Jeremiah Roberts didn't take this moment for granted.
The 20-year-old was serious in his cap and gown Wednesday night, recounting struggles, while fellow Journalism and Media Academy graduates laughed with friends and took photos before their procession into the Weaver High School auditorium.
"I'm proud of myself," Roberts said. "People telling me I wasn't going to do it and I really did it ... Hustled hard in school and got through it."
After being held back freshman year for not finishing his work, Roberts said, he decided to approach his studies with "hunger ... trying to get something out of life."
Minutes later, interim Principal Elaine Papas announced to the academy's 44 graduates: "Line up! Showtime."
The jubilant scene was one of many across the Hartford school system, which hosted five high school graduations on Wednesday alone. The district of magnet schools and specialized academies has planned a dozen graduations for this week.
At Weaver, it was a farewell for the Journalism and Media Academy, which is becoming a magnet school and moving to a newly renovated building on Tower Avenue this summer. Valedictorian Jorge Aponte and Salutatorian Punya Khatiwada were among the graduates who overcame obstacles. Khatiwada, a refugee from Nepal, described his teachers as "second parents."
Nynoshka Ortiz, a Puerto Rico native, said she entered the academy four years ago knowing little English. "Now I'm so confident I want to be a news anchor," said Ortiz, 18, who earned highest honors.
University High School of Science and Engineering
Nearby, University High Principal Martin Folan made a promise to the friends and family of the Class of 2013: The diplomas the graduates were receiving Wednesday night wouldn't be their last.
"While the Class of 2013 is leaving us, we're welcoming the Class of 2017," Folan said. "Because in four years, all these students will have their college degrees."
Ninety-four seniors, wearing deep red gowns, received their high school diplomas on the brightly lit stage of the University of Hartford's Lincoln Theater. It was University High's sixth commencement and the largest class yet for the magnet school founded in 2004 as a partnership between the University of Hartford and the city school system.
Every graduate will attend either a two- or four-year college, according to the school.
"I can't even tell you what I'm feeling," senior Tyler Cloud said as he watched a slideshow before the ceremony that featured photos of the graduates. "I need one more year here."
Cloud, who will be studying mechanical engineering at the University of Hartford, said he was overwhelmed with the concept of adulthood — of having to work hard to get good grades in order to get a job, and not "being able to act like a kid anymore."
Class speaker Vajid Pathan joked that graduation was simply "the most opportune time to ask your parents for money," while class president J'Vaughn Joseph gave advice on dealing with challenges.
"Our lives are filled with dreams and reality, and the difference between both is hard work," he said.
High School, Inc.
At High School, Inc., the finance and insurance academy in downtown, 75 seniors graduated during a ceremony in corporate partner Aetna's auditorium. It was the first class to spend a full four years at the school, and 90 percent are headed to college, Principal Terrell Hill said.
The journey hasn't been easy for all students. Samuel Rochester, 20, spent most of his childhood in New Haven but moved to Hartford for his senior year. The High School, Inc. family, he said, accepted him and pushed him to succeed.