On June 11, 2019, under beautiful skies, the Haddam Killingworth High School Class of 2019 graduated, the 41st annual commencement for HKHS. The seniors marched into the tent, following Regional School District #17 Superintendent, Howard Thiery, Board Chair Joanne Nesti, and other members of the Board of Education and Faculty.
The night started with the Pledge of Allegiance, and then the National Anthem performed by senior Nolan Serbent.
District Retirees were recognized:
- Chuck Lewis, HKHS, 20 years
- Connie Magleby, HKHS, 8 years
- Paula Warner, HKHS, 13 years
- Gail Hanson, HKMS, 21 years
- Linda Monroe, HKMS, 18 years
- Joel Spineti, HKMS, 19 years
- Mike Distefano, Central Office, 29 years
Next, a member of the class leadership team, Curtis Kubacka, gave a message of welcome:
Thank you Mr. Thiery, Ms. Hayward, faculty, distinguished guests, and all of our friends and family for attending the class of 2019’s commencement today. We offer a special welcome to First Selectwoman Catherine Ino, members of the Board of Education, and Board Chairperson Joann Nesti here on stage. On behalf of the Blue-Ribbon Class of 2019 and the Class of 2019 class officers, welcome to this year’s commencement ceremony. While graduation may be a more serious event, this speech is intended to be funny, so feel free to laugh. Graduation is a culmination of the past four years of hard work and dedication, so it is fitting to go over the highlights.
Let’s start with the first day of freshman year. You’re scared, anxious, and walking into this new environment and all you can think is…wow the Middle School looked so much better, and later the fact that the seniors look like grown adults, the school is a labyrinth, and wow is the roof leaking. As the year goes on, you hit the freshmen hurdles everyone else had hit in the past, prep for success and the dreaded swim unit. I would now like to digress and talk about how criminal it is that the new freshmen don’t have to take this unit. The swim unit was a rite of passage, something that formed a necessary bond between all classes who had suffered through this unit.
Now we move onto the sophomore year, that weird in-between year where nothing really happens. As a sophomore you walk in on the first day of school with that undeniable confidence that ironically plagues this class. Because you are no longer a freshman, right? You think this year would be different and ultimately it was, one major change came, the roof was fixed. After a few short weeks of realizing that not even the freshmen trust your high school “expertise” you realize you are still an underclassman. The best way to describe sophomore year would be with the dance move that became famous during that year. Being a sophomore is very similar to dabbing [Preform the move], in that it is embarrassing to think that we ever thought it was cool.
Now we are onto Junior year “The Most Stressful Year.” You walk in the first day with a new amount of confidence: you are an upperclassman, you know what high school is like. This year you will be told by every teacher at some point that this is the most important year of high school, and that every moment should be spent studying for SAT. With Junior year comes the biggest drama causing event known to the school: prom. Just kidding; the Parking spot raffle. This raffle ultimately decided how your junior year would go. Would you be the cool kid who got to drive their rig to the school and accidently park in a senior’s spot and get an earful, or would you be the Junior who had to take the bus and spent their entire junior year annoyed. Ultimately, we can all say we are glad that year was over.
Finally, its Senior Year the year of questions. Some star examples being where are you going to college? what’s your major? and what do you mean you want to get a degree in interpretive dancing? As you begin applying for schools you wonder why people don’t say senior year is the most stressful, however, after being accepted and senioritis sets in, you understand why. Senior year is also the year when teachers become cooler, you are chronically late to class, and school sports begin to matter for some reason. Major accomplishments were made this year including our school earning the blue-ribbon award, let’s have a round of applause for our amazing faculty, and secondly this year saw us beating Morgan twice in football as well as reaching the state championships. While we may have lost in other sports it is clear that with the blue-ribbon and our football victories, HK is undeniably better than Morgan.
On that note why don’t we end this speech with a round of applause for our Morgan-defeating class of 2019.
Next came the salutatorian of the class of 2019, Nolan Serbent:
As John Lennon once said, “Imagine there’s no -end to high school, lol, wouldn’t that be hilarious?” No, John, I think not. Unlike the last two seasons of Game of Thrones, I daresay it was quite long enough. I do not say that derogatorily, but rather matter of fact. These halls have gotten smaller, while time, and learning-and whatever they put in milk nowadays- has made us grow tall. So tall, in fact, that word on the street says students are concussing themselves on doorways. What dummies. It must really be time.
