10-Year Reflection: NCHS Class of ’09


From graduation day on June 19, 2009. My friends Melissa Halpert (now Melissa Carver, left) and Hillary Sapanski (right) and I.

My class at New Canaan High School is to have its 10-year reunion in a couple of weeks, a chance to reconnect with friends as well as to remember classmates we lost too soon.

A decade ago, when we walked off Dunning Field, it felt like we were on top of the world. Some of us also felt we were on our way to conquering it, when the truth is we hadn’t even conquered how to do a load of laundry.

From graduation day on June 19, 2009. My friends Melissa Halpert (now Melissa Carver, left) and Hillary Sapanski (right) and I.

The thought isn’t solely ours—I know, because in addition to attending our own New Canaan High School graduation ceremony, I’ve covered the past four for NewCanaanite.com.

And while the day absolutely marks an accomplishment, my own experience has been that the world can knock you down a peg or two in the decade that follows.

My own classmates may recall that I spoke during our graduation ceremony. While I made no proclamations, I wasn’t prepared, in retrospect, for a feeling of unfulfillment—that I haven’t yet succeeded.

My friends Thomas Mase and Brandon Sorbara from May 2009.

There’s no course at NCHS, or college, on how to succeed in life by age 28. Yet from the moment we enter school we’re graded on just about everything we do within its walls.

In New Canaan, grades can become a measuring stick for how you’re doing in class as well as compared to peers.

While that type of comparison may persist for some, my own experience of our New Canaan High School Class of 2009 has pointed to something different.

Since my debut article was published on this site five years ago, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of sharing a few of the stories of our classmates—Laura Valk, Elizabeth Jansen-Amell, Mary and James Laird and several members of the 2008 football team (which played during the fall of our senior year) among them.

Each has faced obstacles, and each is a NCHS Class of ’09 success story.

Mary and James Laird holding their “Match Day” letters saying they’ll spend their residencies at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Conn. Contributed: Mary Laird

In addressing our class on graduation day, I quoted late basketball coach Jim Valvano—”Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up”—because I knew those words embodied the spirit of our class.

And they do, including when we show up to support each other and remember classmates that we’ve lost since graduating.

Five years ago, no matter how many people attended that reunion, we were always going to be one person short as a little more than one year earlier, our classmate and friend Griffin Conway died. Since then, we have lost two more—Evan Reinhardt and Chris Lynch.

Evan passed in July 2015, Chris in September 2016. Many of us attended services for both of these young men.

Chris, Evan and Griffin, we miss the sound of your voices. Those of us who knew you feel your spirits guiding us each day. Your presence will be with us on Nov. 29.

Laura Valk performs in concert with her band Skout during the summer of 2016. Credit: Parallax Creative

I continue to be inspired by my classmates: Laura Valk living out her music dreams, Elizabeth Jansen-Amell running marathons in memory of her late brother Rob, or the Lairds balancing their marriage with the hectic lifestyles of careers in medicine. Their stories speak to our perseverance.

And they are not the only ones of our class to have achieved a dream of theirs.

Elizabeth Jansen-Amell approaches the finish line of the New Jersey Marathon, about to set a then-PR of 3:48:23. Contributed: Elizabeth Jansen

Many more of us have found our soulmates, become parents or pursued our passions. You also are the success stories of our class.

Though some of us haven’t found those things—the world perhaps has knocked us down a peg or two—we’re not failures.

It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey. Let’s enjoy it, and live day by day.

I look forward to adding to my own life’s special moments with our reunion. To those who can’t attend, you will be missed. Though a family may not always be together, its bond is one that will last forever.

And that’s what we are class of 2009—family.

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