Williams School grads embrace future with laughter, useful advice

Williams School Class of 2016 graduates Amy Robin Burzin, center, and Noah S. Bavolack celebrate after the school's 125th Commencement on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The ceremony was held in Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Williams School Class of 2016 graduates Amy Robin Burzin, center, and Noah S. Bavolack celebrate after the school's 125th Commencement on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The ceremony was held in Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)

New London — Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium was filled with laughs as Williams School senior Charlie Bunnell opened his graduation speech with a quote by Che Guevara.

"The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall," he recited. "Mark my word, it..."

He paused, then crumpled up his paper and threw it off the lectern. "This is the wrong speech," he said, eliciting a roar of laughter and applause from the audience.

The "correct" speech instead opened with a quote from Kanye West about conquering your "shyness" and believing your "flyness," as Bunnell recalled transferring to the school as a sophomore, growing from his own quiet self into the student that his classmates voted to give the senior class address.

Forty-nine students graduated in the Williams School's 125th class Wednesday afternoon, and Bunnell said he was just "one ingredient in a cake with 48 other ingredients."

He continued the metaphor by saying each of his fellow "ingredients" has their own merits, but they all come together to make something great, whether it's putting together the holiday assembly, screaming the loudest at spirit week or just lending a classmate a calculator.

Head of School Mark Fader introduced English teacher Cory Harris as the commencement speaker, giving a nod to his recent performance on the teachers tournament in "Jeopardy!"

Harris told Bunnell he was the sprinkles on his own metaphorical cake and apologized to the rest of the students for sitting them down for yet another lecture on how to live their lives.

Instead of giving the stereotypical speech on how to succeed, however, he wanted to prepare the graduates for their first week of college and the "maelstrom of first impressions."

He joked about going into the wrong class on the first day or having awkward encounters with people in the dorm, but he said making mistakes is part of what college is about.

"After that first week, none of that will matter," Harris said. 

Students will find new causes that they're passionate about, work to make their campuses better places and make new friends "of all races and cultures and identities, and even a bro from Cincinnati that's rocking jean shorts."

Harris asked graduates to give their parents a solid goodbye when they go off to college.

"If they ask for another hug, give it to them," he said. "Because although you're going to start out your new life wrong, you want to make sure you end your old one just right."

The ceremony also featured student performances, including Billy Joel's "Vienna" sung by Abbigail Xenelis, Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" as the senior song and an original piano composition by Athanasios Bourganos.

Tying in with the historic value of the 125th graduating class, Fader told graduates that they exhibit many of the same leadership qualities as Colin Buell, the first headmaster of the school in 1891.

"You will always be a part of our history," he said.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

Williams School Class of 2016 graduate Oaklea Bullock Elfstrom, left, walks past one of the auditorium entrances during the procession of the school's 125th Commencement on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The ceremony was held in Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Williams School Class of 2016 graduate Oaklea Bullock Elfstrom, left, walks past one of the auditorium entrances during the procession of the school's 125th Commencement on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The ceremony was held in Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Cory Harris, the keynote speaker at the Williams School 125th Commencement, delivers his commencement address on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The ceremony was held in Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Cory Harris, the keynote speaker at the Williams School 125th Commencement, delivers his commencement address on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The ceremony was held in Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Williams School Class of 2016 graduates, their friends and family members gather in Connecticut College's Castle Court for hugs and photographs after the school's 125th Commencement on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The ceremony was held in Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Williams School Class of 2016 graduates, their friends and family members gather in Connecticut College's Castle Court for hugs and photographs after the school's 125th Commencement on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The ceremony was held in Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium in New London. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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