Teacher Robert Nemphos started his commencement address on stage but didn’t end there. With a special song from the loud speakers, he danced to the grass in front of the students, where he could share his 11 points of advice with them face-to-face.
Nemphos, a physical education and health teacher, was chosen by students to address the roughly 150 Coginchaug Regional High School seniors graduating Friday, June 14. He chose to share with them the best life advice he has learned.
“Never give up, always try to make yourself better, accept the love from others, and don't hesitate to give your love,” Nemphos said, summarizing some of the points.
Among his pieces of advice were to reflect on life experiences to give you knowledge and wisdom, to make friends with people smarter and more skilled than you, to be kind and generous with your time to worthy causes, and to be comfortable with who you are and accept and work on your weaknesses.
The graduation ceremony was filled with lots of other advice for the students too, as they move on to the next thing in their lives, whether it’s college, work or the armed service.
Valedictorian Emily Dell’Orfano shared an acronym to help her peers remember as they take on new challenges and experience new places moving forward. The acronym “L.E.A.R.N” she said, stands for listen, everything (is a mystery), ask, renaissance and now.
“That one word, learn, is the most reliable word in the English language and I'm forever indebted to my teachers and classmates for showing me that,” Dell’Orfano said, sharing stories from her own experiences.
She reminded the seniors that in spite of life circumstances, education is limitless and can always be relied on.
For salutatorian and class president Margaret Fiondella, her refugee is friendship.
“Among all of the changes happening in our lives, there are many things that keep us grounded on paths to success and happiness,” Fiondella said. “The most important to me being friendship.”
For Fiondella, she thinks of a photo of her and best friend Bailey Zettergren when they were 5-years-old at daycare. They are smiling and wearing shirts that say “inching on” and Fiondella said she feels almost like nothing has changed, especially her feeling of being excited for what life will bring.
“Despite the change, good or bad, the power of friendship that keeps us happy, grounded and humble will never disappear,” Fiondella said. “Forever hold onto the moments with friends that add meaning and hope to your life.”
Of the students who graduated, four are enlisting in U.S. armed forces and many are attending colleges like the University of Connecticut, Endicott and Penn State. The class received a combined $120,000 in scholarships and several sports and clubs achieved champion rankings this year.
After most received their diplomas – happily shaking hands and sharing hugs with Principal Brian Falcone, Superintendent Kathryn Veronesi and Board of Education chairman Bob Moore – senior Connor Joseph Zolnik made the traditional end of the line address, as the final name to be called.
Zolnik looked at the kids he grew up with, and reminded each that no matter at what point they joined the district they were “part of us.”
“Thirteen years in this district has lead up to this,” Zolnik said. “We're all about to embark on our own paths, each of us in a different direction. And to that, I want to wish every single one of you a sincere good luck.”