With sunny skies overhead, Wilton High School‘s Class of 2017 became high school graduates this past Saturday, June 24, at the school’s 59th Annual Graduation Ceremony. School officials handed out 346 diplomas to students in front of family, friends, and well-wishers who filled a packed Memorial Stadium.

Student body executive board president Jackson Walker welcomed the crowd with a speech that referenced John F. Kennedy’s words, and called on his fellow graduates to view Wilton High School as their launch pads.

“The motto of Wilton High School is to strive for excellence, and today, I know that we’re all going to shoot for the moon. We choose to shoot for the moon, not because it is easy but because it is hard, because we know that the Wilton Schools have prepared us to be successful. To reach your moon keep striving for your own definition of excellence.”

Associate principal Donald Schels had the privilege of announcing the class valedictorian, an honor shared this year by two students who had achieved perfect 4.0 averages, Elizabeth Healy and William Heffernan, each of whom gave speeches that inspired their classmates to use their memories of WHS to embolden them and seize opportunities that await them.

“We are more than prepared for these opportunities thanks to the education we received from our esteemed teachers here at WHS. So strive for excellence, don’t settle for the ordinary, challenge yourselves,” Heffernan said.

English teacher and co-advisor to the graduating class Dr. Kristina Harvey was selected to be the graduation speaker. She urged the graduates to adopt an attitude of gratitude as they go out into the world.

“It means having two words on the tip of your tongue–’thank you.’ It means leaning into the headwinds to build your resilience. It means what you all have, a dose of courage. And it means recognizing everybody who is sitting here right now who have helped you get to this moment. It comes from recognizing the good in your life and thinking about how you can transfer that good to someone else.”

Principal Dr. Robert O’Donnell summed up the description of the graduating class.

“You’re academic superstars, generous in spirit and kind to each other. You had a good sense of humor but knew when to stop–usually. You have rallied around and supported each other, including during the recent successful basketball and baseball seasons. Further, you have set the tone and led by example for the underclassmen. Finally you were proactive and you knew the mark you wanted to leave on this great Wilton High School.”

Board of Education chair Bruce Likly lauded the class, saying, “You have accomplished something amazing, something that no one can ever take away from you and that will stay with you as both a badge of honor and a useful bag of tools which you will carry with you for the rest of your life.”

Likly, whose own daughter, Emma, was graduating Saturday, shared what was perhaps the sweetest moment of the ceremony, as he told graduates to think of his words like a letter to them from their own parents.

“We want you to soar and we know that you need to soar.  As you do, please know that while we aren’t perfect we think you are and we’ve done the best job we could to help you to soar and we are so very very proud of you. So, while you’re out conquering the world I ask you to do three very simple things: to listen to the voice in your head, call home often and know how very very much we love you.”

The graduates were also encouraged by Wilton superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith, to continue following the example of service to others that they had set.

“For all your tremendous accomplishments in the classroom, on the athletic fields, in the arts, it is your demonstration of caring and compassion through your service to others that I find myself most proud. You, the Class of 2017, are recognized as a class with a strong social conscience. While I want you to long remember the important lessons of the classroom, what I really hope you take with you are all those experiences of caring and compassion, of service, the generosity that fed your souls, formed your character and developed within you a deeper desire to connect with and serve others. More than anything, that is what our world needs.”

After they received their diplomas, the seniors were led by class president Emma Braten as they moved their mortar board tassels from right to left and threw their caps in the air–capping a picture perfect graduation.

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To watch the entire graduation ceremony: