Wilton graduation speech: The pandemic did not destroy our spirits and talents

Emma Babashak, co-valedictorian of Wilton High School’s Class of 2020.

Emma Babashak, co-valedictorian of Wilton High School’s Class of 2020.

Speech from co-valedictorian Emma Babashak for Wilton High School’s 2020 graduation celebration on June 13.

Thank you Mr. Schels for that introduction. Welcome parents, friends, faculty, administrators, and honored guests to the Wilton High School commencement.

As co-valedictorian, I am truly honored to announce for the first time ever — for the class of 2020 car procession — “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!”

Today, in our upside-down world, let us heed the simple advice of an upside-down world author, Dr. Seuss.

“When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”

I always thought our class memories would be defined by some corny 20/20 eyesight metaphor. Instead, many losses blur Wilton’s class of 2020 story.

We didn’t get to bring dogs into school.

We never got to eat burnt hot dogs and burgers in the SLOT. I never got to watch one last episode of “The Office” with my friends in the Jungle.

There was no Senior skip day, no ‘last day of school’ elation, no senior prom, no final season nor championship struggle, no PGP party, and no exuberant last cap-and-gown wave.

However great, these losses do not define us any more than one loss defines a nearly perfect game or season.

Instead this graduation recognizes the entire admirable body of achievement of those receiving their diplomas today.

We celebrate what got us here: classwork, homework, projects, rehearsals, concerts, debates, practices, meets, championship games, wins, losses, pep rallies, fundraisers, jobs, meetings, and even protests. The pandemic did not erase our teenage achievements.

Nor did the pandemic destroy our spirits and talents. It simply diverted them to new pursuits.

Like Tik Tok dances.

And Zoom conferences gone wrong.

And cooking Green Eggs and Ham.

And watching siblings.

And cleaning house like the Cat in the Hat.

And realizing mortality was not just something in a textbook.

We thus oddly gained an appreciation for life’s daily monotony and its tragic frailty.

How else can one explain how Zoom gatherings and Facetime calls echo Horton the elephant in Horton Hears a Who!, “Tell me! Do Tell! Are you safe? Are you sound? Are you whole? Are you well?”

A connected generation connected even more, and we learned that no matter what happens, humans care. Social pathways are remade, not forgotten.

Six-foot distancing and quarantines are only disconnections if hearts and minds define them as such.

We learned that family and friendships endure.

We learned alone. We learned together.

We depended on wifi like water in the Sahara.

Never once did I think we would be destroyed by this. And we weren’t.

Parents and teachers, I believe that each one of us students has been like the precious seed of the Lorax, “It’s not about what it is, but it’s about what it can become.” So today, in young adulthood, we celebrate not only what each one of us has become, but also what each one of us will become.

Envisioning each Lorax seed’s potential, we can connect our past, present and future selves.

It’s never been about a pandemic defining or destroying us.

It’s never been about what has been missed.

It’s always been about what we can become — and how something horribly bad this year made us stronger for tomorrow and all future days.

And so, fellow 2020 classmates, “You’re off to great places, Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way.”

Good luck class of 2020!

Thank you.