CHESHIRE — In a town still shaken by the brutal murder of three of its residents last July, one Cheshire Academy student helped bring light to the town when it needed it most.
Noah Leonowich of Cheshire took the initiative this winter to bring Cheshire's Lights of Hope fundraiser, in honor of the Petit family, from the community where he lives into the community where he studied. The event raised money through the sale of luminarias to support the Connecticut Chapter of the MS Society. With Leonowich as student captain, the academy was able to spell out the word "hope" in one of its fields using 2,000 luminarias.
"Mrs. Petit was the school nurse here," Leonowich said. "I just thought it would be nice if our school did something really big for that."
Leonowich was one of 95 students from 29 Connecticut towns, eight states and 12 countries who graduated Saturday as members of Cheshire Academy's 214th class.
The 17-year-old has served as treasurer of Key Club, peer counselor, Hurricane Katrina crew member, Yale New Haven Children's Hospital junior board member and captain of the cross country team all while being on the honor roll for eight semesters. He was awarded the Frederick Vollrath Richmond award at the commencement ceremony for the attributes of "loyalty, devotion and consideration of others."
Leonowich and Amanda Donovan, 18, of Cheshire will make the transition from suburban town to big city at Fordham University in New York.
A student at Cheshire Academy for six years, Donovan made varsity soccer in her freshman year and served as co-captain in her last two seasons. She also was on the lacrosse and track teams, a peer counselor and a member of a group of students who devoted a spring break helping to build a house in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She was an honor student her entire time at Cheshire.
Donovan described her school as a nurturing environment that helped her grow up.
"I thought it would make me sheltered and naive, but it made me confident, and in turn, prepared for the whole world," Donovan said.
She received the Ralph Morgan Griffiths award for her character, friendliness and leadership and the James P. Loder International Language prize for her high achievement in French.
Under a white tent in Kevin Slaughter Field, David R. Markin defined success as "leadership, personal satisfaction and a respectable standard of living," in his commencement address. Markin, former chairman of the U.S. Tennis Association whose education at Cheshire commenced 60 years ago, said the students are lucky to have attended a school made great " student by student."
Salutatorian Michael Maggio from Louisburg, N.C., urged his classmates to learn from their mistakes.
"They say you need to know where you've been to know where you're going, but before you worry about that, make sure you know where you are," Maggio said.
Originally appeared 6/1/2008 in the Republican-American©