Back when Paul Reid was sitting among a sea of students at his high school graduation, he envisioned himself having a career teaching the nation’s youth.
He didn’t see spending 25 years serving in the U.S. Coast Guard before ever even settling into said career of teaching.
Reid attended the Academy, in great part, to take advantage of the opportunity to go to school—and the fact that it wouldn’t cost him a penny to do so. Yet while his initial thought was to end up elsewhere prior to graduating, Reid stuck around the full four years. His mindset then shifted to honoring his duty to the country and government, serve for five years and move on—but that wasn’t to be either.
And after two-plus decades of service later, it was evident to Reid why he stuck around so long.
“Fundamentally, it really was the incredible people that I got to work with over the years who made the job so great,” Reid said to the 312-member New Canaan High School class of 2018, gathered at Dunning Field on Thursday evening as its keynote speaker during its graduation ceremony.
And after nine years of teaching physics at NCHS, it’s evident to Reid that people are what makes the high school and wider community of New Canaan special.
A concept taught by Reid at the beginning of his classes is how to draw a free-body diagram—a diagram of arrows to represent forces acting on an object. When drawn properly, it allows one to determine the object’s acceleration, which then allows for everything about its position and velocity as time progresses to be determined as well. Everything else in solving the problem flows from the diagram which provides a road map of where the object will be going.
“When I think about how to work through any task, I always think that way,” Reid said. He then turned to the students and continued with, “And mapping out your future is no different.”
For purposes of this specific class and occasion, Reid’s free-body diagram consists of three forces, he said—the first of which is integrity.
“We all admire those people who we know can be trusted with anything,” he said on the warm, sunny evening. “If they say something, we know it is true. They will never betray our confidence and can always be counted on to do the right thing—even when it is not in their best interest. It’s not easy, and most fall down from time to time. But it is a fundamental force that will serve you incredibly well and only enhance your life if you continue to strive for it. Your relationships will be deeper and stronger than ever when your friends and colleagues know you can be trusted with all things.”
The second force is respect.
“Every person that you meet—from your college president to the homeless man down the street—are all fellow human beings deserving of our respect. No matter what their personal situation—we never know what other people are dealing with—give them the benefit of the doubt. Respect the world around us and take good care of it—it’s the only one we have. And, just as important, be sure to respect yourself. Take care of yourself, both mentally and physically. College will require you to work hard, so please take the time to rest. But also take the time to enjoy life once in a while. Join a new club, one that’s doing something you never would’ve imagined yourself doing. And meet new people who are different than anyone you’ve ever met before. Take good care of your body because, like our Earth, you only have one. You can never go wrong being respectful.”
And that third force Reid considers part of this free-body diagram is perseverance.
“We never know what we can achieve until we give it our best shot,” he said. “When you are working, be fully present in what you’re doing. No matter whether you are a full time student or working full time elsewhere, insure that you devote appropriate time to learning your craft and becoming the best that you can at it. Sometimes, though, when you are not progressing as you would like, the solution is not necessarily working harder, but working smarter. You don’t have to go it alone. Find peers or mentors that you can go to for help and advice. Once I realized that, which wasn’t until after graduate school, I found out that we all learned so much more when we worked together. Any scientist will tell you that any discovery that they’ve made is based upon the work of colleagues and those that went before them. Sometimes you just have to have faith in that you are doing the right thing and will find a way to keep on that path toward your goal. Never give up.”
Reid addressed the hundreds of students, family members and friends gathered at Dunning Stadium on a picture-perfect first night of summer. The graduation ceremony included the singing of the “The Star Spangled Banner” by NCHS concert choir members, Pledge of Allegiance, NCHS chamber orchestra playing George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” and a recessional, “From Lambs to Rams” composed and arranged by Erik Cohen and Grant Morse.
