Class of 2019: ‘Quiet compassionate leaders’ look ahead to Ridgefield High graduation

They were a class marked by community service, participation in school clubs, and triumphs on the sports field.
The 401 members of the Ridgefield High Class of 2019 will walk across the stage at the O’Neil Center at Western Connecticut State University’s westside campus Friday, June 21, wearing their caps and gowns.
They will leave clutching diplomas.
But for a few more hours, the class described as full of “quiet compassionate leaders” by Student Government President Vidur Hareesh, are still students of the school.
“There’s a lot of maturity in terms of our willingness to give back to the community,” Hareesh said, who characterized his fellow classmates by their high engagement and high level of commitment to the community, as well as to themselves.”
Some of the class pranks — including one student who dropped a watermelon on the floor — didn’t go as planned. Class President Alex Holder said he made plans to hold a luncheon for the school custodians. “The prank didn’t quite go as smooth sailing as we thought it would. So as a little gesture we decided to throw them a little luncheon,” Holder said.
Hareesh noted his class’s success in “mock trials, debate, science olympiad” and in winning at lacrosse and basketball.
Where the class that preceded them was noted for its occasionally loud antics, Hareesh admitted his class has been “quieter.”
“We didn’t necessarily have these figurehead characters … it was a lot of smaller leaders and a much more collaborative,” he said.
“Nobody felt like they were above anyone else,” Holder agreed. “We had a couple class clowns, besides that, not really.”
Holder said that while his class usually receives less credit for the April 20 national school walkout protesting gun violence, two members of the class of 2019, Josh Burns and Grant Yuan were instrumental in organizing the event.
Class Speaker Gracie Girvalo said she’s been surprised to learn about her classmates hidden interests — like athletes who make music on Soundcloud, or theater students with other academic interests.
“I think we’re all at a place where we’re ready… but I’m going to miss a lot of what this town has to offer,” she said.

‘Stairway to nowhere’
Valedictorian Matthew Vivian described the classmates as passionate about what they do “whether that is athletics, music, theater, community service, academics…”
“A lot of my classmates constantly strive for excellence in whatever activity or class they care deeply about. I also think that we collaborate well in the classroom and are always looking to help fellow students rather than tear them down,” he added.
Class advisers Krystina Occhicone and Ashley Vidmar said the class was marked by “ambition and perseverance.”
“They are leaders who are concerned with bettering our society, and we have truly enjoyed working with them,” they said in a joint email.
Girvalo wrote her speech around the high school’s “stairway to nowhere,” which leads from the upper floor down to a door that exits out of the building, rather than the first-floor classrooms. Every year, students get lost on the stairway trying to find their classroom on the ground floor.
“It might feel like you’re on a stairway to nowhere… but you need to realize that you have the tools to change where you’re going...” she said. “We all have the potential to do something meaningful, we just have to take that first step on the stairs.”

The details
Commencement for Ridgefield High’s class of 2019 will begin in the O’Neil Center at 4 p.m. Friday.
Students are asked to arrive no later than 3:30 p.m.
There are no tickets needed, but graduates are asked to limit their guests to four people.
Graduating students should enter through gate three, and parents and guests should enter the center through gate one. The doors will open for guests about an hour before graduation begins.
Students are asked to park in the lot adjacent to the O’Neil Center down University Boulevard while parents may use any of the designated lots.
Graduation will open with a bagpipe processional. Students will walk into the center to “Pomp and Circumstance.” The audience is asked to stand until after the Pledge of Allegiance is read and the National Anthem is performed by the graduation choir.
High school Principal Dr. Stacey Gross will give a welcoming address, before turning the podium over to Senior Class President Alexander Holder. Class Speaker Gracie Girvalo will give her address, followed by a musical interlude by the choir — “Home,” by Phillip Phillips.
Class valedictorians Aras Dapkus and Matthew Vivian will then give speeches, followed by the faculty speaker’s address. This year, the class has selected social studies teacher Stephen Dillane to give students one last lesson before they depart.
Assistant Principal Jennifer Phostole will then award honorary diplomas. Dr. Gross will certify that the class has met the requirements to graduate, and Assistant Superintendent Craig Creller will accept the class of 2019.
Board of Education Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis will award students diplomas as they file across the stage, and the class president will lead students in turning their tassels before they file out in the recessional — and on to the next chapter in their lives.
Phostale said the class made a lasting impact on the school “because of their creativity, enthusiasm, drive, and determination.”
“I am confident that they will enter the next chapter of their lives with those same characteristics,” she said. “We have seen them grow into intelligent and mature young adults who have overcome challenges and embrace opportunities. I wish them success in the future.”
“The class of 2019 is enthusiastic, intelligent, athletic and committed to community service,” said Dr. Gross. “I am confident they will experience much success as they enter the worlds of post-secondary education, the military or work. I wish them much happiness and luck as they pursue their future dreams.”