Cooper Pellaton (President, Executive Board), Welcome Address
Good evening Wilton High School Class of 2015, and welcome friends, family and WHS faculty who’ve come to support all of us on such a momentous occasion in our lives.
My name is Cooper Pellaton and I’ve had the pleasure of serving as the Executive Board president this past year. It’s been a distinct honor to represent the 328 seniors in this class of 2015, the 328 champions of academics, sports and the gamut of other activities we all pursue.
It’s taken me a while to figure out precisely what I would say here today. It was one year ago, when we saw the Class of 2014 off, that I resolved I would write the graduation remarks then and it wasn’t until a friend commented on the importance of today that I abandoned that plan…
For many of you, Wilton is the only place you’ve known. For many, your fellow graduates are the people you started your schooling with, your homes are those to which you’ve always been able to return, and today is the last day that we will all be together. It was the emotion (the realization of the importance of this final day) that struck me.
I would now like to ask all who join us here today to think on the events of the last four years–whether it be the numerous championships our student athletes won, our academic accomplishments and awards, or the community outreach which we have done. 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. I know that personally I am very grateful for the faith that was vested in me by those in this building and for that I (and I hope you, similarly) will be eternally grateful.
Often, we can be very negative about this place and all that surrounds us. Being so complacent here makes it easy to be critical, but I guarantee you it would be hard to find some place better off than us here, on balance. It is different for each and every graduate sitting here today, but you’ve all been prepared, by some means, for what comes next whether it be through a lacrosse coach’s advice, or that of your mathematics teacher. We’ve shared in experiences that will shape the rest of our lives.
But now those four years are over, and today we celebrate all that has happened, and all that is to happen. We stand at the beginning of the rest of our lives, the end of our youth (okay, maybe this is melodramatic) and the beginning of our adult lives. So I ask you, do you know what it means to be an adult? I am in agreement with Paul Graham who claims it to be one who “take[s] intellectual responsibility for oneself.” Today is the first day that you are expected to take control of your intellectual desire, and to independently pursue that which interests you.
So before you go on, and forget about me, I’d caution you against one thing…
Do not let what we celebrate here today define you. Whether you accomplished something significant and were featured in our local newspapers, or felt more comfortable going under the radar throughout high school, do not become obsessed with what you have done for you run the risk of doing nothing else. I urge you all to raise your heads and open your eyes. Be cognizant of the opportunities which lie ahead, and never, never define yourself by what you’ve done.
Today you are a champion, tomorrow you are nothing. Today you are a champion, tomorrow you are nothing…yet.
Go decide what you will pursue tomorrow.
Welcome to Wilton High School’s 2015 Graduation proceedings.
Grace Nickel, Valedictorian Speech
Good evening family, friends, faculty, administration and fellow graduates. I am humbled by the opportunity to address you all on this very special occasion.
At this moment, we, the Class of 2015, are at yet another juncture on this highway called life. We are changing the direction in which we have traveled for the past four years at Wilton High School and for some, like myself, 12 years in the Wilton Public School system. However, we aren’t getting out of the car quite yet. I like to envision us merely merging off the road of our lives as Wilton High School students and exiting onto another one of higher education, employment and self-discovery.
For some, this transition is daunting and for others, a welcome relief. Regardless of our feelings about our next steps, however, I believe that a sense of discomfort, whatever its magnitude, unites us all at this stage of transition in our lives. Change of any kind can be extremely unsettling. Families may feel the void of a child who no longer lives at home. Teachers will have to adjust to a new incoming class of freshmen. And no matter where we go next, we’ll have to take a leap of faith in forging new communities for ourselves, relying on our memories of high school as nostalgic comforts without letting the past hinder our future pursuits. Celestine Chua, the founder of “Personal Excellence”, once said, “Fear, uncertainty and discomfort are your compasses toward growth.” We are all, to some degree, fearful and uncertain about our next chapter, no matter what we intend to do or where we plan to go. However, it is the action of facing and overcoming this very discomfort that will ultimately guarantee us a prosperous future.
Though being surrounded by people you have known and walls you have inhabited for decades is no doubt very valuable in some respects, discomfort far surpasses familiarity in its promotion of perseverance and growth. Numerous members of the Class of 2015 have proven the merits of constantly challenging their perceived boundaries, even when doing so is more trying than remaining satisfied with the status quo. We are in the company of members of our very own FCIAC champion baseball team, a Presidential Scholar, two all-time leading scorers in Wilton High School basketball history and a member of the National Youth Orchestra of the U.S.A. These individuals and our class as a whole did not triumph without experiencing feelings of occasional self-doubt. Instead of succumbing to these emotions, however, we stayed the course, acknowledging the obstacles ahead and conquering them as they presented themselves along the road of our journeys throughout high school.
