Graduation speeches: Wilton High School 2018

Cameron Berg 

To the families, friends, educators, community members, and younger siblings who are already asking how much longer, welcome and thank you for not only being here with us today, but being there for us everyday prior, nurturing, encouraging, and supporting the incredible group of students you see before you. Every class graduates, but not every class graduates with such stunning credentials, depth of character, and impressive maturity; for this, the Class of 2018 should be immeasurably proud, and I’m humbled to have grown close to a group of such dynamic and driven young adults.

Many of my peers and I plan to spend the next period of our lives in an environment tailored to two things: (1) the construction of a meaningful identity, and (2) the pursuit of knowledge and information and skills. Both of these valuable quests require something fundamental that I worry isn’t emphasized nearly enough: an understanding and appreciation of truth. It seems to me that the concept of truth has been obscured in virtually every cultural context worth caring about. If we lose sight of it entirely, there may be no undo button for us to push.

The word “truth,” as we all know, refers to any idea that’s in agreement with reality, and because truth refers to reality, a place in which we are all hopefully spending at least most of our time, to say things like “your truth” or “my truth” is to make a mockery of the concept. The whole point of truth is that it isn’t personalizable; what 2+2 equals doesn’t change based upon who is answering. Being true to yourself means acting on real facts about your personality, ambitions, and values; this is extraordinarily important. But playing language games like “my truth” mean living in your very own, custom-fitted, alternate reality where various 2+2’s get to make 5 whenever a 4 proves inconvenient or uncomfortable. This isn’t being true to yourself; this is being true to nothing. This latter approach is taken all too often, and it would serve us well to avoid it. Why?

I think it’s obvious that everyone who is indifferent towards truth is doing so at his or her own expense, and it’s important to understand why. Imagine for a moment that instead of receiving a diploma today, our administrators passed out to each student a unique, bulleted list of 10 truths that each student was, at that moment, compelled to integrate into his or her life. It may go something like this:

  • Truth No. 1: An effective way to keep friends is to take a genuine interest in them.

  • Truth No. 2: If your salary surpasses roughly $75,000 a year, more money will not necessarily bring you more happiness.

And so on.

Now imagine that before our ceremony today, Dr. O’Donnell was in a particularly devious mood, and for all the students who smashed their watermelons the day of our senior prank, he made some minor revisions:

  • Truth No. 1: An effective way to keep friends is to frequently offer to share your toothbrush.

  • Truth No. 2: Asking your boss to pay you directly in livestock will increase your lifespan — twice-fold.

And so on. If we again imagine that students were somehow compelled to live by these truths, it would be unsurprising that the students who were granted the more accurate list would live more fulfilling, more coherent, more enjoyable lives, due in part to their cleaner teeth and lack of cows. Though this imaginative exercise is less than plausible, the powerful correlation between a good life and a life aligned with truth is very real. The inverse claim is equally true: the more you allow yourself to be deceived, the more you deceive others, and the more you deceive yourself , the worse your life will be.

We are about to enter a world, however, with no shortage of opportunities for ignoring every word I’ve just said. Newsfeeds are curated to hold users hostage to their own biases and desires. Political discourse has collapsed into vicious, childish bickering, burying truth deep under the rubble. Even on some college campuses, attempting honest communication about emotionally-saturated ideas may engender witch hunts and castigation that render the entire truth-seeking process untenable. Our generation must be the one to reverse these troubling trends and leave these institutions in better shape than we find them today, and to this end, I have faith that the brilliance, creativity, tenacity, and compassion of my peers are forces to be reckoned with.

Class of 2018, make friends next year who value honest communication, and be skeptical of those whose personalities change by the day. Defend free expression unapologetically, and never decide what’s true based on what does or doesn’t offend you. Be skeptical without being cynical. Be charitable without being naive. I consider myself impossibly lucky to have spent the past eighteen years in a place like this, with people like you. My friends, lean into truth, not away from it, and watch where it takes you. Thank you.

Sophia Kaplan

Welcome everyone and congratulations to the class of 2018. I am honored to be standing here alongside my co-valedictorian, Michael. Today, I wanted to begin my speech with a definition. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word “failure” simply means the lack of success. Yes, this may not be the most motivational start to a speech, but everyone here today, myself included, has at some point in their life experienced failure. Over these past four years, I have failed a multitude of times. Once at a track meet when I was hurdling, I didn’t fall jumping over a hurdle, but I actually fell while running in between two hurdles, which was pretty embarrassing. Some would say this particular failure is no different than a child running away from an oncoming water balloon only to fall into a pool. On a more academic note, I once accidentally skipped an entire section on the PSAT. My mom was not too thrilled with me. The list could go on and on, but these failures did not deter my determination to excel. In fact, each failure motivated me to work harder.

