Impacted by Covid, 663 Members of the Class of 2023 Cope through Humor, Embracing Chaos

During Thursday’s Greenwich High School graduation speeches, the unique circumstances of the class of 2023’s high school experience were a theme.

Greenwich High School graduation in Cardinal stadium, June 15, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

The 633 students got a taste of high school life their freshman year, only to be abruptly sent home when Covid hit in March 2020. From there they learned remotely before pivoting to hybrid. When they did return in person, students wore face masks and practiced social distancing.

Commencement speaker Jon Ledecky alluded to the pandemic’s toll on when he urged the graduates to stay in touch, stay connected, and seek each other out, in person, not just with a text, Facetime or TikTok. Ledecky’s speech was humble and inspiring, but it was also funny.

(PHOTOS: GHS Commencement Speaker Jon Ledecky Imparts a Life Lesson: “Stay Connected, Stay in Touch, Find Each Other” June 15, 2023)

Greenwich Schools superintendent Dr. Jones talked about character and kindness.

“We say it a lot, you’ve all heard it since kindergarten, but there seems to be a wave where sometimes we forget that kindness really does matter. Stand up for others and have a voice when people are being unkind.”

“The great thing about moving on from high school is that you can build on the you that has started, but you can also take the time to reshape the new you, if that’s what you want to do,” Jones said. “It’s literally a time of self-reflection and opportunity.”

“Live your best life. Always ask questions. Ask for help when you need it,” she said. “Tap into energy, when you walk in a room, look and see who really knows what’s going on. Tap into their energy.”

Salutatorian Emil Schaumburg at GHS graduation. June 15, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Student government leaders, salutatorian and valedictorian all approached their speeches with humility and humor.

“The Horrors of High School”

Salutatorian Emil Schaumburg recalled his recent fear when he was called to the principal’s office.

“When I was called down to Mr. Mayo’s office during my internship I was worried because I thought someone had scanned through the last few months of security footage,” he said. “Turns out I was Salutatorian. To give you context for what that means, I turned to the most reputable source I know – the Urban Dictionary – which defines it as the kid who stayed up way too late studying, drank enough coffee to kill a camel, and missed so many parties that everyone thought they were a hermit – to just get second place.”

“I’d like to apologize to you guys because I wrote a more entertaining speech, but then I realized I’m only getting my diploma after the fact – you know how it is. Many of you may not have even known I existed before this very moment. During Senior Assassin I realized just how big our grade was, and there are a plethora of people who deserve this more than I did.”

Emil left his classmates with a poem to live by.

“As street poet and critically acclaimed philosopher Dwayne Michael Carter Jr (Lil Wayne) once said, ‘Real G’s move in silence like lasagna.’ Stay humble, stay true to yourselves, and I love you guys.”

Valedictorian Lauren Koester at Greenwich High School graduation. June 15, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Valedictorian Lauren Koester apologized for not being funny, but she was.

Lauren said the common theme of all her GHS classmates years was living through chaos.

“Each day braving the swells of people in the student center and the masses that flow through the glass corridor. Our class in particular has come to know all sorts of chaos. A wise person once said, ‘We are the class that started with the Chrome Book fire.”

“We are also the class that attended GHS in a multitude of forms: virtual, hybrid and in-person. Throughout the past four years we have also been enriched by the seemingly infinite ways the administration can make use of a 30-minute block in our schedule: advisor base, SEL, opportunity block and flex time, to name a few.”

“I have heard again and again how well GHS students are prepared for life after high school, and I think it is thanks to the chaos we have lived and thrived through,” she added. “Today we graduate not as perfectly trained academic machines, but as people who have pursued their own unique interests and made great achievements amid calamity.”

Greenwich High School graduation. June 15, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

“We are not people who expect to have our hands held in the next steps of our academic journey. Nor to find the world to be an entirely consistent and logical place. And so, in your next steps, class of 2023, know that you never needed calm seas in order to set sail. During your journey, appreciate the waves, and let yourselves make ripples. When you encounter stagnation, harken back to the wise words of those who planned our senior prank and wreak havoc.”

“Wreak havoc where old schools of thought remain unchallenged, or doubt inhibits growth, or where good enough prevents greatness,” Lauren said. “Every single one of you leaves here as a hardened sailor with the ability to steer your own course.”

Senior class president Jamie Smith at graduation. June 15, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Senior class president Jamie Smith said graduation felt less like a farewell than a thank you.

“While we’ve all have had a unique experience at GHS, there are some things I hope you all hold onto. I hope you never forget the feeling that fills a Room 900 study hall on the last block on a Friday. I hope you never forget the relief of seeing that first open block open on your schedule. I hope you remember the feeling when you’re finally in a good mood and you really like the e-music playlist for one time. And I hope you never the value of starting each morning each day with Mr. Mayo’s ‘Have a Great Day!'”

“Going into our senior year, we all wanted to get back to some normalcy, but unfortunately that was not the case,” Jamie said.

“From start to finish these past four years have involved many big changes here at GHS. Our time as underclassmen was upended, sending us into a long period of plexiglass, masks and hybrid learning. And, going into senior year, I think we can all agree we all wanted to get back to normalcy,” he recalled. “Unfortunately that was not the case. Some very sought after senior parking spots were lost to construction. The free lunches ended for many of us, for at least two months. And, maybe the biggest change of all, was not seeing the dynamic duo of Marie and Antoinette over at Rinaldi’s Deli any more.”

Jamie gave a nod to the school’s philosophy, Freedom with Responsibility.

“For the rest of your life you will have more and more responsibilities, hardships and duties come along, but they’re normally right alongside a new opportunity to learn and grow just like you did here at GHS. To all of you graduating today, I implore you to savor the moments in life, big and small, and don’t let it only come to days like today where you appreciate all that you’ve accomplished.”

See also: PHOTOS: GHS Commencement Speaker Jon Ledecky Imparts a Life Lesson: “Stay Connected, Stay in Touch, Find Each Other”