Speakers at graduation are determined by participation in the Cadden-Williams Prize Speaking Contest
When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just ask him. If you listen, he'll tell you how he got to the present moment. How he forgot where he was going, and that he woke up. If you listen, he'll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel. And then he'll smile with wisdom, content that he realized the world isn't perfect, and that he isn’t either. He’ll tell you about the bridges he crossed, the sacrifices he made, and the lessons he learned along the way.
Each of us carries our lives into the room of the world, and ultimately, we have the final say in whether or not we leave it better than we found it. Because the world alone does not exist. Only individuals exist that make up that world. And that realization is the lasting beauty this crisis has brought to our generation. The solemn gratitude for every person that has suffered to save lives and born the weight of the world on their shoulders for the betterment of all. You and I, the individual, must always remember from this that man's highest calling is to serve one another.
To the Class of 2020, remember: with the world in dire straits, many American generations before us have chosen to fight for good and to protect the vulnerable. From braving the Great Depression and the Great War, to storming the beaches of Normandy and rising from the dust after 9/11, America’s youth met the challenges set out before them and came out stronger than ever. But today, we have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our Great War is invisible. And we will fight it and we will win it – coming together by keeping apart.
Now, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once professed, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” In our lives, we may face times where that arc bends towards evil again, and it will be up to us to bend it back. With this in mind, I ask each member of the Class of 2020 to make a promise to themselves today. That the moral sum of your actions, the long arc of your lives, will bend towards good. That you will give with generosity, fight for justice with passion, and that you and I, our generation, will define patriotism not along the lines of nationalism or excessive pride, but rather, unbridled compassion for our fellow man.
Thank you, and good luck on your journey ahead.
Speakers at graduation are determined by participation in the Cadden-Williams Prize Speaking Contest
For granted; two simple words we hear almost every day. Two simple words I never thought so much about. I never sat down and thought exactly what I took for granted. Turns out, I took for granted small things that I thought were a given: going to school, going to the mall, hanging out with my friends, eating in restaurants. All of these things that I thought would be around forever, but I was wrong, completely wrong.
On March 13, 2020, all of our lives were changed forever; everyone’s lives, all across the globe. What we did not know was that our lives would change extraordinarily. As I speak for the class of 2020, most of us were excited when we found out we were going to have a two-week vacation due to some mystery virus; in fact, we were almost oblivious to the what ifs. After about a week and a half of luxury, we were ready to go back. We missed our teachers, our classrooms, our friends, you name it. What we did not know was that we were never going back.
Unfortunately, the class of 2020 has suffered deeply from this horrendous virus. We had a lot taken away from us. In fact, we were robbed of some of the most important milestones in our lives. We will be known in history books as the class that, for the first time ever, had a virtual graduation, virtual award ceremonies and no prom.
For the class of 2020, this was all extremely saddening. Getting to walk across the stage, diploma in hand, was a moment in our lives that we have been looking forward to since we were young children. Even getting all dressed up for prom to have one final night with our class was something most of us would dream about every day. We were disappointed when we found out we would never experience these special moments; it was important to change our mindset.
In order to overcome these obstacles, we had to focus on making the most out of our unique situation. Fortunately, our community came together and provided resources for us to get through this tough time. A few moms even set up a Facebook page entitled “Adopt a Senior,” to give seniors the recognition they deserve. Norwich Free Academy provided us with various opportunities to continue our education in an effective way. We were even given opportunities to join “Live” training programs, dance classes, lectures, and meetings. I guess you could say a new era is upon us; a new era for us to not only embrace, but define.
Even though this is a very hard time for everyone, we can look at this as making history. Due to our unique consequences, we have become extremely innovative in the ways that we have all been able to continue our daily routine. The class of 2020 is at the center of all of this. We are now more resilient, intelligent, caring. We can understand sadness from a completely different perspective. We have now been able to see the world at one of its lowest points. We no longer just hear about these events in history books; we have actually lived through one. We have a story to tell our future children and grandchildren. We are now united in a way never thought possible.
The class of 2020 in the most simplest of terms is strong. We are strong enough to overcome any obstacles that our future will throw at us. Even through a pandemic, we have managed to commit to our future colleges, join the military and become employed. We are a group of resilient individuals. We will now be able to bounce back unlike no other after being faced with any of life’s challenges.
