Greenwich High School grads encouraged to seek the unknown

p1-ghs-graduationIt was a sweltering send-off for the 637 seniors graduating from Greenwich High School last Wednesday, as temperatures reached well into the 90s, pushing the ceremony back one hour due to health and safety concerns.

Although graduation programs were primarily used as make-shift fans rather than informational guides, an abundance of brief yet stimulating speeches seemed to hold the attention of the Class of 2012 and their families.

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Co-salutatorians Ryota Ishizuka, Samuel Prose and Westin Sibley urged their classmates to take risks, chart unfamiliar territory, share their experiences with others and keep an open mind in all of their endeavors.

Westin expressly asked fellow seniors to cast aside traditional graduation advice, which encourages graduates to follow their hearts. Instead, she advised her classmates to take chances and to explore the unfamiliar, insisting, “If we simply stick to what we know we love, and do what feels natural, we may risk missing out on the new experiences, unexpected opportunities, and crazy ideas that the world has to offer.”

Warren Bein, one of the three Class of 2012 co-valedictorians, shared similar sentiments. He urged his class to find a middle road between focusing on what they already succeed at and creating new experiences for themselves.

As for Zayne Sibley, also a co-valedictorian, giving advice to her class was no easy task.

“The most striking thing about our class,” she said, “is our incredible diversity.”

With different strengths and weaknesses, family backgrounds and passions, Zayne explained to her classmates that she could not tell them what experiences they would take away from high school.

“Maybe the one greatest thing we all got out of our four years here is exposure to this kind of diversity,” and the tolerance achieved because of it, she said. “Hopefully, wherever we go, we will carry this acceptance with us.”

Michelle Socher, co-valedictorian and the last of the students to speak, had a more specific request.

Drawing attention to the “particularly volatile global environment” the class faces, she referenced a Bruce Springsteen song entitled We Take Care Of Our Own.

“How can we say that we take care of our own,” Michelle asked, “When all too often our troops return home unable to find employment or access to expert medical care?”

Perhaps the class of 2012 will be part of the generation that is not only aware of the changes needed regarding this issue, but the ones who actually make the changes, she said.

The topic was all too familiar for commencement speaker Lee Woodruff. Ms. Woodruff, a reporter and author, nearly lost her husband, Bob, to a roadside bomb in Iraq that struck him just outside Baghdad while he reported on the aftermath of the 2006 Palestinian elections for ABC News.

While Mr. Woodruff made a miraculous recovery from the traumatic brain injury he suffered, “What happened to my husband is what happens to our soldiers every single day,” Ms. Woodruff said. “We can try to plan and prepare but we can never predict.”

Though each student will experience tragedy, loss and disappointment, “I’m here to tell you that you will survive,” Ms. Woodruff told the seniors.

Encouraging students to “be curious, be brave and be grateful,” she reminded them to give back to their communities, especially to the more than 360,00 veterans who will be returning home in coming years.

However, “Advice is cheap,” Ms. Woodruff said. The members of the Class of 2012 will need to figure life out through their own successes and failures. The way to do that, she said, is to “Do something new. Do something you don’t need to be dead serious about” before becoming encumbered with mortgages and children. “Not one of us has a script for what will happen next.”

To end the speech portion of the ceremony, Headmaster Christopher Winters provided seniors with the top 12 reasons why they were a special class. According to Mr. Winters, the seniors came from 25 different countries, largely participated in sports and the arts, achieved “the highest level of academic accomplishments” and were the first class to wear “green” graduation gowns, each of which were made from 26 bottles of recycled water.

The list ended with a bit of humor from the headmaster. Referring to the school’s restriction of athletic field and parking lot usage as a result of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found on school grounds last fall, Mr. Winters sent the Class of 2012 off with the number one reason he considered them to be special.

“You gave up your parking spaces for PCBs, your fields for PCBs, your sports schedule for PCBs, but never your spirit. No PCBs can take that away.”

 

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All photos courtesy of Post photographer John Ferris Robben

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