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.
To our families and friends, thank you for supporting our growth by encouraging us to challenge ourselves. To the Wilton High School teachers and staff, thank you for your patience as we stumbled along the sometimes-bumpy road of high school. And to my family, I wouldn’t be standing here today without the love and guidance you provided me every step of the way. Congratulations Class of 2015, we’ve finally reached the exit.
John Ryan Kettle (Vice President, Executive Board), Introduction of Graduation Speaker
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow students, it is my pleasure to introduce our Graduation Speaker. 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.
Her ability to teach skills such as literary analysis is only the tip of the iceberg. This teacher taught us how to fail. She was the first teacher who taught me how to take criticism (and lots of it) and use it to improve my writing. After her class, I was no longer afraid to fail miserably — and that’s why I was able to end up succeeding in high school.
My classmates — you all know me, and how I’ve failed in almost every aspect of high school life at one point or another. But I’ve learned how to take failures with a grain of salt and learn from my mistakes — all thanks to Dr. Harvey.
Dr. Kristina Harvey (English Teacher), Graduation Speaker
Hello Class of 2015! Thank you so much for asking me to speak at your graduation. I have so much to say about the qualities of this class and you know I can talk…I have been talking to you for 4 years, but I promised Dr. O’Donnell I would be brief. You know that, as an English teacher, I love stories, and I have loved being a part of your story! As any teacher will tell you, it’s important to review what you have learned before you turn the page and introduce new material. So let’s review the last four chapters of your life….
Chapter one: Ninth grade – The Year of Curiosity
You came into the high school early on that first day in 2011 to walk through your schedule, meet your teachers, find your locker and prepare yourself for the next four years. Everything was new. You darted as quickly as you could through the H and avoided the Jungle at all costs. You really thought there was a pool on the fourth floor! In your freshman year, you learned how to cultivate your curiosity/ to realize that sometimes asking questions is more important than finding a definitive answer. You considered Sophocles’ philosophy in Antigone who wrote: “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil.” And in the Lord of the Flies when you realized that “The creature was a party of boys, marching…” you questioned the inevitability of peer pressure and how to withstand it. This was the year that you learned to cultivate your curiosity. Like Charles Baudelaire wrote: “You set out to discover the why of it, and to transform your pleasure into knowledge.” So as the 9th grade chapter came to an end you learned that questioning opens up the possibility for finding solutions. Doubting is not such a bad thing…it allows for new ways of looking at the world.
Next Chapter 2 – Tenth Grade —The Year of Careful Listening
Most seniors agree that 10th grade is a low point in their high school lives. You had lost the eager curiosity of the 9th grader and were not yet upperclassmen. We in the sailing world call this experience the doldrums. And for those tenth graders who had me in Selected World Lit, I bet you can recite the opening line to A Tale of Two Cities and see immediately how it connects to 10th grade. “It was the best of time / it was the worst of times.” It seems fitting that all of you were required to read The Catcher in the Rye, and to spend some time with Holden Caulfield. You WERE Holden…irritated, frustrated with the world’s hypocrisies and your own. Yet Salinger reminded you that, “…you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score… Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles.” So, in this year, you learned how to listen carefully to stories and to each other….to take the curiosity that you cultivated in 9th grade and to apply it to a careful, engaged act of listening to other’s experiences. The stories we read, we listen to and we tell each other help us to make sense of the world and of ourselves. They connect us across time and space. By telling stories and listening carefully to others, you recognized that embedded in the ordinary words on an ordinary page or in the words we listen to that come from others’ experiences, lies the extraordinary, dormant and waiting to be discovered.