Parents, I am proud to say that your graduates stand strong today as individuals, and, as a class, undivided- due to our general inability to long divide. Thank you for supporting us, even if it seemed like sometimes we were deliberately not supporting ourselves. Thank you for teaching us about sacrifice, and discipline, and how to complain about gas prices.
Teachers, thank you for all that you do. Thank you for grading papers that nobody should have to read, and, consequently, learning two or more languages, whether it’s “English” or “freshman.” Thank you for being passionate about what you teach while also understanding and accommodating the fact that molecular chemistry doesn’t get EVERYBODY “all riled up.” Thank you most of all for the moments where you help us feel capable and impactful, whether it’s engaging in a difficult discussion about topical content or, when a student interrupts class with a great joke, as rare as that may be, scolding them with an unmistakable twinkle in your eye, so as to say, “you still can’t do that, but, that was a good one.”
My fellow students. Twelve years for some of us, eight for more, and four for most. We’ve ‘wung it’ together, danced poorly and cheered together, and been forced to grow up through some tough times, together. We certainly don’t all dance to the same tune, in fact, some of you dance to what I have a hard time calling ‘tunes’ at all, yet, somehow, at any given moment, we’ve all given each other a chance- And most of us blew most of those chances, but, amazingly, we were given second and third chances too. Thank you for that. That’s bigger than any of us. Yes, some of us go trucking through mud, some of us go trucking through defensive lines, some of us go around trucking textbooks to each other’s houses and, others, trucking used guitar amps to basements. Regardless, you’ve all kept on trucking, and for that, you have my utmost respect. When Uncle Ben looked into Peter Parker’s eyes and uttered the fateful words “With great power comes great responsibility,” He was talking about Powerpoint. Yes, believe it or not, people can generally read for themselves. But, of course, our learning has just begun, as the great Taio Cruz will sing into the halls of eternity, “it goes on and on and on.”
And, to avoid doing just that, I have but one piece of advice. People will believe any story that they tell themselves. Now, unfortunately for us, telling a good story takes practice, but, Thankfully, the same basic events passed can be told in new ways to mean entirely different things going forward. If there’s anything you will have learned in high school, it probably wasn’t what you want to do when you grow up. Adults, please. It was probably something more like, ‘classic’ literature does not necessarily mean ‘exciting’ or ‘epic’, or ‘rad’ or even… ‘enjoyable’. That’s step one. Hit you like a ton of books-I mean bricks. Probably even put you to sleep. But, when you eventually woke up, something beautiful just might’ve happened. Maybe You realized that some of the most important books are about the smallest stories, Almost like some of them were about nothing at all. Maybe the best stories aren’t about what happened, or even how, but what it meant and how it was told. Maybe you set the record for the most false starts in the 200 yard dash, or, maybe, you tread where no person dare Inappropriately step before. Maybe you failed geometry, or maybe you’re just too abstract to be confined by things like precision, and accuracy, and logic. Maybe you were third Tenor sax or maybe you played the most wholesome whole notes that nobody knew they needed to kinda hear. People will believe any story that they tell themselves.
So, be open to the fact that the past four years might not mean the same thing to you today, as they do tomorrow, or 2 months, years, or decades from now. And they shouldn’t. Give yourself as many chances as you need, and be open to the fact that your story is as good as you dare tell it. Thank you all very much.
Following Nolan, was the valedictorian of the class of 2019, Michaela Flaherty:
When I was younger, my sisters and I got reading lights for Christmas. They were nothing fancy—just silver plastic with a metal clip on the back. The battery in mine died years ago, but I still like to keep it on my dresser.
There was a point in my life when I would use that light every night. My parents would tuck us in and tell us to go to bed. Instead, I would lie there and wait…and wait…and wait, until the coast was clear. And then I would read. Not that I couldn’t read during the day; I could, and I did. But I always wanted more, needed more. More time spent in a unique world other than my own, more beautiful new words to test out the next day, more lessons to learn from the characters I grew up alongside. It was a truly magical phenomenon that I never grew tired of. Under my covers, reading light in one hand and a book in the other, everything else melted away. Hours would pass, but I would be too mesmerized to notice. To me, nothing is more powerful than a book that makes me lose my sense of time.
