NORTH STONINGTON — Wheeler High School senior Mike Caster was smiling ear to ear as he walked past North Stonington Elementary School on Thursday afternoon, waving to his former teachers in his graduation gown and recalling the early years.
Born and raised in North Stonington, Caster recalls walking through the hallways with classmates and friends, as well as sharing interactions with teachers he described as “always so nice.” He still has memories of those classes and even of the small things, such as asking to go to the bathroom when he was 5 or 6.
And of course, Caster also remembers being that young student holding signs and excitedly cheering on the graduating class, dreaming of one day being in their shoes.
“It’s surreal, just an incredible experience to be on the other side of this,” Caster said following the annual senior walk for the Class of 2022 outside Wheeler High School on Thursday. “Through all the years, you always see those who came before you and think about when it’ll be your turn. It really brings back a lot of memories.”
The annual walk marks the start of senior week celebrations for the Class of 2022, which is slated to graduate on June 10.
Over the past six or seven years, the district’s “walk down memory lane” has grown from a trial concept to a popular annual tradition, with school administrators and teachers helping lead cheers and sharing signs of support congratulating those who will be moving on to the next stage of their lives.
Each walk begins at the entrance to Wheeler High School and down the main driveway, across and around the roundabout in front of North Stonington Elementary School then back behind the high school before entering the courtyard.
Meanwhile, underclassmen lined the parking lot with teachers, each holding signs dedicated to members of the graduating class — and they were not hesitant to show their support.
It was difficult for fourth-grade teacher Courtney Caswell to contain her excitement as she waited for many of her former students, now members of the Class of 2022, to march by the North Stonington Elementary School.
Although she had not seen some students in years, Caswell began her career as a student teacher in kindergarten in the same year that the graduating students were beginning their careers. She then had them again two years later, serving as a full-time second grade teacher at the time, and again when they entered fourth-grade.
“This is an amazing opportunity, something that is very special in North Stonington,” Caswell said. “We are a small district, so many of these kids have been born and raised here. It is always so great to see how much they’ve grown. It takes a moment to even recognize some of them.”
Wheeler Principal Kristen St. Germain said although still relatively new, the tradition is one that has become incredibly popular year-after-year. Even the pandemic, which forced the district to do things mostly remotely for the Class of 2020, wasn’t enough to kill the concept.
In fact, St. Germain said the only request made this year was “to have the students walk slower so we can recognize them” — a request that was made by Caswell.
Seniors Kayleb Startz and Marcos Bokel each said the walk proved to be a fun experience, and both said they noticed a lot of change within the elementary school community since they were last there. There were plenty of familiar faces among staff, mixed with many newer ones from the younger generation.
“This gave us a chance to see our old teachers, and even some of the other students that we haven’t seen in a while,” Bokel said. “The community has changed a lot, and it’s awesome to see how far we have all come.”