained your focus on academic excellence,” he said. “Your unwavering determination and ability to persevere through these difficult times are commendable and serve as a testament to your character.”
Zittoun also confessed to experimenting with using the Artificial Intelligence program ChatGP to write part of his speech, but added there is nothing artificial about the students of the Class of 2023. “You are genuine. You are natural. You are real,” he told them. “Continue to be genuine. Continue to be real. Continue to create experiences and feelings. Go create new communities and build onto your family. It is exciting and scary. It is both happy and sad. Most importantly, it is real and it is yours.”
Senior Derek Williams delivered the charge to the class and told them he was proud of them. And reminded them that when taking a trip, it takes longer to get somewhere than to return from it. “What I am simply saying is that whether you know what you are doing in life or not, you won’t always feel uncertain about who and what you are going to face. But the outcome will be amazing. Trust the process. Because if you rush it, you might miss something or someone that was beneficial for your growth.”
As they received their diplomas and the cheers from friends and family that went with them, Morrow’s words rang in the ears of the Class of 2023 as they prepared for their next steps.
“It’s okay to do something just because you love it,” he told them. “My challenge to you is to embrace a passion that you are mediocre at. If you love it, keep doing it and it will bring you happiness.
A complete list of the members of the Hall Class of 2023 can be found below the photos.
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Hall Class of 2023
|Yusur||Ali Ibrahim||Al Lami|
|Salma||Abdelsalam Hamdy Ahmed||Makhlouf|
|Sondos||Abdelsalam Hamdy Ahmed||Makhlouf|