The following is the message delivered by the superintendent of the Wilton Public School district, Dr. Kevin Smith, at the graduation of the Wilton High School Class of 2021.
(I’ve been emotional all day.) Good afternoon, Class of 2021, parents, family members, esteemed colleagues and honored guests. It is magnificent to see you in person. Let’s have a quick round of applause for [WHS principal] Dr. [Robert] O’Donnell and our graduation committee that made this happen in person today. [APPLAUSE]
I have the distinct pleasure of presenting the Wilton High School Class of 2021 to our Board of Education, and it is my honor to do so. Let me tell you about the Class of 2020. This is a class, you are a class, that’s demonstrated remarkable fortitude this year. Can we agree that to say this year was onerous would be an understatement? Class of 2021, you have experienced unthinkable tragedy and sorrow this year. Despite that, you showed up. When you could have given up, you showed up, and we noticed.
I was once told that there are three types of people in the world: people who make things happen, people who watch things happen, and people who say, “What happened?” Class of 2021, of those three types, you are the former. You made it happen this year. You showed up, you persevered, you demonstrated extraordinary adaptability and resilience. You made things happen and you did so with awe-inspiring spirit.
To show up in this year, took astounding courage. (I’m going to pick up now where [Graduation Speaker] Dr. [Kristina] Harvey left off.) Thinking about you and what you’ve accomplished this year reminded me of a speech given by President Teddy Roosevelt. If he were giving that speech today, I have to believe he would be talking about you. He professed:
“It is not the critic who counts, not the one who pointed out how the strong stumble or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs; who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends herself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end of the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his or her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”
So you, Class of 2021, who have dared greatly this year, I invite you to consider what lessons you can carry forward as you move on from Wilton High School. Know, know that you possess uncommon courage. Just take a moment and think about the tremendous strength of character that resides within you. Aristotle described courage as the first virtue and one that requires both practice and personal sacrifice. You’ve learned something about personal sacrifice this year. So then how else can you practice courage?
First, let’s understand what it is. Courage is not simply bravery, rather it’s as Brene Brown reminds us, the Latin root of courage is ‘core’ or heart. So to practice courage is to live with heart, your whole heart. Brown invites us all to live wholeheartedly, which she defines as cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to start each day with the understanding that who you are is enough; that you already possess everything you need to live a full life. The task then is to grow those attributes, your gifts and talents, and then to share them in service to making this world a better place. Why? Because we need you to — this world needs you to.
Thinking back to Roosevelt’s speech at the Sorbonne I just referenced a moment ago, notably later in that same speech, he had admonished his listeners and told the crowd that to them much had been given and, in turn, much should be expected.
So in that same spirit, to you, Class of 2021, much has also been given. And therefore we expect you to dare greatly, live fully, and do amazing things.
I’m going to close with a few of Amanda Gorman’s words and our call to action from her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” because her words are so apropos to this moment. She said:
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover.
[And] every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful.
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
Class of 2021, be brave, be courageous, be the light, live with your whole heart.
So with that, let’s proceed now to my favorite part of the ceremony where I officially graduate you. [APPLAUSE] Here we go! Right?
So it is with great pride that I now pronounce, by the authority vested in me by the State of Connecticut and by the Wilton Board of Education as the superintendent of schools I do hereby certify to all in attendance, on this 12th day of June in the year 2021, the members of the Wilton High School Class of 2021 here before me have successfully completed the requirements for graduation established by the State of Connecticut and the Wilton Board of Education and are eligible to be graduated from Wilton High School.
I do now declare them graduated. Madam Chairman, I present to you the Class of 2021! [APPLAUSE, CHEERS]