Growing up in Wilton, we may have sometimes found ourselves aiming for perfection and fearing defeat. But, if failure is unavoidable why worry about it? Whenever I would get stressed or nervous about something, my family would always provide me with some reassurance, saying that if I had tried my best that that was all I could do. In the moment, this little tidbit of inspiration never eased my anxiety, but as I reflect back on it now, I see the truth in it. We cannot change our failures of the past and we cannot control what happens in the future; we can only control how hard we work in the moment. That is why we need to focus on what’s important now.

During field hockey season of my sophomore year, my coach came up with an idea: she wanted us to tape the letters W, I, N on our field hockey sticks. At first, I thought her only motivation behind these letters was plain and simple: to win. But, what WIN really stood for was what’s important now. My coach, like everyone here today, realized that failure is inescapable. She wanted us to be able to make a mistake, look down at the W, I, N on our sticks and be able to move on from it, as past failures are not important now.

I would like to thank her for teaching me that failure is okay. I would like to thank my family as they have been there for me from my first day of preschool to my last day of senior year. I would like to thank my teachers, classmates, and especially my friends for putting up with me and making these past four years truly special. I would like to thank Ms. Tanzman, for her understanding and support when I would ask her 30 questions 10 minutes before a test. I would like to thank Mr. Lucey for helping me laugh my way through the not so humorous subject of chemistry. I would also like to thank Ms. Steadham for teaching me every single thing there is to know about biology.

I think we, the Class of 2018, can agree that these past four years have been exceptionally memorable thanks to the entire Wilton High School community. They have allowed us to unify during pep rallies, create memories, and even share school spirit while cheering on teams during FCIAC and State finals. So, we the Class of 2018, would like to thank Dr. O’Donnell, Dr. Smith, Mr. McDougal and all of the Wilton High School administration for shaping and preparing every one of us for the journeys that lie ahead. We should also recognize the many opportunities we have been afforded in this wonderful community. It is these opportunities that will allow us to have the proper foundation for our futures.

As we end our careers here at Wilton High School and delve into the future, whether it be college, the military, or the workforce, we need to use our past mistakes to motivate us to achieve our goals. So, I would like to leave everyone here with one final quote from Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Congratulations Class of 2018. We did it.

Michael Wallace

Good afternoon everyone and congratulations once again to my classmates in the Class of 2018. Today is truly an incredible day for us, even if the weather is not. I am proud and honored to speak to you as valedictorian along with Sophia. As we go out into the world today as newly-minted Wilton High School graduates, we should take a moment consider our futures.

At some point in the past year, we’ve probably all had at least one adult ask us the same important, daunting question. No, not “Where are you going to college?” but “What would you like to do after college?” While I have some ideas, I still haven’t found the perfect answer to that question, and I should never have to because, let’s face it, things will change. Situations will change. Circumstances will change. It’s difficult to decide what I’ll do tomorrow, let alone five, ten, twenty-five years down the line. Our own experiences at Wilton High School have affirmed that old saying that the only constant in life is change. In the past four years alone, we’ve gone from frightened freshmen pouring off school buses to overly-confident seniors absolutely demolishing watermelons in the Senior Lot. The world we inhabit beyond college will undoubtedly bear little resemblance to the one we graduate in today. Today’s world is already an uncertain one. All of the rules seem to have been thrown out the window.

But in a constantly changing world, what allows us to succeed and to achieve great things isn’t our ability to stick to a plan or to follow a dream. Rather, it’s our optimism and our flexibility, our knack for doing what others say we can’t. We have the optimism and the courage to insist that the world can and should be better. We have shown in just the past year that we have the audacity to confront those in power and demand that they accept change. We recognize that change and progress will come, and our time together at Wilton High School has prepared us to embrace that change and to celebrate the new opportunities that come with it.

Class of 2018: our dreams will change, just as the rest of the world will, and that’s OK. Our dreams will change because we’ll encounter newer, more ambitious dreams to follow. Our priorities will change, too, often for the better. When I was five years old, I wanted to be an astronaut. Then I saw the movie Apollo 13, and, well, things changed. Even in the space of a few years at Wilton High School, many of our dreams have changed dramatically, so I know that the dreams we have today will not be the same dreams we have ten years from now — and that is something to be embraced. The changes we experience will propel us to successes and achievements we probably wouldn’t think possible today. What matters most is not how well we stick to our dreams; it’s the very fact that we have dreams that allows us to chase success, achieve great things, and adapt when new opportunities arise.

So, expect to encounter changes in life. In fact, don’t just expect them, cause them. As George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Progress is impossible without change.” So feel free to change your mind. Strive to do and create things you can’t even imagine today. Pursue what others say is impossible and reinvent your own standards for success. Challenge your own ideas, trust in your abilities, and have the courage to laugh at your own inevitable mistakes. I’m certain we’ll find success. After all, we’re Wilton Warriors. We can accept a little change.