Several others addressed the families and friends of the graduates at the stirring ceremony. Here’s some of what they said:
- Student Coalition President John Dunn: “Middle school was a time full of confusion because of, well, biology. But also because of the looming question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ For me, the answer was always tall. But I’m older now and have given up on that dream. Regardless, the looming idea of the future was ever present in all our acne-ridden heads. Mark Twain once said, ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.’ If it weren’t for the class of 2018 and New Canaan High School, I never would have found my why. We are the next group of successes that one day will be used to prove once and for all that New Canaan is better than Darien. Lawyers, artists, athletes, teachers, doctors—these are all career cards in the board game “Life”. But here at NCHS, they are a reality for every member of this class. With intellect, courage, and the great skill of networking, I am confident that each and every one of you will make this town and this school proud. You already have me convinced because I’ve been proud to be your classmate ever since I stepped foot into Saxe just eight years ago. So go out and prove me right.”
- Selectman Nick Williams: “Make no mistake graduates, this truly is a seminal moment for you, your families, friends, teachers and your town. I will be forever impressed by the hard work and dedication you have exhibited. Whether it be in the classroom, the arts, on the playing fields or in your countless volunteer activities—you share many qualities that embodies the wonderful town you live in. My advice to you is pretty simple—keep doing what you’re doing. It’s worked out pretty well. We’re truly blessed to have one of the finest school systems in America, which is a direct result of the outstanding faculty who have guided you for the past 13 years. It’s also a reflection of the generosity of our residents who recognize that maintaining a first-class school system is vital in keeping New Canaan the special place that it is. Your parents and guardians deserve your eternal thanks as well. They are the people who picked you up at school, drove you to your piano lesson in Lost District, then on to lacrosse practice, which they coached, at Saxe, on to a dentist appointment in Norwalk, then, finally, to your math tutoring session on Main Street—all while without missing a beat or running out of gas. n large part you are where you are today, and who you are today, because of the love and the sacrifice that they have provided you. So continue to make them proud in your future endeavors—wherever they may occur, whatever they may be. Work hard, have fun and, please, be kind.”
- Principal William Egan: “One of the things I enjoy immensely about my job is walking around NCHS and spending time in the cafeteria getting to know you. In our conversations, you’ve told me about your concerns and your joys. Most of you feel unique or different from everyone else in your class. Some of you feel the pressure of being an athlete or a star student. Some of you worry that you’ve not accomplished enough. You are all unique and different. You are all impressive people. Focus on what you feel inside of you that makes you feel proud. No matter what difficulties you may face, always remember that you are special, unique and loved. One special moment this year was student led. The students recently decided to conduct a social experiment to see how many students would feel comfortable enough to karaoke in the cafeteria. There were a surprising number of students who were willing to stand up and sing. I would not be that brave. I was struck by the support and encouragement everyone gave to the students who did sing. Everyone sang along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” while clapping and smiling. The lesson was clear—you are a part of a community that cheers when people take a chance. This is a milestone year for me. What I took away from my high school experience, and I hope you do too, is that your family, your friends and your community love you and are cheering for you no matter what. Graduates, look forward to your new lives filled with hope, kindness and determination. Take risks and don’t be afraid even though the decades might not look kindly on a hairstyle or clothing choice. Life has its challenges but remember, don’t stop believing.”
- Senior Mary Cioffi: “As we are about to start a new chapter in our lives it’s always important to thank the people who got us here because without them we couldn’t have done any of this. I personally want to thank principal Egan, assistant principals Mr. Rothman, Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Gusitsch for being there for us and showing us the way of life. I also would like to thank our tremendous faculty for supporting each other to get to where we are sitting right now. Finally, I want to thank my parents, siblings and grandparents for being there for me everyday and showing me the reason that I am here for the better. Without this group of people I wouldn’t be where I am today. And thank you to all of my classmates for everything they have done to make my high school experience the best.”
- Senior Annie Minaglia: “As we go forward, the world will continue to stir around us, though each of us has the opportunity to contribute to changing it for the better. As even the smallest action can contribute to positive change, we can start by complimenting a stranger, offering to help or sitting next to someone in need, sending a friend or family member a handwritten note, or just letting someone know you care. Stay true to yourself and others and accept the unexpected. Take control of your part in this world—the world will challenge us every day but we have to persevere through life’s hurdles to become our best selves. We can help to create a bright future for those around us with each action we take and choice that we make. Each of us can become the drop of water that creates a ripple to make a difference in this world. And we can’t let anyone drag us down and stop us. Throughout the past four years, we were all proud to be the class of 2018—a powerful group, with diverse interests, yet one that embodies the spirit of drive and motivation. On behalf of my fellow graduates, please join me in thanking all of our teachers, administrators and families who have selflessly guided us and all been our loyal mentors along the way. May the next chapter in your books be a great one. Congratulations to everyone and go Rams!”
