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Spotlight Shines on Joel Barlow Graduates

Erica Rigby pushed up the sleeves of her white gown, pulled a book out of the podium and told her fellow graduates from Easton and Redding to "do it, simply because you think you can." Rigby spoke of an ego that makes high school students perceive they are in the spotlight every waking moment – and she told her classmates to "never forfeit your ego because it will hold the spotlight steady."

The members of Joel Barlow High School's Class of 2011 each pinned a picture of Robert Smuniewski to their gowns Monday night for their graduation ceremony, held at the O'Neill Center at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. Principal Thomas McMorran called Robert, who died in January, to attendance and said he believed his spirit was there. The Smuniewski family wiped their tears as two graduates presented them with a class photo signed by every member of the Class of 2011 and a bouquet of roses.

"We all need to slow down and simply be kind to each other," said McMorran. He said he learned from his four-year friendship with Rob to "live in the moment and in that moment to brighten another person's day." McMorran said that if Robert were there, he would say, "Hey! It's supposed to be a celebration! Have some fun!"

Adam Torres spoke with rhythm and flow – "It's joyful. It's jolly. It's justified for the times. It's something fresh, something fun – why not something that rhymes?" In his sing-songy speech, Torres advised his classmates to think ahead before acting.

McMorran's advice to his students was to "never take a sleeping pill and a laxative at the same time."

He and the class of 2011 came to Barlow at the same time, and McMorran said members of the class "have not necessarily been the most scholastic group of kids ... but you have been the most loving – take that with you as your legacy."

Superintendent Michael Cicchetti asked the graduating students to take a crayon with them as a reminder of their innocence. He then pulled out a rock from beneath the podium. He said it represents bitterness, anger, selfishness and mean-spirited actions and told the class to leave the rock behind.

"Don't allow rocks like this to build walls between you and the people you love – and who love you," said Cicchetti.

The graduating class moved their tassels from right to left, threw their hats and cheered before filing out to find their families.

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