Thank you, good luck, and congratulations to the great Class of 2018.

Addie Tanzman

Good afternoon everyone. My name is Addie Tanzman and I am the vice president of the class of 2018. I am so unbelievably proud to be introducing our graduation speaker this year. He has worked at the high school for 14 years, and has been a wonderful mentor to a number of students in our class, myself included. He is always there to give advice, to help us destress, to keep us on track with our classes, and if we ever want some candy. He is a caring, kind, wonderful man who puts others before himself always. He has never failed to put a smile on my face each and every time I have met with him.

Our graduation speaker has worked with the majority of our grade, whether it be because you were lucky enough to have him on your schedule freshman or sophomore year, or because you were apart of one of the many clubs he supervises, including Peervention, Buon Amico, Socks for Soldiers, Unified Sports, Kids on the Block, and St. Baldrick’s. Words do not do justice for the amount of time and effort this man has put into not just his own students, but our class and our school.

He goes above and beyond the classroom always. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of my junior year, she had to have surgery and was in the hospital for four days. Every single day that she was there, this man sent her a card, wishing her a fast recovery. He sent me a card, and told me to visit him at any point throughout the day if I wanted to talk or have candy or just to take a break from my classes.

He is so unbelievably generous and thoughtful and our entire school is lucky to have him as a mentor to us. In terms of qualifications, our graduation speaker has a six year degree in school counseling, he is a psychologist, and he is a private counselor who used to have a practice.

Besides being a guidance counselor at Wilton High School, he has worked in Bethel and Southbury. He has also taught alternative education, math, science, and English. He is a highly qualified, intelligent man who betters the lives of every student he works with. He does not accept mediocrity and encourages all of his students to live up to their full potential.

I was lucky enough to have him as my guidance counselor from my sophomore year until now. I am honored to ask you all to welcome our commencement speaker for the Class of 2018: Mr. Dann Pompa.

Dann Pompa

Change.  I ask you all to think about this one single word — to open yourself to “it” now and your whole life, to be accepting, to be brave, and to realize that you are not alone when “change” enters your world.

Our worlds are always “changing” and tonight is the beginning of another significant change for all of us here. This impact will vary for each of us as we watch the tassels being moved from one side of the caps to the other. There will be change for each of us: be it spiritual or physical, our worlds will change. Scientifically we know this to be true; emotionally we know this to be true, as well. The ripple effect will begin quickly with a “congratulation,” a hug, or a quiet “goodbye.” Then things will be different forever.

While “change” itself has even placed me at this podium what echoes strong for me are the words of Rosabeth Moss Kanter who said, “Change is disturbing when it is done to us, exhilarating when it is done by us.” And in my life I’ve watched, felt, and reacted to the impact of both, which in turn has led me to often express my thoughts to those who are willing to listen — and even to those who are not. So, I thank you for this opportunity today to speak and share briefly some “Pompa thoughts” with all of you.

Change brought each of us to where our lives exist at this moment. It shapes us. Sometimes it controls us — while in other moments we actually lead the way. Change can be good and engulf us in warmth and comfort like the birth of Abigail Rose, my granddaughter, last week and then sometime change brings sadness or pain as in the 16 deaths that crossed my path last year. How one reacts or takes charge of our lives while experiencing these changes makes all the difference in our next steps.

Class of 2018, recall how the changes in your lives — school, friends, and family have shaped you. Think how you have controlled some of those changes. Try to focus on where you would like to move next in your lives and what you might need to do in order to reach your goals but don’t forget where you have been and all the joyous memories — large and small that may have impacted you and take a moment, at some point, to assess and acknowledge those influences on your lives.

From the beginning of my life I’ve been influenced by a family impacted by the experiences of crossing an ocean and then sharing their cultural differences in a “new world.” Change molded my education as I progressed through seven different grade schools. None were my choice. However, I often had the “guidance” of a trusted teacher such as Mary Fisher (Curtiss) who during my senior year somehow “took away” my dream of becoming an architect after “finding” something in me and then gently moving me toward becoming an educator. All the time insisting that I use my voice and experience all the opportunities around me, being sure that I recognized the changes within as well as “forcing” me to use my own power to make decisions — something that I hope I instill in others in my role here and other interactions in my life. And although at that time finances and circumstances limited my options Mary along with Theodore Roosevelt (who I really didn’t personally know) reminded me of the philosophy to “do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” And so I made changes in my life taking my $1,500 and went to college. Luckily years later I got the opportunity to say “thank you” to Mary Fischer (Curtiss) for her positive impact on my life.

That one change pointed me in a whole different direction leaving brick and stone masonry and house design behind to a life focusing on working with people — probably a healthier career move as you all have seen me over the years with injuries from stones dropped on my feet and most recently walking around with braces on both legs. 

