BEACON FALLS — As Woodland Regional High School Principal Kurt Ogren stood on stage last week flanked by students and educators donned in black and gold with the late afternoon sun beating down on him, he kept returning to one word when describing the Class of 2016: resilient.
“The Class of 2016 has faced adversity, overcome it and triumphed in the end,” said Ogren as he addressed the 181 members of the class, school faculty and the hundreds of friends and family that filled Woodland’s courtyard for June 16’s graduation ceremony.
Several members of the class have battled cancer and others have lost one or both of their parents over the past four years. In the face of this adversity, Ogren said, the members of the Class of 2016 stood together and had each other’s backs. They are a family, he said.
“It is because of this the Class of 2016 will be remembered as being caring, compassionate and most of all resilient,” Ogren said.
Class President Bianca Poehailos said it’s been a long journey for the Class of 2016, and the graduates have been through a lot together. Along the way, she said, the class has proven to be one that demands to be remembered.
“We are a class that often went against everyone’s expectations, sometimes even our own,” Poehailos said.
As athletes, Poehailos said, members of the class set 13 school records, won 18 Naugatuck Valley League titles and a state championship. As artists, she continued, members of the class put on countless performances that offered just a glimpse of their talent. The class has also done over 7,000 hours of community service, she added.
“We have defined ourselves as a class of friendship and support, and it has been an inspiration to me to witness how our class came together so many times to help people in our community in their time of need,” Poehailos said. “I am grateful to be part of a group of teachers, classmates and community members who truly care.”
As the graduates head in their own directions, Salutatorian Isaac Weinstein wants his classmates to know that names have great meaning. The name of each class member may not be known around the world, but they matter at Woodland and to each other, he said.
“Today, our 181 names are the most well-known and prominent here at Woodland,” Weinstein said. “Tomorrow, they risk becoming lost in the 7 billion people in the world.”
Weinstein asked his fellow graduates to always remember the names of the people who got them to where they are today, then challenged them to make their names mean something.
“I simply ask all of you to make sure the legacy of your name is one that you’re proud to carry with you,” Weinstein said.
How the graduates shape their legacies will also mold the future of the world, Valedictorian Zach Crowell said.
“We are entering this world at a pivotal moment in history; at a time when our contribution in the fields such as politics, health care, education, economics and sciences could all but define the future course for our nation and mankind,” Crowell said.
Relatively speaking, Crowell said, the graduates will only have a short time to leave their mark.
The average human lifespan is proportional to a quarter of a second of that of the sun, Crowell said. It’s easy for people to feel their actions are irrelevant and act as such, he added.
“If individuals like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein didn’t believe that a quarter of a second was long enough to make their mark on history, where would we be at this moment in time,” Crowell rhetorically asked.
These three historic figures show the graduates they can accomplish more than they know in their length of time, he said.
“My wish for all of us is that we can turn our quarter of a second into an eternity, whether it be an eternity for our world, our nation or simply our friends and families,” Crowell said.