David Gusick: “The Graduation Speech For Parents No One Asked Me To Write”

The other day, reader David Gusick took this pre-prom picture, and sent it to “06880.”

. (Photo/David Gusick)

Tomorrow, more than 450 seniors graduate from Staples High School.

Today — inspired by the prom, the rest of the graduation activities, and the upcoming commencement — he addresses his son Sam, and the rest of the Class of 2019:

You may think this is your day. But it’s our day too.

I am not the class valedictorian, nor do I wear any fancy robes or caps to indicate that I am a man of letters. But reaching certain milestones, no matter who you are, is a good time to gather thoughts, reflect and write them down.

So I did. And so should you.

Sorry, kids. This speech is for your parents. But you may still want to listen. You might learn something.

Staples graduates listen to Dave Gusick’s speech. Or at least, the Class of ’18 listened to someone last year.

While you may think this day is all about you — and to a certain extent it is — I’m here to help educate you that today is just as much about us parents, and the blood, sweat and tears we shed to help get you here today.

Almost every parent here today should agree that you, our children, are our crowning achievement. The greatest thing most of us will ever create. To see you successfully pass this milestone is just as much a testament to our hard work as it is for yours.

Even before you were born, “the worry” began. With each phase of your life, new worries begin. Because with every opportunity comes risks.

As newborns, you gave us a literal wake-up call (typically at 2 a.m.) that our lives no longer belonged to just us.

As babies you relied on us for everything. Your survival literally depended on us.

As toddlers we had our introduction to the “great letting go,” as we exchanged our control for your independence.

In a late-summer ritual, this eager group of Caccamo Lane and Juniper Road kids waited for the first bus of the year. (Photo/Pam Long)

That is the time we moved to Westport from New York. It was shortly after 911, and just before our son’s 2nd birthday.

Like many of you, we moved here for the schools. Westport schools always rank near the top in the state and nation. Plus, Westport had Bar Method classes, which my wife didn’t think existed outside of Manhattan.

We made new friends quickly with other parents who were also new to the area.

When kindergarten started, our playgroups scattered to the 5 elementary schools. While we remained friends with some families, our attention focused on families who attended our elementary schools.

Having children that age and younger is perhaps the closest your family will ever be. You go everywhere and do everything together. You are a team.

While certain children are easier than others, raising any child is never easy. Having children forces us to be our better selves. Whether you like it or not you are now their teacher, coach, mentor and role model.

Elementary school activities are perhaps the most difficult to watch as parents. The orchestra sounds like a beached whale begging to be euthanized.

The first year kids pitch in youth baseball is mostly watching them walk around the bases as pitchers futilely try to avoid hitting the backstop and batter.

For generations, a rite of growing up.

You attend these recitals, games, tournaments, performances year after year after year. At first their progress is so incremental you barely notice their advancement.

Then comes the middle school phase. The kids keep getting better and better, accelerating with seemingly no end in sight. Next thing you know, they’re going to the Little League World Series!

Finally, high school.

We come back together. One school, one community: Staples. Now our lives, schedules and friendships are driven by YOUR activities, practices, rehearsals.

This message is for parents and students.

To be a healthy and happy adult, it is important to understand closure. Having unfinished business — especially with your parents — will stunt your future growth. You can blame us for any of your problems, but know this: We did the best we could with what we had to work with. We did what we thought was best. As did our parents before us. As will you, too.

A parent’s job — and joys — never ends.

Only understanding, acceptance and closure will prepare us for our next chapter, and our continued growth.

Parents are no longer the gods you saw us as when you were little. We are flawed. To maintain that pretense would be a disservice to you.

I love the annual ritual of Staples’ Back to School Night. It a reunion of sorts for us parents. I jokingly refer to it as “back together.” Many of the couples we knew starting out are no longer together. But for one night we return to the way things used to be.

Now there is a weariness, from years of work and worry. For ourselves and our children, that took a toll.

And so it goes.

As you become upperclassmen, you make some sort of invisible leap.

