WALLINGFORD — Graduation isn’t just a celebration of one day, valedictorian Nora Akila told fellow Sheehan High School graduates Friday night.
“These four years have been difficult — for some, more than others...And yet here we are, we made it,” Akila said. “Do you guys see why this day is such a victory? We need to remember that it’s not necessarily our outward successes that define who we are, but rather our ability to persevere through those crippling hardships that defines us instead.
“Today, we will celebrate the end-product,” she continued, “but we will also celebrate the journey — your journey and the hardships you overcame and the growth that you’ve undergone. We will celebrate our journey together.”
One-hundred and eighty seven students graduated from Sheehan during a ceremony at the school.
“It did not come easy, nor will it ever. But all of you sitting out here today have succeeded,” graduate Patrick Christensen said in a speech.
Superintendent of Schools Salvatore Menzo told graduates that “today is not the end, it is just the beginning.”
“As you begin the next phase, you have to remember that (you are special),” Menzo said. “Because there are going to be 5,000 people that tell you you’re not. There are going to be so many people that tell you you can’t do something.”
Town Council Vice Chairman Tom Laffin told graduates to “follow your dreams ... whatever you do (because) if you're not working toward that dream, what are you doing anyway?”
Board of Education Chairwoman Roxane McKay said the “recipe for success” after graduation hasn’t changed much since she graduated high school.
“You will zig and you will zag,” McKay said. “But have an open heart for the less fortunate, an open mind for adventure, a willingness to work hard and a sense of humor to carry you through life’s challenges.”
Sheehan principal Rosemary Duthie read a poem to show graduates the “importance of pushing oneself out of one’s comfort zone in order to grow.”
Duthie’s poem preached to “embrace originality, dare to think about things differently and have no boundaries – be a visionary.”
Class president Alex Ficorilli said he got inspiration for his address from a commencement speech given at the University of Texas in 2014 by alum William McRaven, who became a Navy Seal. In the speech McRaven emphasized the importance of doing the little things, using the metaphor of making your bed in the morning.
“McRaven explained that if you make your bed in the morning, you’ll have completed the first task of the day. This will give you a small sense of pride and encouragement to tackle the next task and the next,” Ficorilli said. “He also goes on to explain that doing something as simple as making your bed reinforces the fact that the little things in life matter, and if you can’t do the little things right, you will never be able to do the big things right.”
Ficorilli told his classmates “at least when you cry yourself to sleep at night, because we all have those nights, you can do it in a bed that is made, that you made. And that will give you a little sense of hope that tomorrow will be better.
“So if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed,” he said.