NEW BRITAIN - Berlin High School graduates balanced praise with advice as their four-year journeys culminated at commencement Sunday inside the Welte Auditorium of Central Connecticut State University.
Salutatorian Hannah Schulz used metaphors from “The Wizard of Oz” to bid her classmates farewell, while puzzles were the focus of class President Benjamin Kall’s address.
“It’s true that high school has been our most challenging puzzle thus far; however, I guarantee the next portion of our lives will push us beyond what we thought possible,” said Kall, the first to speak during the afternoon ceremony. “I challenge you to solve every puzzle in your life to the best of your ability. When you take that step back to see all that you have accomplished there will be no better feeling.”
Schulz took Kall’s puzzles and flung them into a tornado, reminding students that they have the strength to conquer any disaster in which they find themselves.
“High school is a lot like getting hit by a twister. There are a lot of things that are flung at you and before you know it, it’s all over in a blur,” she began, highlighting distinctive Berlin rituals that define the town’s younger generation.
“I’m sure all of us will have a funny feeling next year when we don’t have Berlin Fair Friday to get us through September or Officer Kostka or Kemmling to start our days of with a ‘good morning.’ There are so many traditions that we must leave behind, like the feeling of the lights on Friday nights at Sage, or tug-of-wars at pep rallies.”
Having reached the end of their “yellow brick road” graduates have new challenges ahead, Schulz pointed out.
“When you feel like giving up, you may not have a pair of ruby slippers and three clicks to get you back home, but remember what you have been given: a brain, a heart and courage.”
As students walked the stage to receive their diplomas one by one Sunday, a sense of sadness fell over their proud procession. For one would-be graduate was unable to participate.
Nicholas Zuk died last June after a battle with leukemia, devastating fellow classmates and the town. Zuk’s family accepted an honorary degree for him toward the end of commencement exercises.
Perhaps acknowledging this offered students an extra dose of impetus, having a chance to move forward in honor of their classmate.
“The person you are in this present moment doesn’t have to be the person you’ll become,” Valedictorian Jessica Jha said. “If you aren’t happy with how things are, change them. Be excited for the future because so many of your life’s most cherished moments are still to come. There is so much to look forward to, so many wonderful things that haven’t happened yet. Take responsibility for your life, and become the person you’ve always dreamed of being.”
The principal and a selection committee chose one student essayist to present his or her words at this year’s ceremony, beginning a new tradition.
Lauren Nguyen’s piece, “One Plus One,” was selected from about 10 entries. She took what most consider a simple math equation and turned it into an existentialist concept in an address that was part prose and part oratory. “Now that we have reached the end of senior year and are taking our first steps into adulthood, let’s realize that the answer to one plus one is not two,” Nguyen said.
“It is whatever you want it to be. It can be a number, a word, a person ... or a dream. One plus one equals your heart. The path to success that you are illustrating, there is no wrong picture,” she continued. “There is no deadline, no set guidelines. All you have to do is follow your heart and let your passion tell you what to draw.”
For Melody Zielke, that picture will be drawn at CCSU. The graduate plans to study theater and music there this fall.
“I’m excited to continue my craft here,” she said Sunday outside Welte Hall.
Principal Francis Kennedy offered the class a bit of personal encouragement:
“Please continue to be courageous in sharing your thoughts and beliefs, while maintaining the grace and intellectual discipline to hear the viewpoints of others,” he said. “As you have learned, when perspectives differ from your own, it is especially important for you to listen and understand disparate positions - they will help to inform, refine, and reinforce your own.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.