Part of the payoff for Dave Gusick: Watching his son Sam (3rd from left) in Staples Players’  “Twelve Angry Men.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

The musical ensembles are now pitch perfect. You sound like a single instrument. Your performances are infused with so much emotion that it brings grown men to tears. Seeing a Staples Players production is almost always better than seeing a Broadway show. The quality and standards are so high, and they are performed by our kids, for our town.

Just last week people posted prom pictures. Kids I hadn’t seen since nursery school have grown into such handsome and beautiful young adults!

You are now quicker, stronger, faster, sharper, more inquisitive and engaged than we are.

It is natural to feel nervous and scared about what comes next. I know I am. We have worked 18 years to help you be the best person you can be. To equip you with the skills you need to take care of yourself, and cope with all of the challenges life will throw your way.

To the graduating seniors: You are no longer children. Yet no matter how old you become, even when you are in your 50s and  60s we will refer to you as “our children.”

When each of you walk up to accept your diploma, there will be a community of people extending beyond your parents who have quietly rooted for you and your success.

So that brings us to today. Take a moment to forgive your parents for any mistakes you think we made. Thank us for the innumerable sacrifices you never saw. No matter how you feel about us, your happiness and growth have always been our #1 priority. In return, we asked for almost nothing.

Finally, to the parents: Our job will always be to listen. And to love.

Thank you.

In Death, The Gift Of Life

Like many others, Dan Levinson moved from New York to Westport when his children were young. He thought it would be a great place to raise kids.

He was right. He grew to love the town, and has been active in many non-profit organizations here and in Bridgeport.

Like some others, his father — Peritz Levinson — moved in with the Levinsons late in life. He too learned to love the beach, Longshore, the library and Senior Center.

Peritz died a year later. Unlike many others, however, his death was not frightening, painful or brutal.

Instead, it was powerful. It was meaningful.

And now it’s become the impetus for an intriguing, important book project.

Peritz Levinson spent his life in Cincinnati. That’s where he took care of his own parents, until they died.

Peritz Levinson, with a very young Dan.

A psychiatrist, he came to Westport when he was 90. His wife had died, and he was ailing. He did not want to impose on his son.

Peritz need not have worried. He had prepared to die. During the last year of his life, he “became transcendent,” Dan says. “He was less present, but more brilliant.”

As they heard Dan talk about his father’s death, people who befriended Peritz during his last year — Sue Pfister at the Senior Center, Bill Harmer of the Westport Library, Sharon Bradley at Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County — encouraged Dan to write about the experience.

Peritz and Dan Levinson take a selfie.

He realized there were other stories out there, of “good deaths.” He decided to find them, find writers to tell them, and collect them in a book.

“Beautiful Exits: Sparking Local Conversation on Dying Well” will be “hyperlocal,” he says, featuring 10 stories from Westport.

“It’s not a book for the world. But I think it can influence a lot of people.”

For much of history, Dan notes, death was seen as a natural part of life. People died at home, surrounded by loved ones. But advances in technology and medicine have made us think we need to “fight and scrap,” to put off the inevitable end of our days.

Peritz Levinson, enjoying his son Dan’s back yard.

Peritz Levinson had thought for years about death. He was a founding member of Exit International. The non-profit organization wants to ensure that all rational adults have access to the best available information, so they can make informed decisions about when and how they die.

“My father wanted to be present as he died,” Dan says. “He was calm. He had clarity.”

The final 3 months in particular were “spectacular.”

Dan took his father to meaningful places. Peritz loved the beach. At Elvira’s, Stacy gave him rice pudding. When they drove through the golf course, people waved. Dan’s son Jesse — Peritz’s grandson — was around for much of the time too.

Peritz Levinson, surrounded by (clockwise from lower left), his grandchildren Andie, Adam and Jesse, plus Andie’s fiance Steve and Adam’s girlfriend Hayley.

“It was beautiful,” Dan says. “We had quality time, and closure. There was acceptance and peace.”

Dan is fully aware that his family’s experience is rare. Part of the reason for the book is to spark conversations about dying.

He’s identified many of the 10 stories — and 10 writers — for the book. He only needs a couple of both.

