VIDEO: New Canaan High School Class of 2016 Graduates


NCHS graduation 2016

Uploaded by Michael Dinan on 2016-06-16.

After graduating, magna cum laude, with a bachelor’s degree in both History and Political Science from the University of Connecticut, Robert Stevenson felt driven to become a teacher.

Robert Stevenson addresses the NCHS class of 2016 at Dunning Field on graduation day, June 15, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

Robert Stevenson addresses the NCHS class of 2016 at Dunning Field on graduation day, June 15, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

So he went and got his master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, also from UConn. And the teaching profession has taken him not just across the state of Connecticut but halfway across the globe to the country of Cyprus, where he taught history, social studies and computers at the American International School, Stevenson said Wednesday.

His experiences there, and during excursions to the Middle East, Africa and Asia, fed an eagerness to learn about other cultures and communities, he said. And chief among the things he learned while there was how important it is to be able to make an impact on the different cultures you come across.

NCHS senior John Bemis receives his diploma at Dunning Field on graduation day, June 15, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

NCHS senior John Bemis receives his diploma at Dunning Field on graduation day, June 15, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

Now an 11-year veteran of New Canaan High School, Stevenson told the 281-member Class of 2016 (a class with which dearly wanted to speak), and their families and friends during a keynote address that he has always been impressed by his students’ readiness to act and benefit those around them.

“This past decade at New Canaan High School, I have seen that great readiness to act and grow every year,” Stevenson said from the middle of Dunning Field on a warm, sunny evening.

L-R: Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi, Board of Education Chair Diionna Carlson, First Selectman Rob Mallozzi and NCHS teacher Robert Stevenson at Dunning Field on graduation day, June 15, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

L-R: Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi, Board of Education Chair Diionna Carlson, First Selectman Rob Mallozzi and NCHS teacher Robert Stevenson at Dunning Field on graduation day, June 15, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

“It pervades this place. I stood up in my high school days—I guess I’m still in my high school days, but my original high school days—just once in four years to speak to a class. When I asked how many times you [students] thought you have stood up to present ideas and findings, one student said 25 and another one burst out laughing and said it was closer to 100. I followed up and asked ‘How many times have you been asked to tackle real-world problems in this place?’ Their response was, ‘Every single day.’ ”

Coming into his address, Stevenson said he had come to one conclusion and promised to offer a couple pieces of advice to this encouraging graduating class.

Some members of the NCHS class of 2016 at Dunning Field on graduation day, June 15, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

Some members of the NCHS class of 2016 at Dunning Field on graduation day, June 15, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

The conclusion: “Society seems mostly unhappy with the current state of education,” Stevenson said.

“They’re worried about your generation’s readiness to tackle this world’s problems. But when I look around I see people who are more thoroughly equipped to take on the future than I ever was. Your generation’s readiness, in my view, has been brewing for a long while now.”

An example Stevenson cited was a Model UN event he helped moderate during this class’ sophomore year. “I watched you take on the point-of-view of another country when in a class-wide, day long, simulation you attacked problems ranging from nuclear proliferation to where the next World Cup will be held—and you grasped the complexity of all those issues. [And] I watched you debate with more maturity and poise than many of our seasoned politicians—many of them.”

More examples followed.

“Lately I’ve seen you just starting to put those ideas and skills into action in your lives and internships in ways I never imagined a high school senior ever could,” Stevenson said.

“One of my students spends 20 hours each week working on an ambulance—I’ve never even been in one. And I pretty much get woozy at the site of a needle, blood, or my kids’ scraped knees from some skateboarding incident. A group of my students spent the last couple months designing, manufacturing and marketing jewelry for a local small business—I don’t even own a watch. I’ve worked at creating comics for years and I’ve only managed to pull together a few, small pamphlets that I mostly give away to friends. This year in an independent study, though, one of my students created and published a beautifully rendered, full-blown graphic novel. Just this past Friday I had the privilege of accompanying several students who were interning on a harbor watch out on a research vessel. Last time I was out on a research vessel was back in a high school and it was a whale watch where they didn’t let us do any real research. But I ended up seasick lying on the back deck of the boat. I remember waking up with a seagull standing on my arm. So last Friday I took some Dramamine before getting on that boat. These interns are doing some important science. They’re carefully dredging up muck from the bottom of harbor, counting and cataloging its aquatic life and reporting those findings back to the state department of Environmental Protection, all to track and help our water systems and protect our fishing industry. There was such a great combination of hard work and fun on that boat that I wanted to be the intern.”

