BEACON FALLS — Woodland Regional High School Class of 2019 Valedictorian Bayan Galal learned many lessons from her parents — Egyptian immigrants who came to the United States to build a better life.
One lesson stood out above all the rest.
“They asked me the same exact thing that I will ask of my classmates today,” Galal said as she delivered her address during graduation June 12. “Give back. Give back to the friends and family who support you. Give back to the village that empowers you. Give back to the nation that makes you who you are. And take it one step further, give to the community that you aren’t yet a part of.”
Many members of the Class of 2019 have already worked to give back, said Galal, who urged her classmates to carry that same sense of urgency with them as they move on from high school.
“From this day forward, add value to people’s lives,” she said. “Every day serve someone. Every day live with the intention of doing for others what they may not be able to do for themselves.”
The powerful aspect of giving back is that it creates a ripple effect that can inspire others and change the world, Galal said.
“At the end of the day we can’t wait for hope, we have to be the hope,” she said. “We have to hope that through our efforts we can better the world we live in. We have to be the hope that the light and good and the purity in our acts of service can outweigh the fear and the prejudice and the animosity that plagues our world today.”
The ripple effect of Justin DaSilva, a member of the Class of 2019 who died in 2017 after a long battle with cancer, is still felt today by his classmates and school administrators.
“He was absolutely one of the toughest and strongest individuals that I have met in my lifetime,” Woodland Principal Kurt Ogren said about DaSilva.
Ogren said he will always remember DaSilva for never complaining and smiling every day, even though he was battling cancer.
“Justin was our friend,” Class President Josh Powanda said. “He touched the lives of so many of us up here tonight. While he’s not with us personally, he will never be forgotten.”
Powanda said the Class of 2019 has proven to be strong, especially in challenging and unfortunate times, and nothing stands out to him more than the loss of DaSilva.
“Life provides the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but through it all we have remained close. We have remained as a class,” he said.
As the class members go their separate ways, Salutatorian Charles Schwarz offered a piece of advice.
“Do what you love,” he said.
“Find some activity, some person, some cause that you believe is greater than yourself,” he added. “Always be open to learning new ideas, but choose what you are passionate about, even if it’s not what you are told to love, and even if it is not easy.”
Schwarz told his classmates that when they find love — that pure feeling of fulfillment — to fight for it, work hard for it and never abandon it.
“If you have that sort of passion, everything else tends to fall into place,” he said.