‘Focus on the Opportunities Gained’: Class of 2024 Graduates from NCHS


For graduates of the New Canaan High School class of 2024, the coming years will be defined “by the choices you make from the plethora of opportunities that you have,” one of their teachers told them Wednesday morning.

NCHS Social Studies and Economics teacher Mike Staffaroni at graduation on Dunning Field, June 12, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

“And whenever choices are present, so is ‘opportunity cost’ ” according to NCHS social studies and economics teacher Mike Staffaroni. 

“While my Econ students know this, opportunity cost is the value of what you give up once a decision is made,” Staffaroni told the class of ‘24 during his address at their graduation ceremony, held under comfortably warm and mostly sunny skies at a packed Dunning Field.

He continued: “As psychologist Barry Schwartz has noted, we live in a time defined by a paradox of choice. On the one hand, we have more options than ever before. There are more clothing styles, streaming services, hit TV shows, TikTok streams, Instagram reels, (or for older people like me – Facebook reels), Snapchat Spotlights (I had to ask about that one), educational opportunities, job options, and everything else you can think of. We have a world brimming with possibility. A perfectly rational Economan would love this plethora of choice and be perfectly happy. Yet, in our world today, sometimes the choice about what TV to buy, what activity to do, or what job opportunity to take leaves us feeling overwhelmed.”

Graduation on Dunning Field, June 12, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

Though it’s not always the case that greater choice leads to greater happiness, Staffaroni urged the new graduates “to not dwell on the opportunity cost and focus on the opportunities gained.”

“In the long run, the minor, short-run differences don’t matter much,” Staffaroni said in a keynote speech that drew on principles of economics. “Make that choice, move ahead with a positive outlook, and put forth maximum effort. Greater happiness will result from applying your best self and focusing on all of the positive things you gain.”

Graduation on Dunning Field, June 12, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

The home and away stands at Dunning were both full of parents, friends and family of the class of 2024. In addition to Staffaroni’s address, the commencement included a welcome from class of ‘24 Administrator Lawrence Sullivan, “The Star-Spangled Banner” performed by NCHS Brass Ensemble, recognition for retiring 32-year math teacher Roger Hansell and 21-year Head Nurse Janet Reed, Pledge of Allegiance led by Drew Bench, comments from First Selectman Dionna Carlson, NCHS Principal Bill Egan and Board of Education Chair Hugo Alves, introduction of Staffaroni from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi, “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” performed by NCHS Chamber Orchestra, moments of reflection from NCHS seniors Isabel Appelt, Celia Parkhill and Melissa Rizzo, “An Irish Blessing” performed by NCHS Choral Program seniors and a Recessional tribute composed by NCHS graduating senior Felix Austin (who was recognized during the ceremony). 

Staffaroni told those in attendance that “economics also tells us that we can maximize our utility – our benefit, or happiness – by being open to new experiences and saying yes to new opportunities.”

Graduation for the NCHS class of 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

“Doing the same thing all of the time might yield diminishing returns,” Staffaroni said, citing another phenomenon of economics. “We can even have too much of our favorite candy. This means take advantage of the choices and step out of your comfort zone. Try new things, meet new people, explore new places, or – like me – take on a new role. These experiences add additional value to your life so your total happiness grows. The great thing about living in this time of choice and opportunity is that saying ‘Yes’ and applying your best efforts usually leads to positive outcomes.”

Finally, Staffaroni advised, economics teaches the value of “present value”—or, in this context, the value of being present—as opposed to the all-too-easy escapism in this digital world.

“With a smartphone at our fingertips – I hope you filled out that district survey – we can live a life that’s not ours,” Staffaroni said. “We can get entwined with people to whom we have no personal connection. We can become absorbed. But economics also teaches us the importance of present value. For you, graduates, this means to not focus so much on these things, but to be present. Be connected to moments such as this one. Be connected to your classmates around you, your families in the stands, and remember this gorgeous day where you moved from one part of your life to another. Create, be connected to, and Be Present for these moments of life – because that is where true wealth is found.”

