Despite steadily falling rain that forced the 57th Annual 2015 Wilton High School graduation inside, the bad weather couldn’t keep Warrior spirit from shining brightly in the WHS Field House, as 328 members of the Class of 2015 graduated on Saturday, June 20.

Graduating senior Cooper Pellaton welcomed guests at the start of the ceremony. He set the tone for the evening, giving a speech exhorting his classmates to raise their heads up as they moved forward as adults, armed with what WHS has given them. “In some way, Wilton High School has empowered us all to achieve success, we were given, or found a way to get the tools we needed to accomplish some task which we all felt compelled to act upon,” he said.

Proud families looked on and cheered as each graduating senior marched across the gym floor to accept his or her diploma from Bd. of Education chair Bruce Likly and shake hands with superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith, WHS principal Bob O’Donnell, and WHS assistant principal Donald Schels.

Other highlights of the ceremony included the announcement revealing the identity of the class valedictorian, Grace Nickel, who was recognized for her 4.0 GPA; for her time on the track team, as a dancer, and as a class officer; and for her contributions to the community as an EMT, a volunteer with Family and Children’s Agency and Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang. Nickel took to the podium to the sound of rousing applause and “Whoo-hoos,” and delivered a speech that urged her classmates to take challenges head on as a way to achieve success, saying:

“Neale Donald Walsch once said, ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. So if you’re feeling uncomfortable right now, know that the change taking place in your life is a beginning, not an ending.’ Let us apply this lesson to the next phase of our lives and consciously choose to immerse ourselves in what may initially seem like intimidating and challenging situations, knowing that we will benefit from doing so every time we do.”

Grace Nickel, 2015 Valedictorian

WHS Executive Board vice president (and graduating senior) Ryan Kettle had the pleasure of springing the second surprise of the evening, introducing the ‘secret’ graduation speaker, Dr. Kristina Harvey, a member of the WHS English department.  “Our speaker is one of the most valued members of our faculty and the distinctly favorite teacher of countless students. Her personality is unmatched as she is one of the kindest and most enthusiastic teachers at Wilton High School.”

Harvey lived up to Kettle’s description. She tapped into her professional experience to “review the last four chapters” of the graduates’ lives, saying:

“As we stand here on this threshold with the doors opening in front of you, and your life beginning over again with this summer, I want to remind you to carry with you your curious 9th grade selves. To listen carefully, like your 10th grade selves, to be courageous like your 11th grade selves and to be grateful and generous of spirit like your 12th grade selves. Go out and find the why of it… Read widely. Think critically. Choose a cause for good and pursue it. Remind yourself of where you started, who influenced you, who you want to be. Class of 2015, members of the Warrior Tribe, it has been a profound privilege to be a chapter in your life! The horizon is opening up in front of you like a white blank page… Stay curious, courageous, kind and hopeful and always ‘beat on, boats against the current.’ You will be missed and talked about and thought of and always loved.

Dr. Kristina Harvey, Graduation Speaker

One additional ceremonial moment was observed, as Executive Board officers Osgood “Endy” Perry and Evaline Xie presented the class gift. In describing the outdoor patio and free time area that will be built with funds raised by the Class of 2015, Xie acknowledged “…those moments of rest when we let go of stress and relax with each other for a while that we grow as a community, that Wilton High School becomes a happier place.” Perry explained that the patio idea was conceived in response to the security concerns that prevented WHS students from walking outside the front of the building, adding, “Our gift is a tribute to the incredible community of our school, people eager to brighten their high school, to respond to the loss of some privileges by creating something new.”

Of course the high point of the night happened at the ceremony’s end, as the graduates moved their tassels to the other side of their caps, and then tossed them gleefully in the air. Clearly, it didn’t matter that the rain was falling outside, as graduation caps and spirits were flying high inside.

video courtesy of Debra Gehrlein, mother of graduate Jennifer Gehrlein

For a complete list of the graduates and their post-high school plans, click here.

To read the full texts of the speakers’ speeches, click here.

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