— Photos by Erik Trautmann/Hearst Connecticut Media
Relationships and recognition of their good fortune were the overriding themes of the day as more than 300 Wilton High School seniors assembled at Fujitani Field for commencement exercises on June 15, 2019.
As they walked onto the field, teachers and administrators who led the long line of graduates split into two lines, applauding as their soon-to-be former students made their way between them to their seats. They walked not in alphabetical order, or split into boys and girls, but with their friends, sharing this last moment as a class with those they felt closest to.
Ava Kaplan, president of the student executive board, welcomed everyone and acknowledged how “incredibly privileged” she and her peers were to have achieved this milestone.
She acknowledged all the “equally deserving individuals who have never had the chance to get to this point whether it be because they were denied an education, because of their sex, or because wherever they live there is so much turmoil it is unsafe to go to school, or they have been barred from our country or another country where they could get an education they deserve, or even in our country because their local school systems are critically underfunded, or because they have been killed on the basis of their race or sexuality or have been the victim of gun violence or the hundreds of other reasons that have prevented smart, capable students from graduating that we as a community have never had to encounter.”
She went on to note that even though she and her classmates will now disperse, their years at Wilton High School will bind them together in the future as they tell the same stories, share the same photos, and adding with a laugh, “will all know Ridgefield is public enemy number one but we all secretly believe that Darien is the worst town in the FCIAC.”
“The stories I have will be forever connected to yours, and for that I am so grateful” she said.
Assistant Principal Gregory Theriault introduced valedictorian Maddie Burke, who he described as demonstrating excellence in the classroom with a 3.99 GPA, as well as in athletics and throughout the school community. Maddie was captain of the varsity basketball team, and a member of the executive board and the National Honor Society. She was a member of Safe Rides and the Top Inclusion Models, and received the CABE and Jack Awards at the school’s awards assembly. Maddie is also a Warrior Words columnist for the Bulletin and will attend Brown University where she will major in English and economics.
She reflected on the academic, moral and social lessons she and her classmates have learned over the last four years:
"“It is important to hold the door. Holding doors is a non-verbal communication that we support the person behind us. It signals connection, camaraderie and kindness, all traits we foster here. …we’ve learned to be selfless.”
"“Working together makes a difference. … We’ve learned to honor our commitments, trust our classmates, and to be team players.”
"“The people around you have likely taught you how to ‘be’ more than any book, exam or lecture ever could. The memories you share with friends or teammates or acquaintances will be the ones that ignite your 40-year-old self with a spark of nostalgia. We’ve learned that our relationships with one another have brought the brightest light into all of our lives.”
"“We’ve become whatever it is we’ve wanted to become. … We’ve all grown up to be: to be scholars and activists and notable athletes and distinguished performers and aspiring playwrights and inquisitive student journalists and wonderful friends and above all, people. We’ve become the people we will continue to be after we leave this field today.”
At the conclusion of her speech, Maddie introduced the day’s graduation speaker, English teacher Jean Brey, who she said is known for the “genuine kindness she displays inside and outside of the classroom.”
She described Brey as the “epitome of everything a high school teacher should be: wise, energetic, selfless and radiating positivity in all situations.
As one who resists change herself, Brey addressed the positive aspects of moving from one aspect of life to the next.
“As you transform in your lives after high school, you will change the places you inhabit and the people within those environments. And though these changes often involve loss, the changes provide a second finding that brings the possibility of beauty and wonder,” she said.
She referenced No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre, which many of the students read in her European Authors class.
“It’s a short play about three people trapped in a room together for eternity. Soon enough, readers learn that the three characters are dead. And even though Sartre himself did not believe in an afterlife, he set his play in hell to metaphorically express his theme about what it means to be alive.
“This room is hell for the three characters because they are dead and they cannot change,” she said. “For eternity, their essence will be exactly the same as it was at the moment that they died. The inverse of Sartre’s theme is that this life is extraordinary because it offers the possibility of change, evolution and choice. Not only do we get to change but we get to choose how we will change and who we will become.”
Referring to Odysseus, who upon leaving Ithaca said, “I am a part of all that I have met,” she said, “as you go through the beautiful changes in your lives, pause, remember, and appreciate that you are a part of all that you have met. … and all will be inextricably woven into your story.”
Before presenting the class to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kevin Smith, principal Dr. Robert O’Donnell, told the class that among the challenges they face, “I know your moral courage will impel you to draw the line against acts of discrimination, and racism that have experienced resurgence in recent years.”
Smith spoke about how all things are related. More than their academic and athletic achievements, he said, is “how you got there, the cooperation, the collaboration, the camaraderie, the teamwork it took to achieve so highly. As you move on from Wilton High School, it is my hope you will take with you all the lessons learned from the relationships you formed and the relationships that helped form you.”
After certifying they were now graduates, Smith presented the class to the Wilton Board of Education, after which they walked to the podium to receive their diplomas as their names were read.
Kimberly Castano revealed that the Class of 2019 will leave behind several gifts, including a class coffee mug for each student, teacher, administrator and member of the school staff; a sizable donation to the Sunshine Fund, which helps teachers and staff recognize life events; a Venue Run - Electronic/Video Information System for the athletic department, and campus banners for the exterior of the high school building to “remind us that this is a place full of love, laughter, and learning.”
Class president George Murphy closed the ceremonies with a few thoughts on the pluses and minuses of authority, but summed it up by advising his classmates to “look for collaboration rather than conflict. … We have authority over ourselves and our beliefs.”