Commencement speakers at Western Connecticut State University’s O’Neill Center on Wednesday, June 20, said it again and again: the Newtown High School Class of 2012 is a class with a wide range of abilities and accomplishments.
“We welcome you tonight to the graduation ceremony of Newtown High School,” said NHS Principal Charles Dumais after this year’s graduating class made its way into the building, past a line of teachers, and through a cloud of applause.
The event included shared memories through speeches, advice for the graduates to use in the future, and a poem by commencement address speaker Lee Keylock.
As Senior Class Vice President Mary Hamula said, every one of the 402 students sitting inside the O’Neill Center should be proud of what they have achieved during their time at NHS.
“The Class of 2012 is very involved in the school, the greater community, and beyond,” said Mary. “Forty-seven members of the graduating class were members of the National Honor Society, and the Class of 2012 all together logged over 30,000 hours of community service.”
Mary went on to note 20 students completed internships this year, and six students completed a Senior Project through the school’s Junior/Senior Project course.
“Our class was not only dedicated and involved, but also athletic,” Mary continued. “This year was arguably the greatest year for NHS athletics in school history.”
Mary also said eight members of the senior class ventured to China this year to visit sister schools, and multiple students won art awards.
“I would also like to acknowledge the eight members of the senior class entering the military after graduation,” said Mary, to applause from the audience. “We wish all of you the best and thank you for serving our country.”
Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson noted only four years ago the graduates participated in the Newtown Middle School Moving Up Ceremony as eighth grade students, and said both, along with kindergarten and receiving a driver’s license, are rights of passage.
The difference between graduating high school and other rights of passage the students have faced before now, she said, “is this one is probably the one requiring the most independence.”
Dr Robinson is hopeful, she said, that all the teachers and parents have hoped for the students over the years and all that students have been taught will go with them.
“I congratulate you, the Class of 2012,” said Dr Robinson, “and wish you success in the years to come.”
When it was her turn to speak, NHS Class of 2012 Salutatorian Erin Begg remembered her first day as a freshman at NHS. The high school, she remembered, was a place filled with Ugg boots and more students in one grade than had been in her last school, St Rose of Lima School.
“You guys are exceptional,” said Erin, “and you have made Newtown High School exceptional.”
Today, Erin said, she is proud to walk among her fellow graduates.
“If you want to do well,” Erin recommended, “you need to make it happen.”
Erin also told the graduates to never let failure hinder them, and to have fun.
High school lives, Class of 2012 Valedictorian Ajit Singh said later, are hectic. Parents gave advice, sometimes listened to, and students had to deal with relationship status changes on Facebook.
“People say marriage is complicated,” Ajit said, “but when your Facebook relationship status changes…”
Ajit asked his fellow graduates to offer help where it is needed, and warned against apathy. Every generation, he said, faces a problem, “Our greatest problem will be apathy.
“We have to be willing to fight for causes we believe in,” he said, before challenging the graduates to not just talk about making a difference, but to make that difference in the world.
When Mr Dumais spoke before the graduates, he urged them not to listen to the part of them that can hold them back, but instead to listen to the advice of the people they trust, and to learn from mistakes while not wasting time reflecting on them.
Mr Keylock called the NHS Class of 2012, “The best class ever,” before sharing his poem, “YOLO, You Only Live Once.”
“Being 18 is terrifying,” Mr Keylock said before his poem continued to share his experience at a dance, 24 years ago. He said he is ashamed to share that he never walked across the dance floor to kiss a girl named Amanda, and yet he and his colleagues had to watch the seniors kiss their boyfriends or girlfriends in the hallways.
Mr Keylock continued, saying he has no idea where the students’ lives will take them, but he urged them to walk across their own dance floors.
“…And you gotta reach because if you don’t you could end up in the O’Neill Center in front of 3,000 people talking about a kiss that never materialized,” he said smiling.
He told the students to find the delicious moments that happen every day, and reminded them that they were there to witness the first ever October snowfall that drifted down on Ram Pasture, on the Blue Colony Diner, on Newtown.