- Senior Eli O’Neill: “When I was little, my mom used to say I was six going on 16. Then when I was 16 she’d say I was sixteen going on 26. She always knew I was waiting for the next thing—I’ve always been bad at appreciating the age I am. My first day of freshman year I couldn’t wait to graduate. I wanted to walk across this stage and get my diploma. I had it in my head that the adventures couldn’t possibly start then but rather must start in the future. Now that I’m standing here, though, I wish I could tell 14-year-old me how wrong they were. I would say that great things are coming, but until then why not love the things you have? Why not celebrate the present? This year I decided to stop anticipating a romanticized version of future me. If I wanted to be a happy person in the future I had to work to choose happiness now. I was ready to see how the opportunities given to me at NCHS were worthy of appreciation and how the adventures were staring me in the face. I look back on the me I was just a year ago and wonder how I could have been so blind to not see the chances for adventure and happiness. As we go off to whatever our next step is, I think the most important thing for us all to remember is we can make every day great. We can savor the feeling of wind on our faces and the way it feels to smile. We can choose to enjoy the feeling of clean sheets fresh out of the dryer and the sound of papers shuffling on desks. We may not all go on to be astronauts or doctors. Some of us might have the equally important jobs of waiters or stay-at-home parents. It doesn’t matter whether our collars are white or blue or covered in crayon, we can choose to be great everyday no matter what it is we’re doing.”
- Senior Alexander Urbahn: “For some reason, I had always pictured high school to be like ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ or ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. Now, while taking the day off to ride around Chicago in a 1961 Ferrari 250GT sounds like a blast, I’m very thankful that my primitive perception of high school was far from reality. NCHS has been more than an 80’s flick. It took us from foolish, awkward teenagers, and turned us into who we are today—the future leaders of this community, country, and generation. One of those movies, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ did still teach me a valuable lesson, though. And before you judge, I should have everyone know I do not support all of Ferris’s ways. However, I will say he does have a philosophy that I think we all need to embrace in life. In his opening monologue of the film, Bueller states, ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ Hard work and determination are wonderful qualities to have in life. Our society tells us that, if done right, they will lead us to become ‘successful’. While pursuing things such as monetary success is great, as Ferris notes, what’s the point if you go through life always focused on what’s ahead? We need to learn to take that extra second to look around, to enjoy what we have. We need to remember the things that got us here—our family, our friends, our neighbors, our educators—all of the people present in our lives. It’s our duty to maintain these relationships and appreciate the world around us. As of right now, the year 2036 sounds pretty far away. Well, it’s just as far away as the year 2000 was. Yep, 18 years. All gone in a flash. It’s up to us to make the most of the time we have here. While for many of us the next step the same—college. This chapter is entirely different for each and every single one of us. That’s the beauty of all of this—the world truly is our oyster. But we can’t forget that sometimes it’s best to take a step back to enjoy this journey we go through. After all, we only get one life. Why not make it the best we can?”
- Senior Luke Stewart: “When I reflect on my time at New Canaan High School, what stands out is the gift we have been given by our teachers. They have exposed us to a great array of disciplines—an all-you-can-eat buffet of knowledge. One particular lesson stands out for me—Mr. Reid teaching us about Maxwell’s Equations in Physics. Maxwell was a physicist who assembled a collection of simple equations that form one of our most important concepts of the universe. These equations describe the foundation of electricity and magnetism and provide the basis for much of our modern existence—enabling the activity of cell-phones and satellites, car batteries and power cables. The truth is, you can learn a lot from these equations beyond the physics. Several lessons emerge from these mathematical relationships, which I believe are worth sharing. They are as follows: Work together, embrace the unexpected and pursue a life dedicated to learning. At every step, we should both ask questions and seek answers. Our generation faces monumental challenges, from climate change to pandemic disease, and from gun violence to the opioid crisis. Only through dedicated and principled lifelong inquiry can we hope to address them. I’d like to leave you with one final thought. In all of the difficult steps associated with the college application process, one school’s communication stood out to me. The letter highlighted the fact that in addition to discovering the geometric theorem, a2 + b2 = c2, Pythagoras and his students believed that the whole world was governed by numbers and math. And among all numbers, they cherished the number 22 as the most powerful. They believed that those associated with the number 22 live as master architects—people who possess the ingenuity and determination to, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘pursue grand projects and great dreams’. We will now leave the present class of 2018. We are the future class of 2022. With collaboration, creativity and a commitment to learning, we will become the master architects of our future.”