Obviously, not everyone agrees with my sentiment. But, you’re all familiar with this feeling of pure clarity in some form. Maybe it’s from soccer, photography, dance, guitar, math, or drama. Class of 2019, take a second to think about what brings you clarity.
Now, when was the last time this activity distracted you from everything else going on in the world?
Personally, I don’t know when I last read for fun, and I’m reminded of it whenever I walk by my dresser. Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of high school and homework and extra curriculars and jobs, I lost touch with that part of myself. I stopped making time for reading.
There will come a point, if it hasn’t happened yet, when life will tie you up, and you may neglect the activities that bring you clarity, too. After we leave this ceremony, a new chapter begins, and things will get far more complicated for each of us; we’ll have to learn to manage money, find a job, take care of a home, and maybe even raise a family, to name a few. With independence certainly comes responsibility.
However, I am asking you to make a promise to yourself: never lose sight of what halts your sense of time. Both my biggest pride and my biggest regret from high school is working so hard; while I wouldn’t necessarily take back the hours I devoted to my classes especially, I wish I’d found a better balance between work and play. I have learned from this, as I am hoping you will.
We have all toiled in one way or another and have so much on our shoulders—especially after today. So, despite each member of our graduating class bearing a different set of equally important obligations, we all share the gift of being able to make an active choice from this time moving forward—to either allow our responsibilities to limit our happiness, or to find a healthy balance between the two. Take care to pay a late-night visit to Wallingford Bowl, or binge-watch The Office. Go on hikes, pick up one (or two…or three…) new shirts at Goodwill, or stop by open gym. Life is far too short to put joy on the back burner, if even for a minute.
These past four years have taught me not just this lesson, but countless others. Thank you to my teachers for always pushing me, even when I was unsure of what I had to give. In particular, I’m grateful to Mr. Pallatto for reminding me that it’s okay to stop and breathe; to Mr. Hagewood for encouraging me to never settle for less; and to Mr. Keck for helping me to find my voice.
Thank you to my friends for making me smile every day. I’m thrilled to see you all do big things in a big world.
Finally, thank you to my family. Gabby and Jackie: I am so lucky to be a big sister to you two—the most loyal best friends I could ever ask for. Don’t steal too many clothes from my closet next year. Mom and Dad: you have instilled in me the importance of perseverance and integrity. Your unconditional love and support—even when it looks like a tornado hit my room—inspires me to reach higher. I hope I’ve made you proud.
Class of 2019, there is so much for us to do. Take the freedom and opportunity we now have and run with it. Build the life you want and make it a happy one.
I, for one, already have a book picked out that I’m looking forward to enjoying this summer. Maybe I’ll grab some new batteries for my reading light while I’m at it.
Next, the Graduation Choir sand a song, entitled “For Good.” Donna Hayward, HKHS Principal, then spoke:
Good evening! It’s a pleasure to be celebrating with the class of 2019 this evening on the earliest graduation date I can ever remember! And that’s different – but right from the start, I have to tell you that this class has always been different. While I always say that each class definitely has its own personality, the characteristic that most marks this class is how wildly diverse you all are – from the remarkably academic to the ultra-artistic to the naturally athletic. From the precise engineering mind, to the stand-up comic to the metacognitive philosopher. Along with your uniqueness, the common thread that has always defined you as a group is how spirited you are, not in the traditional sense — but in how you react to your world and respond to adversity. From your first days as freshmen, we noticed. You were eager. You were all-in. You had strong opinions and weren’t at all slow to share them. You were smart, active, and struggling to find yourselves. And frankly, we weren’t really sure how that was going to go. But here you are, and I have to say we are so proud of who you have become.
So while I’m holding onto the piece about you being the most eclectic group of seniors we have ever graduated, I’m also struck by the significant challenges this class has faced. Real life challenges have come your way earlier than I would have wished (in fact, I wish they had never come) and we have stood by you as you have navigated through storms to find your way. You are spirited. You are strong. And you have each responded to challenge in your own way.
