What they said: Graduating Tigers give a fond farewell to high school days

Editor's note: The following is a compilation of excerpts from speeches given at Friday's commencement for Ridgefield High School's Class of 2018. Read more in Thursday's Ridgefield Press.

Valedictorian Raymond Sun said he was nervous about the next step in his speech Friday, June 22.

"I don’t know about you, but I’m nervous," he said. "Nervous that I have to start over, that I have to readjust to a new setting, nervous that I have to, well, be a freshman again. I still remember freshman year. Everyone else was so much bigger than me, and I had no idea what was going on. I forgot what that felt like, but, well, I gotta get ready for that again. I have to go from confidently walking in the halls of RHS to being that new guy who knows nothing. That’s nerve-wracking, right? I doubt I’m alone in my sentiments."

Sun added that there’s so much he and his classmates haven’t learned.

"And a world out there that we have yet to experience," he said. "I mean, I’m still a kid, legally, for another two days. With our lack of experience comes a lot of room for us to grow. And we’ve done a lot of growing over the past four years, but that doesn’t mean we’re stopping any time soon."

He urged his classmates to embrace the opportunity to grow.

"Embrace the uncertainty that comes with growth. And, with that, embrace the ability to make mistakes," he said. To do that, we must first recognize when we’ve erred. That’s alright; we’re still adjusting to the world around us, after all. Don’t lament mistakes, though. Reflect on them. A mistake is only malicious if it does not teach a lesson.

"And if we remember this, our futures become, well, more uncertain. But that’s good. That means that we’re not done learning, not about the world around us, not about ourselves.

"The past four years have taught us a lot, but we have a lifetime to decide what we make of what we’ve learned here. We’re blessed with time, time to figure out what brings us joy, and time to pursue whatever that is. And if we stick to that plan, then life gets, for once, a little more certain."

Maia Clarkin, class president, told her fellow graduates she wasn't sure what to write in her speech.

"I felt overwhelmed by the multitude of  attitudes that all of us have toward our four years at Ridgefield High School," she said. "A few might say that RHS was the best four years of their lives. Some might consider them the worst. But most of us fall in between these two perspectives. Keeping this variation in mind, allow me to touch on some experiences I think we’ve all shared.

"Regardless of how you feel, RHS has been our home for the past four years. And although reaching this finish line was not easy, there was usually someone at the High School who you were happy to talk to. That person may have been your teacher, a member of the administration, or a friend. I invite you to reflect on the positive with me and on the lessons we’ve learned.

"And the positive has to include failure. Because from our failures we’ve learned the most valuable lesson of all: how to lead a life of character. Every obstacle we’ve faced and negative experience we’ve had has left us better than we were before we entered RHS."

She said every member in the Class of 2018 has grown up knowing that facing failure is an inevitable part of life.

"We’ve seen this message on posters in our classrooms, we’ve read famous quotes about this reality, but for many of us, RHS was the first place we truly experienced failure. Whether that failure was in the classroom, on the field, or just in failing to be excited about the day-to-day of high school life, haven’t we surely  learned from it? In each moment of failure, we’ve seen others, or ourselves, become acquainted with the incredible strength it takes to turn failure into accomplishment.

"Our experiences at the high school have shown us that Ridgefield, sometimes dismissed as 'small,' 'sheltered,' and 'lacking diversity' is so much more than those labels," she added. "RHS, its perceived limitations notwithstanding, is a snapshot of the world we are about to enter — a world in which hate speech is scrawled on bathroom doors or in libraries, and gun violence still exists."

Clarkin said that RHS has been conducive to creating opportunities for its teachers, administrators, staff, and students to show her and her classmates how to respond to atrocities and the importance of never taking anything for granted.

"From the National Walkout, the Man’s Inhumanity to Man assembly, Names Day, and the frequent reminders we’ve received about growing up in such a lovely town, we have been inspired to make something of the opportunities we know we are fortunate to enjoy," she recalled. "Perhaps my favorite lesson of all, we’ve learned that we define ourselves independent of what others think, and each of our experiences has taught us the importance of confidence." 

Brandon Grizzaffi, the class speaker, took the class back to the early days of freshman year.

"We desperately searched for the elevator that lead to the rooftop pool," he said. We walked into gym when our intention was to go to math, but most importantly we’ve grown. Not only did we persist when the odds mounted against us, but we achieved many noble goals. When we feared for our lives in the classroom, we said enough is enough.

"When people said it was not the right time, we said, 'The time is always right to do what is right' (MLK)," he added. "When members of our community were hurting we said yes, names do hurt. When we noticed children in surrounding towns wondering where their next meal would come from, we donated truck loads of food to local food banks. When Parkinson’s disease struck those closest to us, we decided to 'shake it off,' raising thousands of dollars to find a cure. When a group of young Wall Street entrepreneurs thought they aimed their sights too high, they later found themselves at the NASDAQ closing bell, and when we lost one of ours, we mourned."

He said these moments is what the Class of 2018 would be remembered most for — "not the number of likes we got on photos, not how many followers we had, but the relationships we formed and the difference we have made."  

Grizzaffi asked his fellow graduates to understand that achieving their goals will not be easy.

"Not only will you fail, but you will fail several times. You will fall down. Readers will be critical, editors will say, 'your work is not good enough,'" he said. "It will feel as though life has punched you in the face. At this point, you will have to make a decision. You can either allow your failures to define you or deploy your relentless courage to move forward. So once you get up, run, and as opportunities present themselves, take them.  

"Lastly, I would like to give a shout out to the quiet ones. Do not assume that you are inadequate because you are different. We live in a world with many different kinds of people. The composers and the visionaries. The idealists and the givers. The craftsmen and the commanders, but there’s something about the quiet ones. Those whose name we may not know, but have enriched our education in ways only few can understand. While everyone was talking they silently lead by example, consuming knowledge no one could hear. So if you are one of these graduates, cheers to you.

So my friends, I leave you with this. Know that your greatest moments lie ahead. Live a life of character. Respect others no matter how different they may seem. Be loyal to those who have been loyal to you. Advocate for yourself, and never be afraid to fight alone. Stay driven, Class of 2018."