(Following is the speech given by Shannon Golden at Wilton High School's graduation ceremony on June 18.)

Before I begin, it’s imperative that I thank the teachers, administrators, parents and community as a whole on behalf of the Class of 2016. This wild, fulfilling, and illuminative journey would not have been possible without your ceaseless guidance and support.

Now, for those of you in the audience who don’t know, our senior class T-shirts were printed with the phrase, “Welcome to the Jungle.” While seemingly light and humorous, I believe that this catch phrase captures the timeless essence of the high school experience.

Flashback to when we were freshmen walking through the halls of the high school. Like a jungle, the school initially seemed daunting and dangerous. However, as time progressed, we learned how to successfully navigate this adolescent wilderness. Throughout sophomore and junior year, all fears dissipated as we learned the survival tactics for managing our designated niches in this high-school ecosystem as either scholar, club member, artist, athlete, or leader. Once we finally became seniors, or Kings of the Jungle, we had the ins-and-outs of Wilton all figured out. For example, we knew to always go through the right-hand door in the stairwell, to bring change for Cookie Fridays, to dread fitness days for the hour, to ONLY wear togas as seniors, and to master the fastest escape route out of the senior lot. However, like an animal in the jungle, stay alert and vigilant, because we are all about to embark into new, uncharted territory as our paths diverge next year.

Look at the person sitting to the right and left of you. Whether you’re going to be 3,000 miles away from that person next year, or traversing the same streets, frequenting the same coffee shops every morning, we are all inextricably connected by the fact that Wilton has helped shape who we are and the life-lasting memories that we keep. These ties that bind us are unbreakable and should serve as a comfort as we grapple with the fear and uncertainty that inevitably comes with the post-high school transition.

On this note, I have some wishes for each and every one of you. I wish that you find not only a sense of purpose, but also a sense of peace and belonging in your future endeavors. I wish that you dare to reach outside the norm, take chances, and seek new perspectives while never losing sight of your heart’s desires. I wish that you embrace your passions and surround yourself with people that inspire you. And most importantly, I wish that you are happy with whatever path in life you choose, but know that even if you hit a dead end, you can always erase the constantly changing mosaic that is your life’s composition and begin again. We all have stained-glass hearts, the pieces of which are constantly shifting and being strung together from our past, present, and future experiences.

Thank you to Wilton High School for equipping us with the skills, knowledge, and morals that will allow us to catapult into the real world and embrace its limitless possibilities. Not one senior in this stadium is the same person as he or she was in ninth grade — we are all transformed individuals, deeply affected by our environment and trials. Every day is a blank slate for you to reinvent yourself and to challenge yourself to be a better person. This upcoming year will present 365 more opportunities for priceless transformations that will forever color our identities. Only you can determine the shade that the color of your character assumes based upon your daily actions and judiciousness. Regardless, the Wilton community will be proud to call you one of its own.

I’m going to leave you all with a quote from Mark Twain: “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Congratulations on being the best class in Wilton High School’s storied history, and…

Welcome to your new jungle.
Shannon Golden
2016 Co-valedictrian