WESTPORT—Just under 500 students, supported by their families and teachers, poured into a steamy, packed Staples High School Field House to celebrate the class of 2016 Friday afternoon.

William Andrews, the school’s valedictorian and star tennis player who will matriculate to Johns Hopkins University, delivered an address that encompassed topics from Greek mythology to Kung Fu Panda, but at its heart tugged at issues that are widespread across the country and have plagued the Staples community.

"From late summer through much of the schoolyear, I struggled with severe depression brought on by a number of personal circumstances. I had to leave school for a period of time to try and resolve this issue and I spent a few days in the hospital," Andrews said.

"This is something I still struggle with and work with today. I say this now not as some personal statement, but rather because through this experience I’ve learned an immense about appreciating those around you and appreciating the present moment," he said.

"I’ve learned that perhaps the most important thing we can do each day is be kind to one another—it seems so simple, but has such a profound effect on those around us," Andrews added.

He noted that seemingly small daily gestures of kindness towards friends, acquaintances, strangers—anyone, even if they are a simple compliment or acknowledgement in passing, can have a deeply positive impact on them.

Andrews urged his classmates to practice this mantra going forward and implored them to harbor a love of themselves.

"Each of us is with ourselves every moment of everyday, from the time we enter this world to the time we leave it. We can’t live happy and fulfilling lives if we don’t accept and love the one person that’s along for the entire ride," Andrews said.

Another matter that the valedictorian spoke to was the crushing culture of pressure in Westport, specifically at the high school level to get into a top university, and how students need to learn how to lead a life of moderation and balance.

Andrews recalled a conversation in which two Staples sophomores were obsessing and stressing over a chemistry test. He then exaggerated and extrapolated based on the scope of the sophomores’ unfounded anxiety.

"He said if he didn’t get a good grade on the test, he wasn’t going to get a good grade in the class and his GPA would suffer," Andrews said. "If his GPA suffered, and he didn’t take thirteen AP courses and found four clubs and singlehandedly end poverty in Ecuador…he wouldn’t get into a good college.

“If he didn’t get into a good college, he wouldn’t get into a good graduate school, he wouldn’t get a good job, he wouldn’t make enough money and he wouldn’t be able to support his family and retire comfortably somewhere in a Florida gated community…,"he said.

Although the sophomores he spoke of had severely flawed logic, Andrews lamented that this mindset is present at Staples. He stressed that there is a time to work but also there is a time to ease up, enjoy life and relax.

"There is no sense fretting about a future we can’t control when there is so much to enjoy here and now in the present," he said.

Departing Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon, who started as Westport’s superintendent 17 years ago, told the kids he has been privileged to watch them grow and learn since they were in kindergarten.

"Please remember to be resilient in the face of disappointment, be strong and courageous in the face of the many challenges you will face, keep things in perspective, remember your commitment to humanity both at home and in the world and err in the direction of kindness," Landon said.

"Congratulations to all of you wonderful students who make up the class of 2016, I wish you great happiness…good fortune and good health. I love you all and hope our paths cross again in the years to come," he said.

The graduation marks Staples 129th graduating class.

@chrismmarquette/ cmarquette@bcnnew.com