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Cheshire athlete makes emotional address to peers Tuesday, June 11, 2002

CHESHIRE Dan Bozzuto sat at a cafeteria table in the Cheshire High School gymnasium and waited for his turn to speak. The gym was packed. He was to be the last of five speakers to address his fellow students at an annual event called B1 Day. This was the third year of B1 Day, an activity developed following the tragic shooting of students and teachers at Columbine High School in Colorado. B1 refers to one of Cheshire's scheduling days, but it is also a play on words, a way to encourage the students to "be one" in spirit. The idea is to celebrate the diversity that makes up the school's student body, and to allow students to address their concerns.

But no one sitting in the gymnasium on the morning of May 24 could have been prepared for the words that Bozzuto was about to deliver. His text, eight pages long, was neatly typed and sitting in front of him. There was a gentle buzz in the gym while others spoke. But when Bozzuto was in possession of the microphone, the building was dead silent.

He opened his address with a brief description of himself to the 500-plus occupants of the gym, and he wrapped up his intro with these words: "I am Dan Bozzuto. I am just another student here at Cheshire High School, just another student who happens to be gay.

"The oxygen was suddenly sucked out of the gym. There wasn't a peep from the assemblage.Bozzuto is the kind of kid who has a chance to change the world. You can sense it the minute you meet him. He was the junior class president, he is 10th in his class, he scored 1,470 on his college boards, has a 4.27 GPA, and will attend George Washington University next year. He has no idea what he plans to study, or what he hopes to do with his life. But this three-sport captain at Cheshire (cross
country and indoor and outdoor track) is a born leader.

Members of the Cheshire track team have a goal in mind for him, even if Bozzuto does not. "World domination" is what Bozzuto is capable of, said track teammate Tim Andreadis. "Him and (Eric) Ljungquist," he says of another of the team's captains. Teammates chip in with an affirmative response, "Yeah, Bozzuto and Ljungquist, world domination."During his
brief address, Bozzuto chronicled for his classmates the difficult time he had during his four years at Cheshire, when he tried to deny his lifestyle, first to himself, and then to family and friends.If he admitted who he was, he knew he would be "alone in the world. I lived in fear of who I am, and what everyone would think of me. I felt one way, and society felt another way. I talked about the girls I liked, or made fun of queers just to prove that I was straight.

"So overwhelming was his anxiety that Bozzuto contemplated suicide. But the day finally came when Dan Bozzuto came to grips with his identity. He told his family last summer and a few friends at school this year. The support of his closest friends convinced Bozzuto that he needed to face this issue in a very public way. The day had come to step forward and Cheshire High provided the perfect forum with its annual B1 activities. During two assemblies in which Bozzuto addressed more than 1,000 students, his speech was greeted by thunderous ovations. "I felt that a lot of good can come from this," Bozzuto explained of his
decision to talk about his years of personal torture. "Once I came to the conclusion that this is something I should do, I never felt nervous about it.

"And the reason he did it in the first place? "I felt I could make a difference," he said. "I felt obligated to speak out for someone else in the same situation as me. At the other B1 days, I hoped someone would step forward and say something like this. I can't change the world. It is crazy to even try. But if I can help one or two people who have been going through the same thing that I did, then it will be worth it.

"Bozzuto was always respected by his teammates, but now the underclassmen look at him in awe. "He has gained even more respect after he did this," notes Andreadis, himself an All-State cross country star. "I was a little skeptical when he asked me about it. I wondered, 'Why would he want to do that? Is this important? Is this going to make a difference?' I came to the conclusion that it would be a good thing to do.

"Cheshire principal Salvatore Randazzo describes Bozzuto as a young man of "incredible intelligence and maturity. Not all students would be able to do what he did, in this fashion."Sophomore Pat Long, a track teammate and one of Bozzuto's legion of fans, admits, "I would never be able to stand up in front of a group of people and say anything, especially that." "He is a great leader, an excellent captain," adds Chris Pavlow, a senior, with junior Jim McDonald adding this definitive description: "Buzz is the man.""Because I knew people looked up to me like that, I felt I could do this," Bozzuto said. Reaction has been universally
positive around the Cheshire campus. If there is any anti-gay sentiment at Cheshire High, it has remained quiet, or at least in remission. His fear of reprisal and abuse have been unfounded. Thus far. "A few students have come up to me and thanked me for what I did," he said. "They said they have family members who were gay, and they did not know how to deal with them. And some have said they now have the strength to deal with this themselves. That has meant a lot to me.

"Bozzuto has learned, unfortunately not until his final days as a member of the Cheshire academic and athletic community, that he has meant a great deal to a great many of his classmates. If he has left anything behind, and it appears that his legacy will be a lasting one, it will be his powerful, impassioned plea for tolerance for all students, and his astounding display of courage to confront his private fears in a very public way.He doesn't think it is possible, but Bozzuto just might have changed the world, even if just a little, even if just one small corner of it.

Joe Palladino is a Republican-American staff writer. He can be e-mailed at

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