For 20 Newtown High School students, Tuesday, February 5, marked graduation from high school.
An event was held in the school’s cafetorium to recognize the students during a midyear graduation ceremony. Family, friends, teachers, and administrators were in attendance to see the students as they finish one accomplishment and look forward to many more.
Speakers for the event included NHS Director of Guidance Kathy Ostar, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson, NHS Principal Charles Dumais, and Claire Olson, one of the evening’s graduates.
Ms Ostar said the evening was all about offering congratulations to the students for their accomplishments, and to recognize the people who supported them throughout their journey.
Dr Robinson said the ceremony marked a milestone, but not the end of the graduates’ education. She asked the graduates to remember the values Newtown instilled in them, and the people who have supported them along their educational careers.
“We will all celebrate when we hear about the great things you’ve done,” said Dr Robinson.
Mr Dumais said he was proud of each of the students on the cafetorium’s stage. He also said, if anything has been learned recently, “Its that we have the ability to choose what the future will be. So choose wisely.”
The graduates during the ceremony were Emily Rose Anderson, Alek Arend, India Butler, Alyssa Danka, Nadia El-Hag, Jennifer Hersh, Brian Kruger, Brianna Loging, Zachary Marmo, Jillian Moller, Hayley Naphen, Joshua Nastasia, Jennifer O’Grady, Claire Olson, Emily Paloian, Michele Petersen, Olivia Quimby, Alexa Rose, Amanda Rowan, and Bassam Shaham.
Claire’s speech was shared with The Newtown Bee by the school for publication.
Claire Olson’s Graduation Speech
I read once that the reason people are so afraid of public speaking is that historically, as a pack animal, having the rest of your herd’s attention on you wasn’t such a good thing. That theory might seem like a fabulous excuse to throw at a teacher if you don’t think you can handle an oral presentation, but surprisingly enough, it usually won’t help too much.
As much as I love hiding behind that idea, I think the real reason we’re so scared to speak in front of people is because it makes us vulnerable. This sheaf of paper is a decent shield but a high school student is only so secure in themselves and their thoughts. What do I have to say that will matter? What can I do that will change anything?
That applies to everyone here. The world is big, chaotic, and messy — your hands will get dirty, you’ll trip, and I’ll use a cliché I promised myself I wouldn’t include in this speech. You will always have that lingering doubt, that last echoing strain of fear ready to hold you back. You’ll always be scared that no one will laugh at your jokes, or worry that you can’t come up with something important enough to say, or doubt that you can say it without your hands shaking.
You might always think that even if you did try that it wouldn’t matter, in a year no one will remember what you said, that no one will learn or grow. You might think there can only be so many game changers and innovators. You may not know the power of your own voice, of your own future.
The greatest to ever walk among us had the courage to speak and act — not the absence of fear, but the will to overcome it.
You can and will be afraid to speak up, to chase what you need, to stand when everyone else is sitting. JFK once made the implausible possible — “not because it was easy, but because it was hard.” Yes, we went to the moon to show up the Soviet Union (thanks history class), but we also did it because — I quote — “That challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” Your challenge might not be as grandiose as a massive space program. It might be choosing an unconventional path, or saying no or yes, it might be asking out that cute girl you see every afternoon in the coffee shop, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as important or worth doing.
It’s okay to be afraid, everyone is, but I know that every person in this room has the strength to be more than insecurity or fear.
You are all on the precipice of achieving greatness, because the truly great are not the beloved heroes, but the ones that fight with their cause unknown, the ones that wake up each day and do something, something good, whether it be for themselves or others.
These heroes learn to throw out their arms when they fall. They learn that most pickup lines won’t work, and they learn that some things should really be kept to yourself. They didn’t get that from nowhere. You didn’t learn how to be cool in a day. You’ll fall. You’ll say something dumb. You’ll bandage it up, make your apologies, and figure out maybe there’s another way. Your rockets will fail. The Soviets will reach space before you. So what?
We intend to win. We intend to stand in front of our pack and pretend we know what we’re talking about. And we’ll do it over and over until we’re on the moon.
Of course, Thomas Paine said that way better when he wrote, “The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.”
Maybe I messed up a few words. Maybe that cute girl in the coffee shop didn’t think your pickup line was funny. There’s next time, and the time after. But only if you go now. Only if you learn this time and fix it and learn again and fix things again.
Be the strong I know you are. Smile in trouble. Gather strength when you’re weary. Look back and realize it was worth a little worry.