And then came Chapter three –Junior Year — The Year of Courage:
Subtitled “The Year of Standardized Tests”
APs, SATs, ACTs, SBACS – there is an acronym for every test that was placed in front of you. This was the year that everything increased in intensity…academics – your social lives –- Most of you were required to read Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried. And while you read about the items stowed in a soldier’s bag, you were asked to think about all the tangible and intangible items you were carrying. You carried new driver’s licenses and junior prom tickets, college visits, GPAs and calculators. You carried dreams and fears and love and anxiety…and your college essay. One of my seniors told me that the difficulty with writing the college essay was that for 3 years, she had been trying to fit in and when she wrote her college essay she was being asked to stand out. Meeting all of these tasks demands courage…here’s an example of the spirit of this class – You all know what I mean when I say you are members of “The Warrior Tribe.” Jack House wanted to create a fan base of enthusiasm and Warrior pride to be exhibited at sporting events thus “The Warrior Tribe” was born…a few of my seniors made a documentary about this and the Tribe was well represented when the Wilton Girls Basketball team won States and when the boys baseball team won FCIACs. While it would be easy to let the weight of junior year subdue anyone’s spirits, the class of 2015 rallied and showed their courage in a collective roar. It takes great courage to be an individual AND, at the same time, a member of a group. You taught the underclassmen a lot about courage – how to be rejected, accepted, assessed and were still able to articulate your originality AND connection to place in 650 words on a Common App essay. That took courage.
And finally the Chapter four (senior year) – The year of Gratitude and Hope
When I volunteered to chaperone your senior prom, Mr. Liptack told me he had the perfect task for me. I assumed it was signing kids in, or manning the breathalyzer…imagine my surprise when I arrived at the Matrix in Danbury, and he showed me to the elevator in which I was to spend the good part of an hour transporting the entire senior class to the 3rd floor. The ride was just long enough to say hi – comment on tuxes and dresses – remind seniors to turn in their internship journals – and then send them on their way, and you all said thank you – you always said thank you. I am sure that, at times, the past four years have felt like one long elevator ride punctuated with summers when you were let out for a break and then stuffed back in for the next school year. It seems fitting that Gatsby was the theme of your senior prom. After all, this is a novel about splendor, sadness, dreams, loss and everything else that makes up life – and also senior year! As we sit here together on the brink of starting something new, just a reminder from Nick Carraway – don’t judge others too harshly. Nick said, “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” The world can be a hard place with sharp edges…allow for differences and new ways of seeing the world that might not be yours but still have merit.
And for the family members and faculty and all those who have been a part of the stories of the class of 2015, you all know that one of the strangest moments of letting go of our children is when they actually leave! For their entire lives we have been preparing them for this moment. We have watched them get on the school bus, pull out of the driveway behind the wheel of the family car, head off to prom. We have been preparing ourselves to see the backs of their heads as they walk away…and then it happens, and it leaves us breathless with pride and sadness. So let me leave you with an image that I will never forget. As the senior class arrived on the third floor of the Matrix for their senior prom, and as those elevator doors opened for the last time, I watched them walk away from me, adorned in their prom finest, looking like the men and women they will be in the world, and they all said thank you, and waved and then stepped across the threshold into their future. They are ready.
Class of 2015, 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.
It is a privilege to say, “Congratulations class of 2015!”
Endy Perry and Evaline Xie, Presentation of the Class Gift
Evaline Xie: Faculty and administration, family and friends, and, especially, the Class of 2015 — here at Wilton High School, we all realize that our experience over the last four years has been shaped by much more than sitting in a classroom. In between the carefully plotted schedules of each hectic school day, the bells that ring at 9:59 a.m. (give-or-take five seconds), we have free periods, lunch, early mornings, afternoons. In reality, it’s during 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.
Endy Perry: As we all know, some changes were implemented this year to improve our school security. There were tighter restrictions placed on walking under the bridge between classes and eating outside in front of the school. Even though these changes were made to make us safe, it’s understandable that some students were upset about not being able to get fresh air during the school day.
Xie: As a solution, the Class of 2015, in collaboration with the Executive Board, administration, and custodial staff at Wilton High School, is in the process of building an outdoor patio space behind the cafeteria for students to eat lunch and spend free time. We’re creating a mulch picnic area with stone pavers, solar-powered torch lights, flowers and greenery, and picnic tables for the entire school to use. In addition, we’ve provided some frisbees, footballs, and other outdoor activities for students to enjoy.
Perry: These class gifts are an annual tradition for the graduating class to leave its legacy on the school. Yet this year, our gift is not just the legacy of our class but that of the entire school and even Wilton community — the Executive Board and administration; Mr. Figueroa and the rest of the amazingly helpful custodial staff; local businesses that helped our silent auction fundraiser to raise money for the project. 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. We would like to thank all local town patrons that donated toward the project and participated in our silent auction during the spring musical, Camelot. With some of the remaining funds raised, an account has been started for next year’s student government to manage, replenish, and expand the project to accommodate the needs and desires of future Wilton High School students. It is with great honor that we present this gift on behalf of the Class of 2015 to Wilton High School. We hope that it will continue to be used by all students to further the learning community and foster a successful yet relaxing environment.