High school seniors who graduated this summer received a unique designation. In the past, graduating students have been identified by the year in which they swiped their tassels from right to left. For the Class of 2019, Class of 2018 and all of the years before them, recognition bestowed upon them included the calendar year of their graduation.
This year is much different. Welcome to the Class of COVID-19.
The Stamford Board of Realtors selected 10 students from Stamford public schools to receive $1,000 scholarships. Awards are based on academics and community service, and each of the students spent countless hours supporting local programs. The scholarship program, which started in 1993, has awarded more than $173,000 since its inception.
This year’s class concluded its 13-year journey through their educational path in a most improbable manner. Instead of proms, yearbook signings, teacher hugs, college reveals, and all of the other rites that mark the time-honored passage of graduation, this year’s class adapted to online learning, social distancing and the cancellation of everything most high school seniors hold near and dear. Instead of closing with a flourish, this year’s class remained isolated from friends, away from athletic fields, and confined to their homes for online classes.
“My senior year was supposed to be part of the final chapter of that part of my life,’’ said Alexia Boccuzzi, a scholarship winner who graduated from Westhill High School school. “It made it a lot more difficult. It was emotional and felt a little unfair.”
Boccuzzi suffered more than some of the other graduates because she also missed class time -- and time with friends -- during a three-year fight with pediatric cancer. She had been looking forward to her final strides toward the educational finish line.
While frustrating, the recipients accepted the hand they were dealt as they capped their high school careers. They did not get the closure they wanted or expected, but teenagers -- particularly the exceptional scholarship winners -- are resilient. They adapted, made the best of the situation, and received diplomas to complete the final step in the passage to full-fledged adulthood.
“It’s something that was troubling at first,’’ said Leslie Guerra, a scholarship winner from the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering. “It’s a final goodbye, not necessarily to just friends, but also to the experiences you have as a child. But we have to remember what’s good for the community as a whole. It’s important to pay attention to these guidelines. We feel a little shortchanged because these are moments you grow up seeing. But at the end of the day, it pales in comparison to what is going on compared to other people. That kind of mends it.”
A look at the 10 winners of Stamford Board of Realtors scholarships:
Alexia Boccuzzi, Westhill High School
Elementary and middle schools: Roxbury, Scofield Magnet.
Up Next: University of Pennsylvania.
In the community: Relay for Life, Stamford Museum & Nature Center, St. Leo Parish.
Scholastic extras: Editor at student newspaper, Debate Team, Mock Trial, National Honor Society Vice President, Spanish National Honor Society.
About: Alexia’s treatments for leukemia spurred an interest in medicine and biology. She will double-major with a focus on biology and philosophy, economics, and politics.
Memories: “One of my most prominent memories is our debate team competition. I’ve always loved sports from a spectator’s perspective, but I wasn’t a great participant. On the debate team, I got that sense of camaraderie and team spirit. For all incoming high school students, there is an activity at Westhill for every student’s talents.”
Chris Burke, Academy of Information Technology & Engineering (AITE)
Elementary and middle schools: St. Cecilia’s, Scofield.
Up Next: Tufts University.
In the community: Boy Scouts, Mayor's Youth Leadership Council, St. Bridget of Ireland Church.
Scholastic extras: National Honor Society, Debate Team, Student Body President.
About: Chris earned his Eagle Scout badge by designing, building, and installing 42 soundproof panels at First United Methodist Church.
Memories: “One thing I appreciated about Stamford Public Schools is the diversity. It’s great to be in a classroom with people who are so different in backgrounds, the way we think, and how we do things. It’s how we work together to be better versions of ourselves.”
Hannah Bushell, Stamford
Elementary and middle schools: Westover, Rogers International.
Up Next: University of Michigan.
In the community: Building One Community, Friendly Faces.
Scholastic extras: National Honor Society, Vice President of Senior Class, Varsity tennis team, Editor with student newspaper.
About: Hannah plans to enroll in medical school after her undergraduate studies. “I’ve always found science and math interesting. I like the fact that there is always a concrete answer. I like to ask a lot of questions. I like to answer why to questions. Math and science allows me to do that. There’s always room to dig deeper.”
Memories: “I loved Stamford High’s annual Pink Out game to raise money for breast cancer research. It’s a great way of bringing our community together. Just seeing everyone being a united team is something I’ll remember for a very long time.”
Alex Edwards, Westhill
Elementary and middle schools: Hart Magnet, Cloonan.
Up Next: University of Virginia (one-year deferred entry).
In the community: Stamford Junior Wrestling coach and referee, Bee Brothers educational workshops, tutor.
Scholastic extras: National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, four-year varsity wrestling athlete, lacrosse.
About: Alex has been instrumental in helping his family launch a successful start-up, Toasty Toes. The company sells and delivers kiln-dried firewood to homes in Fairfield and Westchester counties. Since its inception in 2015, the business has grown to serve 1,500 customers.
