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Westhill High School Class of 2016 Celebrates Graduation, Looks To Future

Nancy Juarez, Westhill High School's senior class president who delivered the welcome address at the school's graduation ceremony plans Wednesday plans on attending University of California at Davis.
Nancy Juarez, Westhill High School's senior class president who delivered the welcome address at the school's graduation ceremony plans Wednesday plans on attending University of California at Davis. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Waiting is the hardest part. Some members of Westhill High School's Class of 2016 waiting in the school gym before the graduation ceremony Wednesday.
Waiting is the hardest part. Some members of Westhill High School's Class of 2016 waiting in the school gym before the graduation ceremony Wednesday. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Westhill High School Class of 2016 members, front from left: Nancy Juarez and Arianna Vennari. In back from left are: Elizabeth Saba and Allison Johnson.
Westhill High School Class of 2016 members, front from left: Nancy Juarez and Arianna Vennari. In back from left are: Elizabeth Saba and Allison Johnson. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Westhill High School Class of 2016 graduate Madeline Willis with her grandparents Claudia Brooke and Charles Dunitz.
Westhill High School Class of 2016 graduate Madeline Willis with her grandparents Claudia Brooke and Charles Dunitz. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Jason Najera, before the graduation ceremony Wednesday at Westhill High School. He plans on attending UCONN Stamford.
Jason Najera, before the graduation ceremony Wednesday at Westhill High School. He plans on attending UCONN Stamford. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
McKenna Owens, left, and Madeline Willis. Owens plans on taking a gap year while Willis will attend Rockland Community College for criminal justice.
McKenna Owens, left, and Madeline Willis. Owens plans on taking a gap year while Willis will attend Rockland Community College for criminal justice. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Jonathan Molina and Karla Valdez prior to Westhill High School's graduation ceremony. Molina will be joining the Army while Valdez will study graphic design at Norwalk Community College.
Jonathan Molina and Karla Valdez prior to Westhill High School's graduation ceremony. Molina will be joining the Army while Valdez will study graphic design at Norwalk Community College. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Westhill High School graduates Gesson Charleston, who plans on attending Norwalk Community College for nursing and Jeremy Gonzalez who will study business at UCONN.
Westhill High School graduates Gesson Charleston, who plans on attending Norwalk Community College for nursing and Jeremy Gonzalez who will study business at UCONN. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Joseph Tripp, left, who will study computer science at Norwalk Community College and Jared Gilpatrick, who is wearing a chef's cap on his cap, hopes to become a chef and is attending the Culinary Institute of America.
Joseph Tripp, left, who will study computer science at Norwalk Community College and Jared Gilpatrick, who is wearing a chef's cap on his cap, hopes to become a chef and is attending the Culinary Institute of America. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Nancy Juarez has ambitious plans for her college future, but right now she wants to do some gardening.

Juarez, Westhill High School's senior class president, delivered the welcome address at the school's graduation ceremony. She plans on attending University of California at Davis to study International Agriculture and Development and Environmental Policy Analysis.

But first she is taking a year off to concentrate on continuing to develop the school's community garden, which she started, and a greenhouse. She also plans to return to Guatemala to work on her aunt's farm for a couple of months as well.

Juarez started the community garden as a way of connecting with her roots and the memory of her late grandmother, known as Abuelita Lana to the family, who was an avid gardener both in Guatemala and in Stamford when she visited her family.

"I started it just to get back in touch with my cultural roots," Juarez said. "My grandma had always gardened and then in addition I think gardening is so therapeutic and it's a way to connect all the diverse pockets of Westhill High School."

During her speech, she described her fellow classmates.

"When I look at this class I see opportunity, I see talent, I see inspiration, I see potential, I see motivation, I see bravery, I see success," she said.

Other students looked back on their four years at the school and also were eager to move forward.

"I'm ready for the next chapter of my life," Jason Najera said before the ceremony. "These four years have been a great experience. I've learned so much."

Jonathan Molina agreed with Najera that the end of high school is one chapter in life.

"I see it as a new beginning and new hope for everybody that is graduating," said Molina, who is eagerly looking forward to joining the Army. He said he will remember his fellow students and his teachers, who he said motivated and empowered him.

Karla Valdez said she is proud of what she has accomplished.

"It's a day I will remember forever.I made it. I did it on my and I want to keep going," said Valdez, who will study graphic design at Norwalk Community College.

Gesson Charleston, who will study nursing at Norwalk Community College, said he is ready for new adventures in his life.

"It's a special day. I'm finally leaving high school and entering the real world," said Charleston, who admitted he felt a little nervous and anxious about what lies ahead.

Jeremy Gonzalez, who will study business at UConn, said he was glad graduation had arrived after what he called "four long years" and said it's time for him to move on.

"It's great. I made it through high school, but now I have to focus on what my future is going to be," he said.

Claudia Brooke and Charles Dunitz were on hand to see their first grandchild, Madeline Willis, graduate. For Brooke, it was an emotional moment.

"It's wonderful. We are so proud of her," said an emotional Brooke. "She has gotten consistently good grades and she's a great kid and she knows what she wants to do which I think a lot of kids don't know at this point but she is very firm in her convictions that she wants to go into criminal justice to help people."

Willis will be attending Rockland Community College.

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