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CREC Greater Hartford Academy Grads Urged To Think And Create

The 98 students in the CREC Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts's Class of 2017 found opportunities to express themselves in their high school careers in many different ways.

No longer within the realm of the school student speaker Olivia Mitchell called "a second home," the graduates were challenged with staying artistically engaged and using their voices to bring positive change at the academy's commencement ceremony Friday night.

Keynote speaker Nelba Marquez-Greene, an alumna of the academy, told the graduates "our world is broken with fear." She said there are three common responses to fear from her experience as a therapist: fight, flight or freeze.

She presented the students with a fourth option, one she said the students were "groomed for" at the academy: create.

"There has never been a time in human history where the world needs your art and your love more than it does right now," said Marquez-Greene, whose daughter Ana was one of the 26 people killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown.

Marquez-Greene also told the students that the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts is where she discovered she had a unique voice that would "play a critical role" in her life while she was a student. She told the graduates that each of their voices was just as special and powerful.

"We live in a world that is increasingly growing disconnected, and we live in a world that will push and pull you into fitting your voice into a mold that already exists," she said.

"You were not born to fit into that mold. You were born to use your voice … and you were born to use these gifts for a purpose much, much greater than you could ever imagine."

Mitchell told the audience and reminded her classmates what defined the graduating class as a community – taking risks, being tolerant and accepting other students.

"The academy gave us all a place to be as strange as we needed to be so that we could then realize all the beauty and power we have in our uniqueness," she said.

"These days we need love. Carry a love in your heart for everyone and everything. Remember the people in this school who were exactly what you needed when you were struggling."

Principal Nick Chanese addressed the graduates with three actions to consider for their lives ahead: look, listen and think.

"When I say think, I mean ask questions," said Chanese. "When I say think, I mean voice your opinion … When I say think, I mean be active and don't let the world or someone else dictate your every move."

Mitchell left her classmates with one final challenge as she concluded her address.

"When you go into the world, find art in everything," she said.

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