This year’s New Canaan High School seniors had been confident sophomores in 2020, math teacher and lacrosse coach Sean Killelea recalled Thursday afternoon.
By the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they’d already advanced from freshmen taking in the newness of “open campus, choosing classes” and “lockers you’ll never use,” to 10th-graders with “undeniable” swagger, Killelea told the NCHS Class of 2020 during their graduation ceremony, held under gray skies at Dunning Stadium.
“The change from a freshman to a sophomore is like Justin Bieber with the hair to Biebs with the tats,” Killelea said, drawing laughter from students and hundreds of their families and friends packed into the stands on both sides of the field.
“Then all of a sudden you hear rumblings of a virus in Asia, it’s coming across the pacific, it’s coming to the U.S., it’s coming to the northeast,” he said. “Then the world changed. We were isolated, logging onto Zoom or Google or Schoology or maybe you weren’t. We were separated. We were working from home, babysitting our siblings, rationing every item, giving each other haircuts. It was brutal—but somehow, you did it.”
“You did it” was a refrain that Killelea hit repeatedly in addressing the resilient students during an upbeat speech that recalled the strangeness of Plexiglass in the cafeteria, mask breaks, outdoor tents, arrows in the hallway and “the dreaded phone call in class when a student would have to go to the nurse and ‘bring all their stuff.’ ”
“It was insanity, but somehow you did it,” Killelea said.
The ceremony, pushed back from a midmorning to an early afternoon start due to rain, featured a welcome from class president Isabella Dial, Coldplay’s “Clocks” played by an NCHS string ensemble, moments of reflection from Class of ’22 members Mara Koschintzke and Ella O’Hare, comments from NCHS Principal Bill Egan, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, Board of Education Chair Katrina Parkhill and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi, and the singing of “An Irish Blessing” by NCHS Choral Program seniors.
Whatever environment confronted them, students who formed this graduating senior class “did it,” Killelea said.
“You were good at everything, every environment, every scenario. Classes, presentations tests in school or at home. Rehearsals and performances digitally or limited capacity. Practicing, competing in sports in cohorts with masks. As students, as people, these past four years have to be some sort of lesson. As a math teacher, I’m more of a bullet point guy, so in my infinite wisdom, I thought there were three points of emphasis.”
He urged the graduating seniors to show up, take a chance and exhibit humility and kindness.
“Make a call, throw a text, check in on your friends, hold a door for a person, talk to your neighbors, community members,” he said. “The old saying goes, “which is more important: the destination or the journey?” I think they forgot an option, it’s the company. We couldn’t have gotten through these four years without each other. All the people here at Dunning and watching on NCTV played a pivotal role in making today possible and you all did it.”