Norwich - Annual traditions at St. Joseph School on Cliff Street took on new tones this week as students joked with one another over ice cream and then solemnly prepared for today's emotional final graduation in the school's 101-year history.
On Wednesday, seventh- and eighth-graders held their final annual get-together, as the graduates read their "class wills" to their seventh-grade buddies, who in turn revealed the traits they found most attractive - or quirky or funny - in the upperclassmen.
"Seth loves turtles," more than one seventh-grader said of eighth-grader Seth Johnson.
"Turtles?" Principal Sister Mary Mark asked.
The reality that these are their final days in their beloved school crept into the festivities, as a few girls choked up during their readings. The 11 eighth-graders will graduate today following a 6:30 p.m. Mass at St. Joseph Church. School closes for good next Friday at 11:45 a.m.
Eighth-grader Jorge Dabdoub, 14, class valedictorian, called his final week "fun and sad" but quickly admitted he doesn't cry much. In his will, Jorge left to his seventh-grade schoolmates his ability to play better baseball and basketball, do karate and "my ability to like the Yankees" - which of course, brought mixed reactions from fellow students.
Salutatorian Mikayla DiStasio, 14, left the seventh-graders "my ability to be loud and my crazy and whacky ways." A few minutes later, she cried, recalling an earlier ceremony when the second- through fifth-graders at the school serenaded the graduates with song and dance, including the school song.
On Thursday, close friends from the seventh and eighth grades paired up to get ready for graduation. Because this year's seventh-graders won't get to process up the St. Joseph Church aisle for graduation a year from now, Sister Mark said they were given a special role in this year's graduation ceremony.
A seventh-grader will march into the ceremony with an eighth-grader to "present" that graduate to the Rev. Tomasz Sztuber, pastor at St. Joseph for the ceremony.
"It's hard, because I've been here so long, and my sister went here," seventh-grader Avery Spear said.
She will present Alexis Pizzo for graduation today, with tears to accompany her smile, she said. Avery will graduate next year from her new school, St. Patrick's Cathedral School in Norwich.
The students won't be alone in their happy and sad final days at St. Joseph. School alumna and parent Lucia Leise helped to organize the final St. Joseph family picnic on Saturday followed by what could be the last alumni reunion.
The picnic will run from 1 to 4 p.m. on school grounds for families of current students at St. Joseph. Admission is $3 per person, with children under 3 years old admitted free.
At 6 p.m. all alumni, current and past teachers and administrators are invited to the final school reunion in the cafeteria. Admission is $10 per person. Anyone interested in attending the reunion is asked to contact the school today at 860-887-4565, or contact organizer Ann Marie Jakubielski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leise said in addition to dinner and storytelling, organizers have a few surprises in store for participants.
Rather than let school trophies and other artifacts fall into oblivion, Leise said anyone with a connection to a specific item will be allowed to make a claim to it. If a trophy honors a team and more than one member attends, a drawing will be held for the item.
Leise won't have any competition for the item she plans to claim.
When her father died, the family made a donation to the school in his memory, and a plaque bearing the name of Stanley Grzycki is on display near the principal's office. Leise also hopes to claim one of the school statues to place in a memorial garden for her father.
"We want them to have a proper home," Leise said.