That brought Stevenson to his first piece of advice for the graduates.

“So what should you do with your great readiness?” he said. “How do you go about having an impact and getting the business and joy of life done right? First, seek and create the right balance in your life between love and work—and if the two overlap, great. As educators we’ve neglected that love part too often in exchange for the learning part. In yesterday’s New York Times one columnist urged educators to, ‘Fortify the heart if we are going to educate the mind.’ You’ve all grasped this truth long before we came up with ‘No homework weekends’. You’ve already been doing this in your careful selection of college and courses in your field of study, whatever your next step is. Love and enjoyment and balance were all on your mind when you made those choices. Don’t forget to take that same care with life’s other big decisions.”

Several others addressed the hundreds of families and friends of the graduates. Here’s some of what they said:

  • Class President Ali Deambrosio: Our time here has given us the skills to be mature, smart and caring individuals. New Canaan High School has given us an amazing education, inspiring role models and an environment where we were able to grow into who we are. I’m so unbelievably grateful to be part of such an incredible group of people. From the teachers who have provided us with a wealth of support and knowledge, to the students who are so willing to accept it, the talent in this school is overwhelming. Whether it be the art shows, the band, orchestra and choir concerts, the plays, the sports teams and every club performance that has ever happened here–I’m consistently blown away. The graduates sitting around me possess the passion, intelligence, talent and work ethic to not only dream, but make their dreams a reality. New Canaan High School has been the training wheels for us to explore making mistakes—like ordering enough mac and cheese for a small village—and learning from those mistakes. We are so much wiser than our 14-year-old selves and that’s probably a good thing. I have full confidence that we graduates will cultivate the skills we have learned here in order to become our better selves. So thank you New Canaan High School for making me the best ‘me’. The ‘me’ that orders a small mac and cheese with an apple on the side and who’s equipped to fulfill my dreams. It’s been an amazing four years and I cannot wait to see us take on the world.
  • First Selectman Rob Mallozzi: For the past five years I’ve had the pleasure of sharing this stage with some of the teachers, administrators and Board of Ed members who I really admire and consider my friends, who have previously provided the extraordinary level of education to my son and daughter that I am eternally grateful for. That being said, and by all appearances, you would think that my front row seat at each year’s graduation ceremony is the best seat in the house. But I hate to burst the bubble—it is not. You see, the best vantage point is one that you can’t see that well from your [bleacher] seats. It’s the view I have from the far sidelines of Dunning Field behind me. It takes place when we exit the stage and line up while the graduates walk between us. It’s the high-five’s, the hugs, the kisses, the banter between the graduates and their teachers and administrators that tells the real success story of these graduates’ high school experience. It’s about teachers and administrators who care and encourage personal growth. Who didn’t just go through the motions but fully went along for the ride. That is the best seat in the house and one I am only too proud to occupy each year. Congratulations and best wishes. Your town will miss you graduates.
  • Principal William Egan: Today marks the beginning of a new life filled with change for you. And for so many of us change can be difficult. Change is exciting, exhilarating and terrifying, but most of all, change is inevitable. It’s ironic that most of us don’t like great change because science teaches us that those who don’t adapt may not thrive or survive. The changes that are in front of you are huge. It might be picking a major or career; deciding where to live or who to love. Yet as scary as change can be, think about how wonderful all those choices are and how wonderful it is that you have those choices. Embrace the changes that will come your way and approach life openly. We cannot change or stop the march of time, only learn to adapt to it. Yes, change is good. Sometimes we may not see it right away or welcome it as it comes. But change makes us stronger and forces us to grow. As you head out into your future, consider the words of President John F. Kennedy: “Change is the law of life. And those who don’t look to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Or you can remember the words of someone who may have had a more direct impact on your life, the wonderful and brilliant Dr. Seuss. He said, “Did you ever fly a kite in bed? Did you ever walk with 10 cats on your head? Did you ever milk this kind of cow? Well we can do it. We know how. If you never did, you should. These things are fun. And fun is good.” Senior class of 2016, I wish a life for you full of positive changes and inspiration and lots and lots of fun. Congratulations.
  • Senior Griffin Hall: Some gifts are worth passing on. Of course there are a plethora of gifts that each of us have received while in this school. Number one is a passion for learning. We have been immersed in an incredible learning environment. Our teachers are experts in their field and they are never afraid to give us more. But that becomes more knowledge, skepticism, curiosity and understanding. Many skeptics will question whether we retain any of this knowledge or if all 12 years of schooling are really just an SAT prep course. All I have to say is before anybody assumes anything, they should read our Great Gatsby essays, watch our history presentations, admire our artwork, check out our math problems, listen to our music, examine our chemistry experiments just to see how fired up we can be. Our second gift is our work ethic. Who could’ve given us that drive? I firmly believe in the power of nurture over the tendencies of nature—you are who you grow with. To our parents and teachers, thank you. Thank you for providing an incubator, one we’ve been happy to inhabit. We have endless options for the future but only way in how to do it—to do it darn well. And the final gift we have all received is this community. Everybody sitting behind me already knows, this community is part of us and we are part of it. This community will live with us for the rest of our lives, remind us of how important it is to be part of something bigger than ourselves and trained us to take the gifts we receive and pass them on to others. This community will remind us of each and every member of our class. All of whom are overwhelmingly, unequivocally, naturally good. This is our school. This is our clan. What a gift.
  • Senior Meredith Luchs: Never tell someone that they’re going to change the world. I know you mean well and you’re trying to encourage that person, but that’s so much pressure. And if you actually think about the likelihood that someone’s going to accomplish something that’s world-changing and history textbook worthy, it’s so low that it’s almost cruel. You’ve set people up for the perception that anything less than Earth shattering is a failure or them not fulfilling their potential. So I am not going to change the world, at least not in the way that “change the world” typically means. But there’s a second kind of changing the world. Though more elusive than the first, it lives in the every day. And it does so in small acts of consideration, empathy and love. I see this when a teacher encourages me to speak up in class or when my dog runs up to me, with her tail wagging, when I get home every day. Love thy neighbor as thy self, the golden rule that we learned in kindergarten. But it can be difficult to be nice to people. So it took me from kindergarten until just recently for me to realize the copper or bronze rule—the other half of that rule. That is “love thyself”. It clicked. You can’t give more than you have. You can’t love someone any more than you love yourself. As revolutionary as it felt, it really is a simple idea. Inner peace and self-love are essential to living a fulfilling existence. The self is not defined by all the external things we possess. The self is defined, solely, by our own infinite capacity to love. Class of 2016, I know you guys. I know how much you care. You have hopes, goals, dreams and you want to save the world. But sometimes it just isn’t in the cards. So I want you to know, in contrast to what everyone seems to want you to believe, it’s OK if you don’t save the world. It’s OK if you only save one person. And it’s OK if that person has to be you. Because love, that’s what really saves the world.
  • Senior Josh Klapper: Four years is not really that long. I mean, ‘Game of Thrones’ has been on the air longer. But if high school seemed to come and go in a flash, though, just imagine how we will feel next year and the three years that follow. We must reflect today. If I ask any of you what you got out of your high school experience, I think it might come down to three things. One, of course, is the mitochondria powers of the cell; two, 1453, the fall of Constantinople. I’m just kidding…we’re missing the Pythagorean theorem. In all seriousness, I believe our greatest mistake as high school students is taking things for granted. There have been moments in class where I’ve thought to myself ‘This is the most useless, inexplicable waste of time that ever graced the surface of this planet’—how very naïve of me. Because even though these lessons may not apply to our future jobs and interests, the way in which we learn them allows us to absorb analytical, comprehensive and reflective skills that New Canaan High takes great care in polishing for us. Secondly, friendships, just like any class you take have their tests and their triumphs. In high school initial acquaintances evolve into unbreakable bonds and the ideas of love and loyalty become very real in our lives. And that should be the second takeaway from our four years—the ability to identify and preserve the people who matter most to us in this world. Because at the end of the day, when all the smoke has cleared, they will be the ones who remain, so you must never let them go. And the third one is a sense of resolve. In these past few years, life has hit us with one punch after another. And yet we have risen from every fall—a little wiser, a little more conscious and a little more prepared to take on the world. We, all of us, are nothing less than conquerors. And going forward, we will be unyielding in the face of pressure and disappointment. We’ve earned our seats here today. And the title ‘Class of 2016’ is one we will forever wear with pride.