The class of 2020 is not only united at Norwich Free Academy, but we are united with every other graduating class. We have been connected through social media with seniors all across the globe, and we are all feeling the same: disappointed; however, through this disappointment, we have managed to become mature adults. We have grown in ways never thought possible because of this. We have matured like no other senior class. We are now adults. Adults capable of taking on the future. We are the future.
We are a new generation of quick-witted, futuristic human-beings. We are able to educate ourselves on any subject we wish. We can occupy ourselves for days on end with intriguing tasks. We are able to revise innovative plans. We can take on any obstacles with wit. We have enough care to help others during times like this, while having enough strength to rebuild our generation. We are the class of 2020, and we will most certainly never be forgotten.
As a sailor and professional mariner for most of my career, I learned very early that in order to safely navigate your ship, you rely on trusted landmarks to fix your position and avoid the rocks and shoals that you might encounter along your chosen course. Likewise, in our lives, we rely upon trusted landmarks to take us along our chosen paths. Those landmarks might be parents, teachers, coaches, and even institutions. Norwich Free Academy was one of my landmarks. Throughout the years, I’ve reflected on my teachers, coaches, my band director and my classmates, teammates, and bandmates who left me with lasting lessons, impressions, and memories that made me think, made me laugh, and often helped me make decisions in my life.
So it is a great honor for me to represent those members of the Class of 1970, 50 years later, in offering congratulations to the members of the NFA Class of 2020, their families and friends, and offer thanks to the NFA Board of Trustees, Head of School David Klein, and the entire NFA faculty for their dedicated efforts to get the class of 2020 to this day, as we collectively navigate these very challenging times.
Several years ago, I found a letter written by President John F. Kennedy that described men and women who crossed the oceans of the world to reach our shores, and how they demonstrated strength, courage, discipline and resourcefulness to find their way across “uncertain and stormy seas.”
Kennedy often spoke and wrote both literally and figuratively. So he was using that phrase “uncertain and stormy seas” as a metaphor for the problems and challenges that confront us as a country. And he expressed his belief that the same qualities and characteristics of those sailors would serve us as a country to confront those challenges.
For the Class of 1970, one of our most memorable civics lessons was as third graders, observing the election and inauguration of John F. Kennedy, our 35th, and youngest president. Our “uncertain and stormy seas” began with the assassination of President Kennedy when we were sixth graders, the assassinations of his brother Bobby Kennedy and the Reverend Martin Luther King when we were “lowers” at NFA, accompanied by riots and protests over the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam, and the continuing threats of the Cold War and nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. The landmarks in our lives helped us to navigate our way through those troubling times.
Similarly, the Class of 2020 faces its own “uncertain and stormy seas” – the unprecedented challenges of a pandemic, the continuing war on terrorism, the treats of a rising China and a resurgent Russia, climate change and global warming and, perhaps most distressing, the political polarization, inequalities and discrimination that threatens to drive us apart as a country. How might you, the Class of 2020 take on these challenges?
President Kennedy’s example might provide some direction. In our youth, he inspired all of us with his inaugural speech in which he sought to unify the people of the United States, and really, all of humanity to make the world a better place for everyone. His call to duty was: “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country,” an appeal to selflessness over selfishness. He told us to get involved!
Kennedy understood the need to find a unifying goal for this very diverse country, and speaking at Rice University in 1962, he acknowledged the many challenges facing the country, but stated, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” He set a very high and optimistic goal for our country. A goal that was achieved less than a decade later when on July 20, 1969, just before my class’s senior year, the crew of Apollo 11 landed on the moon.
When we left this institution 50 years ago, some entered the workforce, some went to college, classmates entered the military and others marched in protest against the war. Some became government servants, or joined the Peace Corps. They married, became good parents, they voted, they made a living and paid taxes. They became good citizens, they solved problems and did their best to build a better country to pass on to their children. We got involved! In spite of our differences, we shared a sense of optimism, and the understanding that if we focused on the many things that unite us, rather than divide us, we could make it through anything.
And so it will be for you. Your generation in a few short years will be challenged to assume the responsibility of leadership. What will guide you? With landmarks like Norwich Free Academy, you’re off to a great start.
Congratulations. Good luck. Fairwinds.