NORWALK, Conn. -- Marcela Menjivar did it. She was one of 23 graduates from Richard C. Briggs High School in Norwalk on Monday evening.
She carried a full course load and worked evenings to support her 3-year-old daughter. Even more rewarding, she’ll enroll at Norwalk Community College to study nursing in the fall.
Briggs is Norwalk’s alternative high school. Its 75 students had personal or academic issues in the city’s other high schools. Briggs helped them to recover, with small classes, personal attention and more social and emotional support than the larger high schools offer.
As the soon to be graduates prepared to enter the auditorium at the Center for Global Studies at Brien McMahon High School for the ceremony, Briggs Principal Marie Allen told the class, “I’m so very proud of all of you,” and added, “No slouching in your seats.”
The students marched into a room packed with 200 beaming friends and relatives, a few holding foil balloons with messages du jour.
“Did you ever think this day would come?” Mayor Harry Rilling said in offering his congratulations. “You have every right to be proud of yourselves. You’ve faced challenges no one else has … and you didn’t quit.”
He was followed by Board of Education member Heidi Keyes, who hit a similar theme. “You’re all here because you overcame an obstacle and accomplished a goal. … Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Take chances, take charge, continue to learn.”
Allen introduced the featured speaker, Interim School Superintendent James Connelly, saying he has made Briggs “a better place.”
Connelly said each member of the class has made a significant individual achievement, and he congratulated each graduate by name.
Allen introduced Menjivar, the student speaker, calling her “an inspiration to students and to the faculty.”
“Have the courage to follow your heart,” Menjivar told her classmates. “As I stand here, one little smile stands out,” she said and broke down.
Allen comforted her, and Menjivar went on, “Life is not easy, especially when you have a kid at a very young age. Everyone looks at you different, everyone thinks you won’t be successful. In my case, I know it’s not true.”
“The staff are our family and our friends, and Dr. Allen is our Momma Bear,” Menjivar said. Turning to the principal, she said, “Thank you for being a part of my life.”
The evening ended with Allen awarding the diplomas. As each graduate reached the stage, the cheering got louder. As the students crossed the stage, diplomas in hand, they saw a parade of cellphone cameras, assuring every graduate a digital memento.
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