Here are excerpts from other speeches from NCHS Annual Commencement Exercises 2024:

NCHS senior Melissa Rizzo at graduation on Dunning Field, June 12, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

Melissa Rizzo: “Yes, we’ve learned where to put commas in sentences, how to solve derivative equations, and how to calculate speed and motion, but our time here has been more than just textbooks and exams; it’s been about discovering who we are and who we want to become. Because at New Canaan High School, we were empowered to use our voices to enact change. We were taught how to be resilient and how to work hard. But most importantly, we were surrounded by a community that showed us how to be kind and compassionate. As a result, standing here today, I can confidently say that I have yet to meet a group of people who are more ready to embrace the world and all it has to offer… in whichever way we blossom, whatever path we choose, let’s remember to embrace the journey with courage and seize every opportunity that comes our way. Life is too short to play it safe, so let’s take risks, harness our passions, chase our dreams, and never settle for anything less than extraordinary. Then, let’s be humble in the midst of success, let’s exude empathy, and let’s never forget to express gratitude to everyone who’s helped us along the way. And when things don’t go according to plan, as they often won’t, let’s be graceful, understanding, and tenacious; because it’s how we respond to these challenges that defines us. Most importantly, let’s remember to always believe in ourselves, even when we face adversity or encounter failure, even when others doubt us.”

NCHS senior Celia Parkhill at graduation on Dunning Field, June 12, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

Celia Parkhill: “If I were to encapsulate the New Canaan High School Class of 2024 in one word, it’d be ‘capable.’ Beyond capable at that.  What’s truly inspiring about the capabilities we share is not the grades, scores, or outcomes they’ve produced, but the fact that despite our differences and personal challenges, we’ve nurtured these capabilities within each other. We’ve created communities where support is not just a word but a living, breathing entity. We are capable because we are backed by a town with teachers who invest time to nurture our curiosity, parents who work tirelessly to provide us with the means to succeed, and peers who seek to fuel our potential as we celebrate both what we are, and what we wish to be. Communities within this class are models for what I hope we all seek out in the next chapter of our lives. Now, capability does not guarantee success. We’ve discovered this throughout our long study sessions, sweaty practices, rehearsals, and the adversity high school has tested us with. But capability lived within all of us as freshmen, and we’ve spent these last four years pushing ourselves to succeed while educating one another on the power of collaboration and perseverance. The beauty of capability is its immortality because, like learning, it never runs out. We’ve been capable of finding happiness through sadness, compassion through suffrage, gratitude through loss, and growth through what once seemed like never-ending failure.”

NCHS senior Isabel Appelt at graduation on Dunning Field, June 12, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

Isabel Appelt: “Looking back at our educational experience I can think of many highlights but I will never quite forget the profound sense of accomplishment that came with racing down South Avenue with my friends after school for the first time. As a fifth-grader, the world seemed to unfold before me with the prospect of raiding Mackenzie’s, finally free from the constraints of parental supervision. As soon as that bell rang we strutted past Gower Road with our newfound independence and ran by the old police department with a cheerful swagger as we approached Elm Street— In these moments we were not just making strides of physical distance, but also stepping into a new world of maturity and responsibility that came with entering the major leagues of middle school. For years we longed to be cool, to get older, and we finally were. In the fleeting moments of childhood, this journey felt-like-everything. Yet, as we grew older and became engrossed in the whirlwind of high school life, I cannot remember the last time I made that same walking trek from Farm Road to Elm Street. Now, in the blink of an eye, we suddenly make that same mile trip each day without thought, off to tonys for lunch habitually expecting to return to the chairs, or comfy couches in our favorite classrooms. With the hustle and bustle of balancing late night essays, practices, club meetings, and free time with friends it has been easy to lose sight of the blessings that surround us. The familiarity of our surroundings, the support of our teachers and families, and the comfort of our routines may have dulled our appreciation for the simple yet profound joys and privileges of our small-town upbringing.”

