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Sandy Hook survivors graduate from high school

Jeneice Roman
/
WSHU

Grace Fischer and Matt Holden were in the first grade when they survived a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That day, twenty of their peers and six educators died.

They remembered their former classmates this week at a private ceremony graduating from Newtown High School.

Holden, 17, said they wanted to find a balance between celebrating the graduates and honoring the memory of the children who died. The graduates wore green ribbons with white lettering. At the start of the ceremony, the victims' names were read aloud followed by a moment of silence.

Matt Holden and Grace Fischer are now graduates of Newtown High School
Jeneice Roman
/
WSHU
Matt Holden and Grace Fischer are graduates of Newtown High School.

Fischer, 18, said it was a significant moment.

“I think that was very special to the entire student body, staff, parents, and everyone, and it is shocking like to hear all of their names, and it is very emotional, and it's hard to kind of sit through that, but it was needed,” Fischer said.

Holden said he admires the strength of the parents of the victims. He is grateful for their support and that they are still fighting to keep children safe through their work.

Scarlett Lewis founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement after her son died. She says her son saved several students' lives that day. She remembers Jesse as happy and energetic. At first, Lewis said she couldn't imagine life without him, but now she is doing her best to honor his memory. She said she is proud of his peers who are graduating.

“I believe that Jesse saved their lives for a reason. They are here for a reason and a purpose. And I’m looking forward to seeing all that they do to make the world a safer, more peaceful loving place,” Lewis said.

Jenny Hubbard reflects on her daughter Catherine.
Jeniece Roman
/
WSHU
Jenny Hubbard reflects on her daughter Catherine.

Jenny Hubbard’s daughter Catherine would have turned 18 years old this month. She says she thinks about her daughter during this milestone and what her future could have been.

“I have thought about those questions briefly because the reality is that she's not graduating, ” Hubbard said.

Hubbard founded the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in honor of her daughter. She visited the sanctuary the day before the graduation to reflect on her daughter. Hubbard says she is excited for the graduates and calls this a bittersweet moment.

Jenny Hubbard founded the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in honor of her daughter.
Jeniece Roman
/
WSHU
Jenny Hubbard founded the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in honor of her daughter.

“I am so excited for what these kids have in store. I think that their story and the fabric of their childhood has this mar in it, that is just devastating. No child should have to ever live through a mass shooting,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard said the graduating class has shown the community their resilience and hope. Her hope is that they can acknowledge what happened but mark this moment as one that needs to be celebrated.

In addition to the final exams, prom, and graduation rehearsals the schedule was packed with interviews and meetings. Holden said the past few weeks have been a bit hectic.

“It's been a lot, you know, we obviously, we're not used to this, and adding that on top of this already schedule that we are we are used to. It was, it was stressful. But again, like I said, I think it's good to get our story out there,” Holden said.

The two students joined several other survivors last week on a trip to Washington, DC. on Gun Violence Awareness Day. There they met with Vice President Kamala Harris about the importance of gun violence prevention. Fischer said that’s when it all began to settle in.

“That's when it was kind of like, Okay, wow. Like, we do really have like, a big, like, platform, kind of, but as hectic and chaotic as it was, I think it was good to continuously share our stories over and over again,” Fischer said.

Holden and Fischer said this is only the beginning. They say their experience has influenced them and their career paths. Holden will continue to speak about the experience and fight for this for the rest of his life. He wants to meet more advocates and leaders to make sure that there is change.

“I want change. Call me a pessimist, but after Sandy Hook, seeing all these leaders wish for thoughts and prayers while doing absolutely nothing to actually help people the way I see, if I want change that'll actually help, I gotta do it myself,” Holden said.

Holden plans to study political science at George Washington University. Fischer will go to Hamilton College to major in law and justice studies.

Jeniece Roman is a reporter with WSHU, who is interested in writing about Indigenous communities in southern New England and Long Island, New York.
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