Estelle Margolis, longtime activitst and a Westporter who prepared well for her own death.

Longtime civic volunteer and political activist Estelle Margolis, for example, prepared well for her own death. Her grandson will write her story. Rev. Alison Patton and her husband Craig would like to tell the story of someone still living, now making preparations before death.

“Beautiful Exits” will also include a short piece by assistant town attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug framing the history and legal issues, and another by State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, a proponent of a proposed law that would allow a terminally ill patient with 6 months to live to take his or her own life.

Retired Unitarian Universalist minister Frank Hall may also contribute a piece about death and dying.

Artist Miggs Burroughs might create some of his young-and-old lenticular images for the book.

Someone told Dan, “Your father gave you his life. And he gave you his death.”

Now Dan Levinson is passing on that gift, just as his dad did: with honesty, clarity, grace and love.

Pic Of The Day #790

Westport is decked out in purple, for Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Week. Through Saturday, Tavern on Main features a violet gin cocktail; LaRouge by Aarti handmade chocolates is donating 10% of sales of purple hand-painted chocolates to Alzheimer’s Connecticut, and Spotted Horse will donate 20% of sales on Thursday, while featuring a specialty Purple People Eater cocktail.

(Photo/Marcy Sansolo)

It All Depends On What “Any Time” Means

Seen at Wakeman Field:

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

If you’re going to ignore the sign, at least park a few yards away. That way you can at least “pretend” you didn’t see it.

Meatball Shop Serving EMS Fundraiser On Saturday

The sign promised The Meatball Shop would open this spring.

They’ll miss by a day.

But what a great “soft” opening the 8th restaurant in the New York-based chain promises.

The shop — which replaces The ‘Port in National Hall, on the banks of the Saugatuck River — hosts a preview party this Saturday (June 22, 5:30 to 8 p.m.).

Guests will enjoy a tasting menu of (duh) meatballs, plus seasonal dishes, wine and beer.

A meal to look forward to.

The Meatball Shop is certainly getting involved in the community. 100% of all ticket purchases go directly to the Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Services team.

The Judy Michaelis Group is organizing the event, with sponsorship from Hightower RDM Financial Group (across Wilton Road, in the Wright Street building).

The official opening is a few days later. If you can’t wait — and/or if you want to support Westport’s great EMS program — click here for tickets.

Photo Challenge #233

Back in the day, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the backs of stores on the west side of Main Street. Pipes discharged raw sewage directly into the river.

And no one really thought twice about it.

Parker Harding Plaza was built in the mid-1950s. Now the river is much narrower — hemmed in by concrete on the eastern side.

Yet water is still dumped into the river — as shown in Amy Schneider’s image, aka last week’s Photo Challenge. Of course, it’s a lot cleaner today.

Brett Adams, Diane Silfen, Seth Schachter, Seth Braunstein, Jonathan McClure, Patrick Church, Joelle Malec, Fred Rubin, Brian Senatore, Amelie Babkie and Bobbi Essagof all knew that Amy’s shot was taken near the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, close to Starbucks. It’s a fairly common sight — if you know where and when to look. (Click here for the photo.)

Today’s image is not hard to identify. It’s a glorious aerial autumn view of Staples High School, by Larry Untermeyer:

But that’s not the challenge. The question is: Where in Westport would you see this photo?

If you know, click “Comments” below.

Lindsay Dry: Peace, Love And Posters

Lindsay Dry was born more than 30 years after Woodstock.

Lindsay Dry

But she sure gets the “peace, love and happiness” vibe that (kind of) filled Max Yasgur’s farm that historic August weekend in 1969.

So when Lindsay — a Staples High School senior in Carla Eichler’s graphic design class — heard about a “Peace, Love and Posters” national contest commemorating the original bird-on-guitar logo (“and visually expressing values of kindness, community and aspirations for the next 50 years”), she went to work.

And what a work she created! Lindsay won 1st place — and $500 — in the 18-and-under category.