  • Senior Kate McMahon:  All I can think about is how much I’m going to miss you all. It was Winnie the Pooh that said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I think a lot of us put on a tough outer shell and say that we won’t miss this place. But it’s OK, class. You can tell the truth here. You’re scared, right? And have a tiny twinge of sadness when faced with this task of saying ‘goodbye’. Class of 2016, these past four years you alone have made me want to be better. I look at all of you and I strive to do more. In this class we have mathletes and writers; state championship football players and editors-in-chief. All these things have in common the sense of camaraderie we’ve built with doing what we love. When I think about leaving I am dumfounded. Where else will I find everything that NCHS has given me? Thank you to our teachers. You were more than just educators. You were our mom’s, dad’s and best friends, every day, from 7:30-2:05. But your impact will last longer. You’ve taught us to raise our voices—not just when we know we’re right but when we felt like we had something to say. Greatness awaits us but it also follows us here. My fellow classmates, all of your accomplishments have made me proud to be among you, proud to be associated with you, in everyone who’s sitting behind me. I know I’m on a stopwatch and am certainly running out of time, but I can think of one last thing left for me to do. And that is to say ‘thank you’. Thank you for the past 720 days. Days that have included 130 teachers here at NCHS, five different standardized tests, three principals, three superintendents, 22 snow days, 313 sleepless nights, give or take; some tears of fear but mostly tears of joy; and one piece of paper to remember this all. NCHS it’s been an honor. Thank you and good luck.
  • Superintendent Dr. Bryan Luizzi: As scholars, artists, musicians, athletes, friends, mentors, interns, leaders and in countless other ways, you leave behind an incredible legacy for future classes to follow. Congratulations to the Class of 2016 for distinguishing yourselves so meaningfully and impressively through the years. As you experience this celebratory and transitional milestone in your lives, I hope you’re able to enjoy it tonight and to remember it forever. The knowledge and skills you have acquired as a student, coupled with the habits of mind and character you’ve developed as members of our school community, will serve you well in the years ahead. As you take this next step in your lives, if you remain true to what you’ve learned and to whom you have become, you will be remarkably well prepared for the complex and exciting future you have ahead of you. We’re extremely proud of each of you and wish you all the very best in everything that you do.
  • Board of Education Chair Dionna Carlson: As I wrote this today, I reflected on the past year. You welcomed a new principal and said ‘goodbye’ to more than one beloved teacher and administrator. This is a time to celebrate all that you’ve accomplished over the past four years and a time to look ahead to a new, exciting chapter of your lives—new friends, new cities and new challenges. As you look forward to all that awaits you, I urge you before you head off on your next great adventure to take stock in what you leave behind and to make sure to thank all those who helped you get to where you are today. You are fortunate to live in this country and in this community. Never forget as you forge ahead that you have been given an enormous gift. And to whom much is given, much is expected. I’m not asking you to cure cancer or to solve world hunger–but as I look at the talent in this stadium, some of you just may. What I am asking of each of you is to take stock of your particular gifts and talents and find a way to give back to your community. You don’t have to wait until graduation; your college communities will have needs of their own. Look for ways to give back. Not only will you improve the lives of others but your lives will be enriched as well. Onward and upward Class of 2016.

Now there was also a second piece of advice Stevenson had ready to go and share with the class. Advice that’s essential to him knowing that New Canaan High School is the right place for him to be in regards to the search for that balance of love and work.

“When you find the people, the places and the work that strikes that balance, cling to all of it and make it even better with everything you’ve got,” Stevenson said.

And it also helped him recall the memories of traveling with a treasured family member of his. “The day after my own high school graduation back in 1989, and almost every summer for the next 15 years, I got to spend a lot of time with my grandfather. I mention him because he was one of those lucky people who somehow always seemed to stumble upon that right balance of love and work. We would hit the road with no destination in mind. One year we wound up at Gettysburg, Monticello, Yorktown, the Hermitage, Jamestown and colonial Williamsburg. One summer we stopped at every covered bridge in Maine—and there are a lot of covered bridges. I always wondered how everywhere we went there was this great energy about the place, the people and the moment. It turns out ‘Pop’ created that beautiful balance of love and mind wherever he went. With his excitement to meet new people, learn new things and have great joy for every little bit of life. [So] be sure you enjoy every bit you can of what’s to come.”

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