Newtown High graduates told to honor 20 classmates killed as first-graders 'today and every day'

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — It was an emotional graduation ceremony for high school seniors in Newtown, Connecticut, who observed a moment of silence for their 20 classmates who were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Principal Kimberly Longobucco read the names of the first graders who were killed on Dec. 14, 2012 along with six educators as the class of 2024 and their families looked on Wednesday, Hearst Connecticut Media reported.

“We remember them for their bravery, their kindness and their spirit,” Longobucco said. "Let us strive to honor them today and every day.”

Newtown Schools Superintendent Chris Melillo told the 335 graduates, “Life is too short to do something that doesn’t ignite your soul — something that doesn’t fill you with purpose and meaning. Never settle for anything less than what sets your heart afire.”

About 60 of the Newtown High graduates attended Sandy Hook Elementary School and are survivors of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

Wednesday's graduation ceremony was closed to the media except for two local news organizations.

Sandy Hook survivors who spoke to The Associated Press in advance of their graduation said their fallen classmates were in their thoughts.

“I am definitely going be feeling a lot of mixed emotions,” said Emma Ehrens, 17. “I’m super excited to be, like, done with high school and moving on to the next chapter of my life. But I’m also so ... mournful, I guess, to have to be walking across that stage alone. … I like to think that they’ll be there with us and walking across that stage with us.”

Some Sandy Hook survivors have spoken of their community as a “bubble” protecting them from the outside world.

Class salutatorian Grace Chiriatti said during the ceremony that part of her wishes that things could stay the same because of the “level of comfort we have” as graduating seniors.

“Everything seems so perfect surrounded by people I love… it’s difficult to leave just as I have everything figured out,” Chiriatti said. “But by starting something new we don’t have to start over.”