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Mourning a loss, Prep '11 grads celebrate the future
By Meg Barone, Fairfield Citizen News
The pomp and circumstance of the 69th commencement for the Fairfield College Preparatory School on Sunday was tinged with anticipation for the future and sadness at the loss of a classmate who was not there to celebrate the milestone with the rest of the Class of 2011. Although 199 names appeared in the program and the same number of diplomas was distributed, Ryan Charles Brennan was missing from the graduates wearing Prep's traditional white jackets, red bow ties and red carnation boutonnieres. Brennan died on Feb. 28.
He was remembered throughout the ceremony, held at Alumni Hall on the campus of Fairfield University. Graduates each wore a red pin with the school's initials into which were inscribed Brennan's initials. Maxwell Rein of Fairfield, selected by fellow students to deliver the farewell address, mentioned Brennan several times during his speech. And just after the last graduate, Charles John Zsebik, claimed his diploma, Brennan's father, Tom, walked across the stage to accept his son's diploma, receiving a prolonged ovation.
"It's one of the most difficult days of my life, but Ryan loved Fairfield Prep and Fairfield Prep loved Ryan," Tom Brennan said immediately after the graduation ceremony. Brennan said his reception at the ceremony, and on Thursday night when the school's hockey team gave him a championship ring bearing Ryan's name and number, are "more than comforting. It's something we'll have to remember for the rest of our lives, a bond to cherish.
Principal Robert A. Perrotta said Ryan Brennan bound the class together. His two-year battle with cancer and death had a unifying effect on the Class of 2011, he said. Other qualities made the class special, Perrotta said.
"For me, this was an incredibly special class. I will miss them dearly. I've been doing this for 42 years. This is one of the best classes I worked with in a very long time," said Perrotta. The talent in this class was reflected in the quality of the speeches," he said.
The commencement speaker, the Rev. Charles Allen, executive assistant to Fairfield University's president, joked that he could not remember what he said in his first commencement address at Fairfield Prep back in 1985, but many in the audience are convinced that Rein's presentation will stay with them.
Rein used a combination of moving words that he wrote and lyrics from the song, "Forever Young," which he sang at appropriate moments throughout the speech to recall humorous moments from their four years, to encourage graduates to use their time on earth wisely, to thank parents and administrators for their support, and to motivate fellow graduates to live life "to the max."
"Like the driving test that all of us have taken at least once, we will put the car in drive and move forward, but we will also need to check the rearview mirror once in a while and remember where we came from," Rein said.
"His speech was magnificent. It was creative, it held the crowd's interest and it varied in mood. It fit his personality and character to a `T,' " said House Master Richard Magdon. "I was pretty surprised by the singing. I didn't expect that. It was a nice touch," said Coleman Clancy, 18, of Fairfield.
Allen, a former teacher, principal and headmaster at Fairfield Prep, implored graduates to prize their physically strength and mentally alertness, and not to define their lives by how much money they make, but by their acts to help others. "Use those academic tools that you have received for the betterment of us all ...We want you to stand in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and let that be your orientation," Allen said.
Despite the loss of Ryan Brennan, graduates looked forward with optimism. "It's kind of exciting. It's a new chapter in my life," said Michael Gould, 18, of Newtown. Tyler Lomnitzer, 18, of Trumbull, said graduation hasn't really hit him yet, "and it probably won't until I start packing. I'm going to Catholic University," said Lomnitzer, who will study English. "It's my life moving on for more growth; it's my door to life," said Michael Gallerani, 18, of Fairfield.
Also honored at Sunday's commencement were 31 members of the Prep Class of 1961 who, marking the 50th year since their graduation, were given their "golden" diplomas.
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