NCHS Principal Bill Egan at graduation on Dunning Field, June 12, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

Bill Egan: “What stands out most is your kindness. You’ve created a culture of empathy and support at New Canaan High School. Whether it’s through mentoring younger students, volunteering in the community, or simply being there for a friend in need, you’ve shown that kindness isn’t just an act; it’s a way of life. This compassion will be your guiding star in the years to come.”

First Selectman Dionna Carlson at graduation on Dunning Field, June 12, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

Dionna Carlson: “As you stand on the cusp of a new chapter in your lives, I want to impart upon you a simple yet profound quote popularized by President John F. Kennedy that has its origins in the Bible’s Book of Luke: ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ Each of you has been blessed with unique talents, opportunities, and privileges. But with these blessings comes a great responsibility – a responsibility to give back, to serve, and to make a positive impact on the world around you. The vast majority of you are going on to college and your families are making a huge—possibly outrageous—investment in your future. College campuses are interesting places these days. I hope that you will be kind, courteous, open-minded, respectful and civil in your interactions with others. Our communities, country and world need your energy, intellect and passion now more than ever. Societies’ problems demand innovative solutions and unwavering commitment from each of us. We need your active participation, your innovation and your compassion to address the challenges we face. Your voices, your ideas and your actions have the power to shape the future and create positive lasting change. As you embark on this next chapter of your lives, I urge you to embrace the spirit of service and empathy. Use your education not just for personal gain, but as a tool to uplift others and create better communities. Don’t ever forget, each of you has the power to make a real difference.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi at graduation on Dunning Field, June 12, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

Dr. Bryan Luizzi: “Thirteen years ago, my journey brought me to New Canaan as the high school principal, where I served for three years before becoming superintendent 10 years ago. Which means, graduates, that we started together – you in Kindergarten, me as the high school principal, 13 years ago.  And here we are, 13 years later, surrounded by family, faculty, and friends, all of whom love and support you, as we’re gathered together to recognize and honor the amazing people you’ve become. You have accomplished much, grown tremendously, and, I say with pride, you are all extremely well prepared for what’s ahead. The class of 2024 is an outstanding class – you took advantage of all that our schools have to offer.  The knowledge, skills, and relationships you’ve developed these past 13 years have prepared you perfectly for the beautiful journey that awaits. You’ve not only succeeded, you’ve thrived, and when you step onto this stage to receive your diploma, you’ll be forever counted as a member of the amazing NCHS class of 2024.”

Board of Education Chair Hugo Alves at graduation on Dunning Field, June 12, 2024. Credit: Michael Dinan

Hugo Alves: “In the world you are about to enter, you will face challenges and uncertainties. But it is precisely in those moments of difficulty that your true character will be revealed. Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. Remember that every setback is a setup for a comeback. Your ability to persevere, to adapt, and to innovate will define your success far more than the obstacles you encounter. In moments where you feel like the entire world is working against you – know that it’s temporary, and dig deep to find ways to climb out of your funk. Simple but not easy. I promise there are a million people who would trade spots with you in a heartbeat. Take with you the lessons of compassion and empathy that you’ve learned here. In a rapidly changing world, kindness and understanding are powerful tools. Strive to make a difference not only through your achievements but through your actions and interactions with others. Remember, greatness is not just about personal success but about lifting others up along the way. As you move forward, remember that education is not confined to the walls of a classroom. It is a lifelong voyage, a pursuit of knowledge, growth, and understanding. The diplomas you receive today are not just pieces of paper; they are symbols of your hard work, dedication, and resilience. And let’s not forget who helped you get here. Take a moment to look around – express gratitude for your families, teachers, coaches and administrators. You are their greatest achievement. Carry with you the family values that have shaped you. They are the bedrock upon which you’ll build your dreams. In those moments of doubt, remember the lessons of support, love, and encouragement that your families have given you. They will guide you through the toughest times and help you appreciate the best ones.”

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