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Staples Class of '14 grads celebrate 'the now' with clear vision of the future

Published 5:15 pm, Friday, June 20, 2014

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  • Graduate Cara McNiff celebrates during the Staples High School commencement ceremony Friday, June 20, 2014 at the school in Westport, Conn. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post
    Graduate Cara McNiff celebrates during the Staples High School commencement ceremony Friday, June 20, 2014 at the school in Westport, Conn. Photo: Autumn Driscoll

 

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STAPLES HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF '14
Number of graduates: 463
Valedictorian: Eliza Clare Llewellyn
Salutatorian: Melissa Ann Beretta
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The overriding theme of Staples High School's 127th commencement Friday was the importance of enjoying the present while keeping an eye toward the future, and the 463 classmates did that as they walked from the lobby to the fieldhouse and into the next chapter of their young lives.

They posed for group photos and took selfies; talked about what they will miss -- and not miss -- about their four years at Staples, and shook hands, hugged and high-fived dozens of teachers and other well-wishers on hand for the celebration.

"They were fabulous and fun, a fun class," said physical education teacher Maureen Cadden. Alexandra Krubski, a biology teacher, put her fingers together to form the shape of a heart as the graduates passed her in the hall near the cafeteria.

In her speech to the graduates and just under 5,000 relatives, friends and education staff, valedictorian Eliza Llewellyn acknowledged the importance of living in the moment and savoring the present, but even she couldn't avoid the temptation to glimpse the future where she said she foresees her classmates playing at Carnegie Hall, writing for the New York Times, swimming in the Olympics and serving as catalysts for social change.

Llewellyn reminded the Class of 2014 that their story isn't finished yet and there is no clear path to their identities.

Principal John Dodig talked about the rapid pace of change in their lifetime as they grew up with cellphones in their pockets and constant access to the Internet. That change will continue, he said, and will require a new way of thinking that combines the linear, logical left side of the brain with the creative, artistic right brain.

"You will thrive in this new world," Dodig told them.

Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon asked the '14 graduates to take two thoughts with them: "Make acts of kindness a priority in your life," and "Continue to learn for the sake of learning."

As graduates starting on the path to the future, some of the Staples classmates did so in "sensible" shoes -- there were a lot of sneakers under the grads' commencement robes. Others, like Eliza Yass, 17, wore 5-inch, hot-pink heels as she strutted onto her path, which will take her to Vanderbilt University, where she will study human and organizational development.

Wyatt Davis is wheeling into the next phase of his life, continuing to ride high on the journey that has taken him through the halls of Staples High School for the last four years, into the school's radio station and throughout town to take photographs of his favorite images. Davis has severe cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair his whole life, but has not let that slow him down.

"My son has had an incredible time at Staples High School," said Wyatt's father, Brett. Wyatt, one of 15 students to win an award from Dodig, will spend one more year at Staples in independent study before studying at Gateway Community College in New Haven.

Most students called the commencement ceremonies "bittersweet."

"This has been our routine for four years. It's going to be weird leaving that," said Alanna Zavoico, 18, who will study nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

"We're moving on. It'll be exciting to see where all of our paths will take us," said Anna Violette, 18, who will be an art and design major at the University of Michigan.

Jenna Bernard, 17, said she will miss the overall sense of community in Westport and how close everyone is, but, "I'm ready to go to college." She will study agriculture and life science at Cornell University.

"My dream job is to be a lawyer for Earth Justice, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. I discovered I wanted to do this in one of my classes," said William Englehart, 17, who wore a bow tie decorated with American flags. He chose the pre-law track at Hobart and William Smith colleges where he will major in international relations and minor in peace studies.

Alec Johnson, 18, who will study math and engineering at Auburn University, called the ceremonies "a good end to the four years I've had at Staples."