- Superintendent Dr. Bryan Luizzi: “As you take this next step in your lives, remain true to what you’ve learned and to whom you have become. You’ll be remarkably well prepared for the exciting future that lies ahead. I’m extremely proud of each of you and wish you all the best in everything that you do. I have no doubt that you’re all ready for what life after high school has to offer. And after hearing those moments of reflection, I’m even more confident in that. My advice to you is to always work hard, be safe, to treat others kindly and to have fun. By doing so, I know you’ll be most successful in all that you do.”
- Board of Education Chair Dionna Carlson: “As chair, and on behalf of the entire NCPS Board of Education, let me add my congratulations to the class of 2018. This class holds a particularly special place in my heart as one of its graduates is my son Grant, who is my last child to graduate from NCHS. There’s a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson which says, ‘What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are small matters compared to what lies within us.’ Emerson is telling us that character, kindness and gratitude matter. Qualities that seem to be on the firing lines in this era of the internet and social media. Emerson’s immutable message written in the 1800’s was echoed almost 200 years later by former First Lady Barbara Bush in her 1990 commencement address to Wellesley College. Though a controversial choice at the time given that Wellesley is an all-female university and Bush, to some in the student body, appeared to be someone who’d ridden to prominence on her husband’s coattails. The speech spurred a nationwide discussion on feminism and the role of women in modern day America. Funny how little has changed in almost 30 years. But this funny, feisty, sharp-tongued woman won over the crowd when she reminded them that they are all human beings first. And it’s those human connections—with spouses, children, friends and family—which are the most important investment they will ever make. You’re each fortunate to live in a community and graduate from a high school that prioritizes these virtues. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Principal Egan stress the importance of kindness to you all—as have others tonight. You’ve learned a lot here and this education helps you to have an open and discerning mind as well as a kind heart. Graduating from NCHS is a privilege and it obligates you to use what you’ve learned and the gifts you’ve been given and take them out into the world. Lend a hand to those less fortunate and leave this place better for those who come behind you. I know this class. I know you will become role models and be adults worth looking up to. Take that Rams spirit out in to the world and make us proud.”
After detailing his three forces of the free-body diagram, Reid posed a follow-up question:
What is the destination?
Reid surmised that it will likely be different for everyone as each graduate is so unique and possessed with different abilities and interests. But with each one their should be one commonality—the passion to become a hero.
That some may be in a position to cure cancer, send humans to Mars and back, or help bring peace to the Middle East. And others who may serve a in positions such as firefighters or police officers. These people are all ones society would consider to be heroes.
But to those who don’t pursue such passions or accomplish such feats, what about them? How can they be heroes, too?
This led Reid to share a recent trip of his to the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. to attend his wife’s 35-year reunion.
Late that Saturday evening, Reid gathered with his wife and about a dozen of her classmates as they reminisced in a dorm room about their time together at the college. Reid was the only one in the room who hadn’t attended the school, so he mostly just listened. And marveled at what he heard.
“She was the main reason I made it freshman year,” Reid shared as one person’s remark of the time they met their close friend. “He was so kind and thoughtful. He saw me trying to move my stuff into my dorm room and gave me a hand,” remarked another. And this was only the beginning of what Reid deemed the “seemingly small measures that made someone else’s day better.”
And on an evening where the theme of being kind to one another permeated, Reid felt it fitting to refer to these people as heroes.
“It doesn’t cost anything to be kind, but it could make a big difference for the person that you show that kindness to,” he said. “What an honor it would be to be remembered as someone who was so kind to others. So, if you really want to make a difference in the world, it really is quite simple—be the kind of person that others want to have as a colleague and friend.”