Lyme-Old Lyme graduates urged to find what 'sets their soul on fire'

Old Lyme — When senior and salutatorian Hannah Morrison said she completed what would be her last ever high school musical as a student at Lyme-Old Lyme High School, she said she was “a blubbering mess, absolutely losing my mind because I (had) no idea what’s coming next for me.”

Morrison said that while performing in that musical, she discovered within herself that performing was the thing that truly “set her soul on fire.”

But without a clear-cut path for her life going forward — “It’s February, remember, so I’m still in that limbo of not knowing where I’m going to college” — Morrison said she was terrified she would never be able to perform again, and that her “new discovery” wasn’t just “a little whisper” but was instead “loud” and clear.

But from that, Morrison said she had a significant realization.

“What took the most courage was to accept that I don’t know exactly what’s coming next, and to promise myself never to sacrifice passion for simplicity.” That while living a linear live is “tempting,” she said in order to truly “be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire, you have to be willing to chase that passion without restraint, even when the path to it becomes blurred.”

With that, Morrison then asked her graduating class, “What is your art? ... What I mean by art is the thing (or things) that sets your soul on fire. What can you do differently than anyone else?"

“Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire,” she said.

Morrison’s overarching message, as well as those delivered from her classmates detailing the challenges that lie ahead and other life lessons delivered by school faculty, lovingly help set the tone for Lyme-Old Lyme High School’s 46th graduation ceremony, which awarded diplomas to 115 graduates dressed in royal blue caps and gowns on the school’s back athletic fields, despite Thursday’s rainy weather.

“If you don’t believe in karma, I think today is the day to start, because there was no way the weather was going to drive this class’s graduation inside,” Principal James Wygonik said at the beginning of his remarks. “This is the tenth time that I’m standing on this stage to say goodbye to a class. And over that time, I’ve had the privilege to serve some of America’s finest young people.”

“But what counts more than anything is that you are kind, you care about each other, you care about this school, you care about this community and our country, and you have proven that,” Wygonik said.

Class President Gary Bocian spoke of honoring the journey in life, rather than the destination, that “It is the memories we made and the time spent together that we will treasure for years to come,” while also noting that the Lyme Old Lyme family was, in particular, an extraordinary one.

“Together, we are state champions, world-class artists and musicians,” Bocian said. “We are ivy-league scholars and future members of the armed services. We give back to the community, and through lifting others, we lift ourselves.”

Also speaking at Thursday’s ceremony was valedictorian Kylie Hall and honor essayist Sarah Hayward. Teacher Jennifer Burke was awarded Outstanding Educator from 2019 class officers in memory of former educator Mildred Sanford, while the school’s choirs, led by choral teacher Kristine Pekar, performed “You Raise Me Up” midway through the ceremony.

Commencement speaker Adam Raiti, who teaches pottery at the school, cleverly used analogies from his pottery class to deliver some of his own life lessons, which he urged the Class of 2019 to bring with them going forward.

First, he said, in pottery, you must learn to center your clay.

“Without centering, all you do is make a mess. You will never learn to master pottery unless you learn to center your own clay,” Raiti said. “Until this point, there have been a lot of people helping you find your center in life, and while not all the training wheels are off yet, soon enough you will all be centering yourselves.”

The next lesson, then, learned from the pottery wheel, Raiti said, was the idea of growth through losing.

“There is the biblical paradox of losing your life in order to gain your life,” he said. “This is the picture of whole-hearted service, of being all in. ... Lose yourself in what you are doing. Put yourself all in. ... You are able to gain so much from a little bit of losing.”

Raiti then jokingly said, “Please remember this, Class of 2019. My hope for you is that you will all be the biggest bunch of self-centered losers that ever graduated from Lyme-Old Lyme High School,” before closing his speech to bursts of happy laughter, cheers and applause.

m.biekert@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version reflects that the school's choirs performed "You Raise Me Up" midway through Thursday's graduation ceremony.
Catey Battalino's name has been corrected in a photo caption.

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