This year, we were so proud to be named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. You will always be the class who led the school as seniors when we received this honor – and your hard work and success helped to secure this recognition for your school, which has in turn fed your success. I was asked to describe what makes HK special when we received this award and of course I talked about the academics and the offerings, programs and the unique structures of HK – but more than anything else, I talked about how we are a family and how we, as a school community, respond to challenge. SOMETHING MAGICAL HAPPENS AT HK that only people who are here or are really close enough to watch can understand. We laugh together, grieve together, heal together, celebrate together – and our family thrives.
So as I thought about how to describe the Class of 2019 tonight, it struck me that we have this remarkable, colorful, class of individuals with all different interests and habits and talents which are like the textures of the group. And you have been nurtured in this strong family of HK – in turn nurturing each other – and us – and the underclassmen. I realized that it was in the times of challenge that the stitches tightened, the fabric that is this class wove together to be a fantastic tapestry of Cougar graduates. How fitting that YOU were the seniors in our Blue Ribbon Year. I will forever remember you for that.
It wasn’t all roses and sunshine. But then, crafting something of quality never is. It’s never without struggle and we had some real life yuck. But we came through it – and as you prepare to leave us, it seems important to remind you of how far you have come, and how you will get where you’re going.
There’s an old Cherokee legend – you’ve probably heard before – that may illustrate best:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside each of us,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, ……, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other wolf is good – he is joy, …, love, hope, ….., kindness, …., empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
[His grandfather] simply replied, “Whichever one you feed.”
Feed the right wolf – which means knowing what to feed that right wolf. Feed him with resilience and your unwillingness to ever give up. Feed him by accepting help when you need it, and by keeping family and friends close. Your blood family, your musical family, your athletic family, your HK family. Feed him by reframing challenge as an opportunity. Feed him by remembering to laugh – at yourself and with others.
You have practiced this at HK. You have overcome significant stage fright to sing in the Holiday Show for a cause greater than yourself – while amazing all of us who didn’t even know you could sing! You have overcome sadness and loss by creating your own non-profit organization to raise money for brain cancer and child cancer research, or by becoming an EMT to care for others in their most fragile moments, or by creating an award-winning video which connects you with others and touches lives in a meaningful way. You have faced the challenge of adjudicated trials, spending your lunch periods and after school hours preparing and then far exceeded the previous records of students being accepted to regional and All State music festivals. Year after year, you worked hard on the football field to become state champion contenders this fall and to bring home the Principal’s Cup for the first time in seven. You have overcome numerous concussions to breach the Ivy League. You have broken records in the pool, on the track and on the court. And amidst all of this, there have been challenges, injuries, setbacks and loss. But you showed up. You could have easily bailed, mailed it in, stayed home. But you didn’t. You fed the right wolf. Please remember this as you leave HK and go on your way.
Here’s where you are going. One hundred and twenty of you are headed to 57 colleges in 18 different states – and one all the way to London! One of you is headed to the military – thank you and be safe. Nine of you will start work right away and four will attend trade school for training in jobs that can never be outsourced. You are pursuing careers in communications, education, nursing, construction management, psychology, finance, history, STEM careers and political science – if ever you’re a candidate, I will vote for you!
When Connor Chute put together a celebratory video to honor the spirit of HK, he rightly chose Jason Mraz’s “Have it All” as the musical track. Watching our video with you, I had much the same feelings as I do each graduation day with the lyrics perfectly summing up my wishes for you:
May you know the meaning of the word happiness
May you always lead from the beating in your chest.
And may the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows.
Here’s to the lives that you’re gonna change.
I want you to have it all.
It has been an honor and a privilege to be your principal. Thank you for everything you have taught met. Godspeed.
Superintendent for Regional School District No. 17, Howard Thiery, spoke next (we are working to obtain his speech).
Then Mr. Thiery granted the graduates their diplomas, saying, “I do hereby certify and confirm that the members of the Haddam Killingworth Class of 2019 have met the graduation requirements of the RSD 17 Board of Education and the State of Connecticut, and it is therefore my distinct privilege as Superintendent of Schools to officially present the Haddam Killingworth High School, Class of 2019, to the Board of Education for the awarding of diplomas. I am pleased to call upon class representative, Sadie Strom, to receive the first diploma.”
The graduates were called up to the stage to receive their diplomas, then after they were all reseated, they turned their tassels from the right side of their graduation caps to the left side, then many of them threw their hats into the air! And commencement, for another year, was over.
Photo by Amy Jacques-Purdy.