The Greenwich High School Class of 2021, who missed so many milestone events during the Covid-19 pandemic, was able to enjoy a live, in person graduation under sunny skies on Monday.
Because Cardinal stadium is closed for reconstruction of bleachers, graduation was held in fields 6 and 7. As the program progressed, the sun began to set and a wall of cool shade moved across the rows of white folding chairs.
Principal Ralph Mayo drew wide applause when he said, “You deserve this night!”
“Fifty years ago I sat in the bleachers that were literally taken from the old high school, which is now the town hall, and were located on what are now fields 2 and 3 for my commencement ceremony from this great high school,” Mayo said. “I didn’t realize until many years later how lucky I was to attend this school and be taught by the wonderful teaching staff we had and and still have at GHS.”
“I wondered at the beginning of the year whether this would come together,” Mayo said. “As this class moves forward, they have left behind a history of excellence for their peers. Enjoy this special moment. You have earned it.”
Meredith Blanchard, the class of 2021 president, urged her classmates to “go have fun.”
“Our class has arguably lost the most in terms of Covid,” she said. “From missing the end of our pivotal junior year, all way to the fact that our class was not whole for the bulk of our senior spring. We persevered through a myriad of cancellations, a record breaking difficult year in terms of college admissions, and many missed sports seasons.”
Meredith urged her classmates not to take anything for granted.
“We have the rare opportunity to experience everything in our lives as though it is for the first time,” she said. “So go and make your firsts.”
“I want to recognize that in addition to the pandemic, this year contained other events that rocked our country. Specifically, issues regarding systemic racial inequality and injustice that have plagued our country for years were brought to the forefront of conversation,” she said. “I want to state that it is essential we keep those conversations going.”
“We stand with our students of color, and thus must allow for there to be ways in which we can amplify their voices. Our public schools need to welcome uncomfortable topics. That is the only way that growth will occur. Equality, respect and basic human rights are not a partisan issue.”
Salutatorian Colin Speaker said the pandemic had tested the resolve of his classmates.
“Our class of seniors will forever be distinguished by the fact that a single strand of RNA shut down our world at the most vulnerable point in our education. On reflection, it sounds like the plot of a science fiction story. Yet, the harsh realities of the pandemic tested our resourcefulness and resolve as individuals, families, communities and nations.”
“When we were abruptly sent home on March 11, 2020, the two week break dragged on and started to look a lot more like a two year break at the most inopportune time,” he added. “Junior prom was canceled. Sports seasons were cut short. And the light at the end of the tunnel looked further and further away.”
“In September we returned for senior year to a hybrid model,” he continued. “At first, I will admit, I did enjoy the shorter commute from my bed to my couch for my first block online class. But the situation remained grim. We were separated from friends based solely on our place in the alphabet, and there was still no word on the return of many sports, the arts or after school clubs. Last month, in returning to school fully in person with the rest of my classmates, I rediscovered what makes GHS so amazing. The extra sleep paled in comparison to the vibrance of the glass corridor, the buzzing hive that is our student center, and most of all, the excitement of being face to face with others…It seemed like after May 3, our senior class became whole again.”
Commencement speaker Joan Lunden, an Emmy Award Winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, and Professor of Health and Media at Lehigh University. She happens to also be a parent of 7 children, all of whom graced the halls of Greenwich High School.
Lunden noted that because of the pandemic, the graduation ceremony almost didn’t happen.
“You are historically unique, not only because you lived through a global pandemic, but rather because you found in yourselves the resilience to adapt, to learn new skills so you can continue your studies in your bedrooms instead of your classrooms,” she said. “You persevered and coped emotionally with incredible isolation from your friends and a social life that is usually such a big part of high school life.”
“Resilience, perseverance, and ability to adapt and cope. Those are critically important life skills that you have had to embrace because the world threw you a giant curve ball,” she continued. “Know in your heart that every one of you, perhaps more than any other graduating class ever, that you already have those important life skills necessary to navigate the challenges that will come your way.”
As for questions about choosing the “right path,” Lunden said that in high school it is very clear what is required to succeed.
“Everybody knows exactly the number of credits needed to graduate and when you had to really buckle down and get serious,” she said. “I’d like to suggest that you live a little room for the unexpected opportunity that might fall in your lap. For that diversion from the familiar, comfortable path.”
Lunden said that growing up she anticipated following her father’s footsteps and become a doctor. However, she said, “The summer before I started college I went to work in a hospital and I found out that if I had any limitations in life, it was in the area of scalpels, stitches and blood.”
She said as she was finishing college, in the late 1970s, a family friend who worked at a local TV station was over for dinner and mentioned there was pressure on local TV stations to put more women on news programs. He suggested she consider that opportunity.
“I’d never given TV journalism a consideration, because candidly there was only a handful of women on any TV news program anywhere in the country,” she said. “I could have easily let that passing comment to.”
She recalled cold calling the news director of the local TV station. While he was encouraging, there was no job for her. However, since she was in the studio that day, the weatherman had seen her audition and followed her out into the parking lot and made an offer that would change her life forever.
“He said that a few stations around the country were hiring women to be ‘weather girls,’ and he wanted to train me to be Sacramento’s first weather girl,” she recalled. “I hated science, and the idea of doing weather didn’t even remotely sound interesting. However, I knew an opportunity when I heard it and knew it would be an oppy to get my foot in the door. I was around for a lot of opportunities and I took them. You need to be willing to say yes to opportunities, to venture out of your comfort zone and take some risks.”
“Be willing to take a chance,” Lunden said. “This world needs risk takers. It needs leaders. And what it needs more than anything right now, at this point in history, is people who ground their decisions and their actions in values and integrity.”