Thursday night was a beautiful for the Greenwich High School graduation in Cardinal Stadium. The commencement speaker, Jon Ledecky, co-owner of the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders, and a GHS graduate from the class of 1975, talked about grit, tenacity, determination and grit. He also urged the graduates to stay connected.
“If you remember nothing else about the speech, you’ll remember this: Shoot the Puck,” he shouted “That’s life. Shoot the puck.”
Quoting, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, he said, “‘I skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been.’ He also said you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.'”
Ledecky recalled his father’s story of hard work and perseverance.
“My dad came to this country in 1948 from the Czech Republic. He was a refugee from Communism. He didn’t speak English. The only job he could get was as a dishwasher on Exit 9 of the New Jersey Turnpike at the Howard Johnson’s restaurant. He was working there to learn English, and one day he said to his colleague, ‘I am new in this country. Where is the greatest place in the world to live that I should try and devote my life to?’ And his colleague said, ‘There is no answer other than Greenwich, Connecticut.'”
Ledecky said his father went to night school and, while it took 20 years, earned his BA, MBA and then got his PhD at night.
“We grew up in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, and when I was three years old I asked my father, ‘What is the box that you keep throwing your change in every night?’ And he said, ‘Son, that’s the Greenwich box, the box of our future.'”
“It took my father 20 years of putting pennies, dimes and quarters in that box, and in 1972 he said, ‘We’re ready. I have enough money to buy the smallest houses in Greenwich, right across from Central Middle School.'”
Ledecky asked all the graduates to give their families a standing ovation before explaining that a woman he bumped into in as he arrived at the school had asked him to tell the graduates one thing.
“I thought it would be something very important. I took my pen out. She said, ‘Please tell the graduates, remember to call your parents next year.’ Don’t forget.'”
Ledecky’s other message stemmed from a chance encounter when his family first moved to Greenwich all those years ago. The moment took place when he was walking his family’s Bassett Hound at Central Middle School.
“A woman pulled over in her station wagon and rolled the window down, and said, ‘Excuse me, are you new in town?’ I couldn’t believe it. How would she know that?’ She said, ‘I know every Basset Hound in town, and I’ve never seen your dog. Write your name down. Write your phone number down.'”
“The next week I came home, my mother said, ‘This odd woman has called. She sounds very nice. She invited you over to a pool party,'” he recalled. “Now when you grow up in Queens, and Brooklyn and the Bronx, you think a pool party means shooting pool, not going to a pool party at somebody’s house.”
“That woman was Mrs. Isabelle Malkin. Her son, Scott Malkin, 50 years later is my partner in the New York Islanders. Thank you, Mrs. Malkin.”
This was Ledecky’s segue to an important message about friendship and connections.
Talking about artificial intelligence, he said, “Direct human connection and communication will mean more than ever before during this revolution.”
He said his GHS classmates from 50 years earlier were in the stands on Thursday.
“They didn’t have to come, but they’re here,” he said.
“I’m blessed to have had these people in my life as I’ve failed many, many times, and succeeded once or twice. They were there to applaud me and pick me up off the floor. Now it’s your turn,” Ledecky said.
“I pray that you will stay connected for the rest of your lives. Friendship in our complicated complex world matters now more than ever,” he continued. “Unfortunately this is probably the last time all 663 of you will be in one place together, but I urge you with all my might to stay in touch. Not by just text, or Facetime and Tiktok. Stay in touch by being together. Stay in touch by trying to find each other. Stay in touch when you travel to a city and you know your friends are there.”
Ledecky invited all 663 members of the class of 2023 to reunite on their first winter break over the holidays at a game at the UBS arena. “To enjoy each other and stay connected with each other,” he said to applause.