'It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood': Stonington High School students graduate
Stonington — The high school football field bleachers were filled before 6 p.m. for 2018's senior class. The commencement ceremony didn't begin for another half-hour.
The band warmed up quietly before playing a song announcing the arrival of faculty. Then the graduating class, to the tune of the school's alma mater, assumed their positions directly in front of the bleachers. The melody continued for some five minutes, despite air horns and intermittent cheering, until the entire Stonington High School Class of 2018 was seated.
Abby Wang, valedictorian and class president, welcomed spectators and introduced salutatorian Adam Gibbs, who then delivered his address.
Gibbs's speech, peppered with jokes at the expense of his teachers, revolved around the accomplishments of his classmates — including musicians, actors, athletes and entrepreneurs — which he credited to a strong streak of independence in the Class of 2018.
"I encourage you to continue to make decisions based on what you believe is best," Gibbs said. "Everyone you look up to in your lives began as a normal person just like you and me, so I encourage all of you to let your passions lead you to greatness."
A rendition of Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" from the High School Chamber Choir led into Mary-Lou Devine's commencement address. Devine, an English teacher at the high school and Stonington's teacher of the year in 2016 and 2017, was chosen by the Class of 2018 to deliver the keynote address.
Devine paid homage to Mr. Rogers, introducing her remarks with, "It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood." She gave the graduates advice she wished Mr. Rogers had given her when she graduated from high school 39 years ago.
"I ... wanted a moment of honest reassurance, words of comfort and confidence from a kind adult, I wanted Mr. Rogers," Devine said. "So Class of 2018, let me just say, you're going to be just fine. ... Do not worry, you are ready."
She urged the 168 graduating students not to be afraid of the in-between time of high school and college or of a change in career path. At one point, Devine asked everyone in attendance to take a moment of silence to remember the person who taught them to do what they love.
"Imagine how pleased they'd be to know that you recognized what a difference they made in your becoming," Devine said.
But Devine was not here to lecture — her words were meant to embolden.
"You leave us a legacy of helping your classmates, improving your school and serving your community," Devine said. "You are rare, you are valuable and, above all else, you are ready."
The graduates, male students clad in brown robes and female students in white, made an orderly advance to receive their diplomas.
Principal Mark Friese, seven Board of Education members and the two 2018 class advisers presented the diplomas together.
Besides the playing of the alma mater and the recessional, Wang's speech was the last part of the evening. She focused on the two principles she aspires to embody: courage and empathy.
Wang saw empathy in the faculty and staff of Stonington High School.
"When I went through a difficult time during the spring of my junior year, some of my teachers approached me with unequivocal support and ensured that I would be able to pick myself back up," Wang said.
In the classroom, Wang witnessed the kind of courage necessary to thrive in the world.
"During my time at SHS, I've heard students voice unpopular opinions in a classroom full of uncompromising classmates," Wang said. "I've known students who are proud of their identities and proud to display them among judgmental onlookers. I've been in classrooms with teachers who dispel ignorance with facts and passionately defend causes that they know are important to their students."
Ninety-seven percent of students enrolled at the beginning of the year graduated, and 86 percent have been accepted to higher education institutions or have joined the military, according to Principal Mark Friese.
Throughout the ceremony, the bleachers remained full, with further onlookers crowded along the chain link fence dividing the track and the bleachers. Parents cried, expressed pride and seemed to be in competition for who could be the loudest supporter of their child.
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