GOOD Morning Wilton is pleased to share the speeches delivered Saturday, June 15, during Wilton High School‘s graduation of the Class of 2019. This welcome speech was given at the start of the event by Ava Kaplan, the president of the student executive board.

Hi everyone, and welcome. For those of you who may not know me, my name is Ava Kaplan. I’m so incredibly honored to be speaking in front of you all today. I want to take a moment to genuinely thank everyone for being here to celebrate with us, and to thank the Wilton High School staff and administration, as well as everyone who participated in the behind the scenes execution of this ceremony. I also want to thank my family, who I know is taking up an entire row somewhere in this stadium, and my mom especially.

Freshman me didn’t understand what the big deal about graduation was. High school graduation just seemed like the natural progression of things–why did we need this whole ceremony with all the pomp and circumstance? I now realize, having grown a little bit, what an incredibly privileged thought that was to have.

So before I go further, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge all of the equally deserving individuals who have never had the chance to get to this point, whether it be because they are denied an education because of their sex, or because wherever they live is in so much turmoil that it is unsafe to go to school, or they have been barred from our country or a country where they could get the education they deserve, or in our own country because their local school systems are critically underfunded, or because they have been killed on the basis of their race or sexuality, or have been a victim of gun violence, or the hundreds of other reasons that have prevented smart, capable students from graduating that we as a community have never had to encounter.

I consider myself and all of us incredibly lucky to have grown up in this safe, nurturing town, where, although we have our own challenges, almost my entire class can be here today celebrating our high school graduation.

Within our own community, we commemorate this day for many reasons, but the main one, in my humble opinion is the following:  It’s because high school is hard. So, congrats, everyone. We’ve earned this.

Although I’d like to declare myself an expert on post-high school graduation life, I have no idea what’s store for all of us. However, I do consider myself an expert on my life leading up to graduation, and the moments and years that we as a class have spent together, culminating in this very moment.

Some of us have been going to school together since kindergarten. There are classmates here right now who I was classmates with when I was four years old. And there are some of you graduating with me today who have only gone to Wilton Public Schools for a year or two, and yet you have equally experienced what we as a group of people and what we as a town have to offer–including the good, like our charming, five-star colonial gazebo that sits on the lawn outside of our local CVS, and the bad, like the fact that that gazebo is Wilton’s main attraction other than our proximity to the city.

I’ll also truly miss being able to say, ‘the city,’ and have everyone know exactly which city I’m referring to.

Because of this, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the hours we have spent together, and the collective experiences that will define us and unite us for the rest of our lives. The stories I will tell about our high school, and about our town, and about growing up will all be variations on your stories. Because although I haven’t had a conversation with many of you in years, if ever, we will both be telling our friends, or our children, or whoever we happen to be reminiscing with in however long from now, about the same town, the same jungle, and the same trash that you guys always leave in the jungle. We’ll share photos from the same parties, the same slot, and for some of us, the same elementary school classrooms. We’ll all hate the color orange for the rest of our lives, and we’ll all know that even though Ridgefield is public enemy number one, we all secretly believe that Darien is the worst town in the FCIAC. And I’ll tell people who have never heard of Wilton, Connecticut about the time our senior class played nerf gun assassin, and the stories I recount will forever be connected to yours.

And for that, I am so grateful. Because wherever we all end up, and regardless of who we each were high school, we’ll all be connected by these shared experiences and memories for the rest of our lives. I’m grateful for the people who showed up on a cold day in November to spend time with their classmates, start a tradition, and paint their parking spots, and especially those who stuck it out even when parking overflow from a swim meet at the Y blocked their spots. I’m grateful for the people who sacrificed their egos by sinking to my level and becoming theater kids for the sake of class bonding during senior show. You guys are truly brave. I’m grateful that if Belden couldn’t win senior class field day, it was Kent, because we all know that they’ve always been the underdogs. I’m grateful for Safe Rides in the earliest hours of the morning in a car with someone who I never had the chance to really get to know outside of that drive.

Being a Wilton Warrior has defined my life so far. This exact group of people and this exact school has taught me the skills and lessons that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life. If I can give any advice, it would be not to forget that. It would be to constantly remind yourself that I, and everyone who has helped you and been by your side to this exact moment, will still be here for you on the other side of this ceremony. All of us have far more similarities than differences, regardless of what arises on ask.fm or Wilton 412.

And I could stand here and reminisce about Class of 2019 moments for hours, but we have the rest of our lives to do that, plus all of our grandparents in the audience, including my own, already have no idea what I’m talking about. I am so thankful for the laughs and lessons that you all have brought into my life, and I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for us.

Thank you all, and congratulations.