WHS graduation: A class of 328 are 'champions'

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Scott Mullin photos
Rain on Saturday did not dampen the spirits of Wilton High School’s Class of 2015, which after four years of challenges finally earned its stripes, 328 seniors clutching diplomas.
Around 5 in the afternoon, parents, siblings, family and friends all poured into the field house to avoid weather that prevented the graduation from being held at its original setting of Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The crowd talked amongst itself until the Class of ’15 started filing in, at which point murmurs became cheers as Wiltonians saw their loved ones kick off a ceremony 18 years in the making.
After the dust settled, Student Body President Cooper Pellaton, a graduating senior himself, approached the podium.
A silence fell.
After cordially welcoming the Class of ’15 and its guests, Pellaton posed a tough question to his fellow classmates.
“Do you know what it means to be an adult?” he asked seniors, who will have to answer that for themselves in the coming years.
For Pellaton, the answer is best put by Paul Graham, whom he quoted saying it is “one who takes intellectual responsibility for oneself.”
“Today,” Pellaton said, “today is the first day that you are expected to take control of your intellectual desire and to independently pursue that which interests you.”
As members of the class digested their president’s thought, he urged them to take satisfaction in their accomplishments, whatever they might be.
“Whether you accomplished something significant, and were featured in the newspaper, or felt more comfortable going under the radar as a high school student, do not become obsessed with what you have done, or you run the risk of doing nothing else.”
“Never, never define yourself by what you’ve done,” he told them emphatically.
President Pellaton ended his welcome with a sobering reminder. Graduates celebrating the culmination of their last four years’ efforts will soon be at the proverbial bottom of the totem pole once again.
“Today, you are a champion; tomorrow, you are nothing.”
He repeated it.
“Today, you are a champion; tomorrow, you are nothing.”
There was a roar of applause, ushering out Pellaton and ushering in Assistant Principal Donald Schels, who announced and introduced Class Valedictorian Grace Nickel, pointing out that her name went well with her “graceful attributes.”
In addition to a perfect 4.0 grade-point-average across the board, Nickel was a member of Wilton High School’s Top Inclusion Models — a club for the acceptance and inclusion of all students — as well as a member of Best Buddies of Connecticut and other clubs.
She volunteered as an emergency medical technician (EMT), at Family & Children’s Agency in Norwalk and helped out with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp famously founded by Paul Newman in 1988.
Nickel was an athlete on the Wilton High School track and dance teams.
Rather than taking pride in her own impressive list of achievements, Nickel took it in her classmates’ bravery to challenge their “perceived boundaries, even when doing so (was) more trying than remaining satisfied with the status-quo.”
“We are in the company right now of members of our very own FCIAC champion baseball team, a presidential scholar (Evaline Xie), two all-time leading scorers in Wilton High School basketball history (Erin Cunningham, Matt Shifrin) and a member of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States (Isabella Palacpac),” said Nickel of her class.
“These individuals, and our class as a whole, did not triumph without experiencing feelings of occasional self-doubt,” said Nickel. “Instead of succumbing to these emotions, however, we stayed the course, acknowledging the obstacles ahead and conquering them as they presented themselves along the road of our journeys throughout high school.”
Nickel will enter into Columbia University’s Class of ’19 in the fall.
The graduation speaker was Wilton High School favorite Dr. Kristina Harvey, who spoke of the last four years as if they were chapters of a book, befitting of her role as an English teacher. She kept the first two years brief to make up for the rain delay and described the second two years as Chapter 3: The Year of Courage and Chapter 4: The Year of Gratitude.
She advised her students — and those who never had her as a teacher — not to exchange the recollection of individual chapters for one memory of high school as a whole.
“Carry with you,” she said, “your curious ninth grade selves, listen carefully like your 10th grade selves, be courageous like your 11th grade selves, and be grateful and generous of spirit like your 12th grade selves.”
Harvey did not fail to recognize that while high school graduation may be a day of pure joy for students, it can be a mixture of emotions for parents and others.
“You all know that the strangest moment is yet to come: When we let go of our children and they actually leave,” she said to a silent crowd. “And then it happens, and it leaves us breathless with pride and sadness.”
The speech ended on the up with a concise quote: “They are ready.”
Principal Robert O’Donnell then presented the class to Superintendent Kevin Smith, who then handed the students to Board of Education Chair Bruce Likly for the presentation of diplomas.
Osgood Perry and Evaline Xie, officers of the executive board, presented the class gift: a new patio space behind the cafeteria for lunch and other use by the entire school, and an endowment to go with it.
“These class gifts are traditions for the graduating class to leave its legacy on the school. Yet this year the gift is not just the legacy of our class, but that of the entire school and even the Wilton community,” said Perry before thanking local businesses and other contributors.
The closing remarks were offered by Senior Class President Kieran Kehoe, who thanked everyone “from the bottom of (his) heart.”
“No matter what, you guys will be successful,” he said to his classmates. “You did too much hard work not to be. I’m gonna keep this short; now, move your tassels to the left.”
Caps went flying and the room erupted in cheers and applause.