Gary Richards: Go and explore a new world

Good afternoon, writers and dancers, actors and athletes, poets and painters, musicians and scholars.

Good afternoon dreamers and scientists, entrepreneurs, and technophiles, bakers, future soldiers, and storytellers. Good afternoon caregivers and seekers, you sons and daughters of Wilton, you members of the distinguished WHS class of 2014.

Welcome all who are gathered here today to celebrate you: your parents, grandparents, siblings and extended families, board members, community leaders, friends and teachers. People who have cared for you and cared about you, people who have challenged and enlightened you, people who have comforted you and loved you.

I confess that the class of 2014 has, and will always occupy, a special place in my heart. There are many reasons for this:

First, I have known many of you since you were toddlers and have followed your progress since I joined you here in 2004 when you were in third grade.

I have known a good number of your parents and even had the honor of awarding two of them their high school diplomas many years ago!

Along with our staff, I have been deeply impressed with your many achievements in the classroom, on performing stages, in galleries, on athletic fields and in the community.

I have been awed and humbled by your commitment to community service and by the depth of your kindness to each other and to those you have interacted with in other parts of your lives.

I hope that you will forgive me for inserting myself into your commencement but the truth is that another connection we share is that I too am “commencing.” Although many years separate us, we are together embarking on parallel journeys.

What is it that we have in common?

We are exchanging a place we have known for places that will be both physically and psychologically new to us. I recently read an article about commencements in my college alumni magazine. The author commented that the proposition of graduating is scary in that we are being gently ushered to the door and sent out into the world to lead lives we’ve never led.

A second commonality that we share is that we are full of questions, including, but by no means limited to, the following:

  • Will we “fit in” in our new surroundings?
  • Will we be prepared?
  • Will we acquire new skills and discover talents we did not know we possessed?
  • Will we make new friends who will be positive influences in our lives?
  • Will we “reinvent” ourselves in our new place and what will that look like?
  • Will we have learned valuable lessons from our previous failures, avoid making similar mistakes, and treat ourselves gently when we inevitably fall down on occasion?

Speaking of failures, I am reminded of a famous commencement speech given at Syracuse University a few years back by a writer named George Saunders. He said, “What I regret most in my life are the failures of kindness.” What he meant by this was that he regretted the times when he did not extend kindness in situations where it might have made a big difference. I sincerely hope that we will avoid these kinds of failures as we move to new places.

Another question that some of us are pondering is “will we find ways to diminish our preoccupation with ourselves and live lives that are selfless and giving?” The poet Hugh Prather talked about the importance of becoming more other-centered. He wrote, “I can’t be found in myself; I discover myself in others. That much is clear. And I suspect that I also love and care for myself in others.”

A fitting way for each of us to continue our journey on the path leading to other-centered lives is for us to take the opportunity today, and over the next few days, to sincerely thank our families, teachers and others for the support they provided that helped make today possible.

There are many more questions we have but a final one for you to consider today is, “As we leave here today and head off into our futures, will we be able to safely get outside of our comfort zones and open ourselves to new experiences?

While I strongly believe in the importance of planning in our lives, I share the view of Joseph Campbell that “we must be willing to leave the life we’ve planned and be ready for the life that is waiting for us.” I take great comfort in the knowledge that our years here in Wilton have helped us broaden and deepen our understanding of the world, and develop values, discipline, skills and habits of mind that will help us successfully navigate and adjust to the unplanned aspects of our journeys.

In closing, I would like to share a cartoon with you. I have long admired cartoonists who have conveyed important messages to their readers. One such artist is a man named Bill Watterson, who wrote the nationally syndicated cartoon strip “Calvin and Hobbes.” This strip chronicles the adventures of a six-year-old boy named Calvin, a precocious, adventurous and mischievous child, and his wise stuffed tiger Hobbes. Like, the Velveteen Rabbit or stuffed animals you may have treasured, Hobbes was very real to Calvin.

The last strip Watterson published found Calvin and Hobbes trudging up a snow-covered hill pulling a toboggan.

Calvin: “Wow! It really snowed last night! Isn’t it wonderful?”

Hobbes: “Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand new!”

Calvin: (To that Calvin replies,) “A New Year…A fresh clean start!”

Hobbes: “It’s like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!”

And as the two race down the hill on the toboggan Calvin cries out, “A day full of possibilities. It’s a magical world Hobbes, ol’ buddy… “Let’s go exploring!”

In that spirit, Mr. Likly it is my honor to present to you the 290 members of the Wilton High School class of 2014. They have successfully fulfilled all of the requirements for graduation from Wilton High School and they are ready to receive their diplomas, head off to New York, and from there, set off to explore the world!


Dr. Richards gave this speech during the 2014 Wilton High School graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 21.

Read more about the 2014 Wilton High School graduation commencement here.