Although my career path changed, I am not sure if Thoreau was correct when he said that “things do not change; we change.” For I hope that no matter what external changes we make in our lives that deep within our souls we remain aware of the people around us; that we take time to acknowledge each other; that we actually listen to each other; that we smile; that we all remember to say “thank you” often; that we slow down and observe and support the natural environment that supports; and that we just don’t foolishly toss around words such as “I care” or “I’m thinking of you,” or “I love you.”

Members of the Class of 2018 I thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives, whether it was greeting you in “The Jungle” or at my spot by the railing; sharing food with you from my office or during “free bake sales;” talking about my Wrangler or my shattered leg; oh yes, even answering “guidance type” questions; and especially for this time here tonight. I hope that you recognize the power that each of you have within and how a simple kind gesture can change a person’s life for the better and in turn change your own. Lawrence and Kazel Maher were once inspired by an “old poem” and wrote another one they titled “YOU” where they reminded us that we are all needed, that we are unique, and that we can make a difference for each other.

So, my wish for you is to try to be patient as you find your voice and take charge of your own lives and thrive amidst the changes that you create and the changes that await for you around each turn of your lives.

Best always and goodbye.

Johnny Maggio

At the end of last year’s graduation ceremony, I left Tom Fujitani Field with two strong reactions. The first, unsurprisingly, was pride because I was proud of who the class before us turned out to be, and proud of our school system that helped them get so far. The second reaction was curiosity which was totally weird considering I just sat through what’s supposed to be one of the most conclusive moments of a person’s life. I mean, what was left to wonder about? But then I asked myself one very important question which made the root of my curiosity quite clear: this time next year, how will I look back at my time in Wilton?

And honestly, before the year even started, it was really easy to ask myself that question, so let’s revisit that point in time. In late August, our senior class was hit by a few challenges. The first was that seniors couldn’t use outside photographers for their senior portrait, the second was that we had a new, and very efficient system of choosing our lockers, and everyone’s favorite, the problem that still exists today: the shortage of parking spots in the senior lot. Needless to say, we were off to a rough start.

But what makes this class different is how we responded. Instead of lashing out, we refused to let the negatives take away from our positive attitude, and how we finished up is more than enough proof. In fact, let’s take a minute to consider what this grade has been a part of, just in our four years of high school: we have future military service men and women, multiple students accepted to ivy league colleges, National merit scholarship finalists, 37 college athletes, FCIAC and state championships, over $80,000 raised for the St. Baldrick’s foundation, future Saturday Night Live members, some of the most talented improvisors the Little Theater stage has ever seen, award winning orchestras, bands, and singers, young and local journalists, social and political activists, and countless incredible artists- all of that is only a glimpse of what this class is leaving behind. 

But the best part about all those accomplishments, is that it’s only half of what you’re celebrating here today.

The other half of what you’re celebrating today can’t be represented by a test grade or a trophy or a performance.

The other half is the impact you’ve had on each other. That impact started on the playgrounds of Miller-Driscoll over 10 years ago, and continued to when you were squaring off against your rival house in tug-of-war at Cider Mill — and that continued into all the dumb and immature laughs you and you friends had in middle school, like when you learned that the formal name for a piano player is really a pianist. That finally finished with all the unforgettable moments, both good and bad, that you’ve endured through high school.

By sharing these moments together, and spending just about everyday from September to June for the past 12 years together, you’ve created some of the most important and best relationships of your life. In doing so, you’ve formed each other’s perceptions of a world far greater than your own. From these perceptions, come values, and from these values comes character.

That strong, confident, thoughtful, and empathetic character you’ve developed, really, the person you are today would not be the same without those precious memories you’ve made and people you’ve met along the way. Of course, the physical half of what you’re celebrating today, all of those awards and achievements, they’re exciting, but they don’t come close to the other half of what you’re celebrating here today, which is the character you embody because of those friendships and relationships you’ve had since you were six years old.

And because of that character, you now belong to a community that you will always be a part of no matter where you are in the world. And in a town where immense pressure and outside noise seeps through the walls of every classroom, you made it look easy. As much as this community has given you and helped you get here today, this community is also extremely proud of the impact and the invaluable legacy you’ve left behind, and I hope you don’t ever forget that.

So at this graduation ceremony, I’m once again leaving with those two reactions of pride and curiosity I had before, but under far different circumstances. Because this time, I’m proud of the accomplishments this class has left for future students of Wilton High School to see, and I’m even more proud of the relationships we’ve formed with one another, and how those relationships have molded us into the promising, intelligent young men and women we are today. And finally, I’m no longer curious about how this class will leave its legacy in Wilton High School, but how this class will leave its legacy on the world and those who live within it.

Thank you.