Memories: “One of my biggest memories is playing sports. I’ve been on sports teams since kindergarten. I’m definitely going to remember the strong relationships I made with kids on teams and being part of teams. Being captain taught me about being a leader.”
Elementary and middle schools: Westover, Cloonan.
Up Next: University of Connecticut
In the community: Bartlett Arboretum, Summer Street internship, mission trip to Ecuador, Stillmeadow Elementary volunteer.
Scholastic extras: National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, track and field (2-year team captain), Beyond Limits tutor.
About: Andrew spent countless hours volunteering for several groups. “Whenever I go on these volunteer opportunities, I am with those who are less fortunate,’’ he said. “They are so grateful for someone helping out in their daily lives. I enjoy giving back to the community and giving a helping hand.”
Memories: “I really enjoyed being with the track team. I was able to become captain and also compete in a lot of events. Winning the City Cup and competing as a team is something I’m always going to remember.”
Ayusha Gautum, AITE
Elementary and middle schools: Stark Elementary, Dolan Middle.
Up Next: Middlebury College
In the community: Person to Person; Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County; Keep America Beautiful Youth Advisory Council; RSPACEE, an afternoon science program for students at Scofield Magnet and Hart Elementary; Sound Waters; The Borgen Project.
Scholastic extras: Interact Club President, Spanish National Honor Society, National Honor Society, Science Honor Society, Award of Excellence in Interactive Art Robotics.
About: Volunteer experiences helped Ayusha define her academic interests. “One of the things I realize that could help people was by working on Spanish translation. I met different people from different walks of life. I was able to apply my education outside of school.”
Memories: “I loved my literature class. It just opened my mind every single day.”
Paulina Gerner, Stamford High School
Elementary and middle schools: Turn of River, Westover Magnet
Up Next: University of Connecticut
In the community: Stamford Hospital, Ferguson Library, Alzheimer’s Awareness Walk, Jewish Community Center youth swimming coach
Scholastic extras: National Honor Society, Student Government, Biology Club
About: Paulina’s parents moved to the United States from Russia. She is a first-generation American.
Memories: Paulina recounted several examples of caring and appreciation of Stamford High teachers that touched her. One remembrance centered on an AP chemistry test that perplexed every member of the class. “It was a very long day,’’ Paulina said. “The teachers saw how we were struggling. They brought in pizza for all of us. There are people that are so kind to us and just love the students.”
Keiry Gonzalez, AITE
Elementary and middle schools: Rogers Elementary, Roxbury Middle
Up Next: Manhattanville College
In the community: Student volunteer in technology class, mentor, computer assistant at Carroll Center for the Blind
Scholastic extras: Interact Club, Latin Honor Society, Youth Leadership Council
About: Keiry, who is blind, plans to major in music production at Manhattanville.
Memories: “I think before the pandemic hit I wasn’t taking advantage of as many opportunities as I am right now,’’ Keiry said. “During the pandemic I learned that communication is key. Everyone was working virtually, so it was a little bit harder for me. Everyone was using different apps. Once I got adjusted, everything flowed from there.”
Leslie Guerra, AITE
Elementary and middle schools: Stark, Scofield
Up Next: Yale University
In the community: Person to Person, Interact Club, Creative Learning at First Presbyterian Church, SoundWaters, Teens Making a Difference
Scholastic extras: National Honor Society, Student Newspaper, Choir, Science Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society
About: Leslie said her extensive volunteer experiences helped give her appreciate the opportunities she has been given. “Volunteer work makes you more aware of what makes up the Stamford community,’’ she said. “By helping someone, you’re giving back to the community in ways that always come back around. It has made me aware of the blessings. By giving back it has given me a better perspective of life.
Memories: “One of the biggest reasons I loved school was being able to be in a classroom with people with diverse backgrounds and diverse experiences,’’ Leslie said. “I was able to click with people I would not have usually connected with. It’s something I know will serve me well in the future. It’s an incomparable experience.”
Yael Roll, Westhill
Elementary and middle schools: Carmel Academy (Greenwich), Scofield
Up Next: University of Delaware
In the community: Brighton Gardens, Friendship Circle, Stamford Education for Autism Buddies
Scholastic extras: National Honor Society, LanD Crew Mentor and Ambassador.
About: “Volunteering at Bright Gardens was fascinating because of the patients and the interest people had in me,’’ Yael said. “It felt like they were living vicariously through me. That’s what made it so special. The bonds. Kind of taking them out of the bubble I live in.”
Memories: “On my first day at Scofield. I was so overwhelmed,’’ Yael said. “It was so big compared to my private school. I had no idea there could be so many kids. I was excited and nervous and I completely broke down. I got to know more and more students, and that was something I enjoyed.”