Lindsay Dry’s award-winning poster …

The other day, she was honored at a ceremony by the sponsor, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The 800-acre campus — located on the actual Woodstock site — focuses on community and educational programming. The goal is to keep the issues and lessons of the ’60s alive, while inspiring a new generation to contribute positively to the world.

Far out!

… and the original.

And That Reminds Me: Readers Respond

Last week, I asked readers — those who now live far beyond here — to send photos that remind them of “home.”

Images of a place, a thing, a person — all were fine. Whatever stirs your heart and soul was good.

Submissions came from as far as the West Coast. Here are some of the scenes that — no matter what your zip code — say “06880.”

Stephen Doig says Alki Beach in West Seattle reminds him of Compo (including the rocks) from his 1960s lifeguarding days. I’m struck by how similar the curvature is to the view from Old Mill towards Hillspoint — including the height of the hills in the background. All that’s missing in Westport is a Space Needle.

This scene in Cannon Beach, Oregon reminds Brenda Magnes of Westport beach cottages.

Westport Way — in Laguna Niguel, California — reminded Fred Cantor of his hometown.

John Mirk says Ojai, California reminds him of the Westport he grew up in: “We’re surrounded by orange orchards instead of apple farms, but there is still a nice semi-rural feel.” Every spring he recalls Staples Players, as he builds sets with high school drama students. This photo is from the latest production, “Crazy For You.” He and his wife started volunteering when their son was a high school freshman. Twenty years later, he’s worked on everything from “Guys and Dolls” to “Into the Woods” (both of which Players has done too). John says, “It’s still a thrill every year to see a set take shape on stage, then watch the amazing performances that high school kids are capable of.”

Susan Stevens von Schenk moved to Westport in 1961, and lived there until the late ’80’s. She remembers Main Street, and “all the wonderful stores. It was busy, filled with people shopping and walking around. I have fond memories of the art festival held every year too.” She now lives in Columbia, South Carolina. Every Saturday morning, several blocks of her Main Street are closed to traffic for the Soda City Market. The food, artists and handicraft vendors always remind her of old Westport.

Peter Barlow says: “For decades I enjoyed the Bridge Street Bridge, re-named for Officer Cribari after I moved away. There is something similar where I live now.
The White Rock Bridge is about 2 miles north of Westerly (RI)/Pawcatuck (CT), and my house. This part was originally a railway bridge for a 22-mile trolley line built in 1906. Now it’s a splendid sidewalk with a view. But it’s not easy to get to. There are no sidewalks or even shoulders on White Rock Road.

Brenda Magnes crosses the Bridge of the Gods over Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge a few times a month. She used the William Cribari Bridge over the Saugatuck River daily in Westport — and recalls it every time she takes this bridge these days.

Jeff Booth is no longer a Westporter. But every time he sees this — which he swiped from his movie theater workplace in 1979 — he remembers his home town.

Susan Farewell and her husband Tom Seligson recently moved to Essex, Connecticut. She took this photo at the Pettipaug Rowing Club. It reminds her of the many beautiful sunsets they enjoyed at their Compo Beach house.

For Marc Selverstone, — now of Charlottesville, Virginia — there’s no better reminder of Westport than this truck .

Pics Of The Day #789

The Yankee Doodle Fair was packed last night. It runs till 10 p.m. tonight, at the Westport Woman’s Club (44 Imperial Avenue). Tomorrow is the last day: 1 to 5 p.m. Don’t miss it!

(Photo/Lee Scharfstein)

(Photo/Kristina Bory)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Chad: Challenger Baseball’s Shining Knight

Chad Knight has a sparkling resume.

Last week the Staples High School senior captained his baseball team to their 2nd state championship in 3 years. In 2013 Chad starred on the Westport squad that reached the finals of the Little League World Series.

He’s been drafted by the New York Yankees — but he’s heading first to Duke University. He’s also an excellent piano player.

Yet one of his many other recent honors — Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year — led to an especially fine moment.

As part of Gatorade’s Play It Forward Fund, Chad was given $1,000 to pass on to any national or local youth sports organization of his choice.

He chose Westport Little League’s Challenger Division. That’s the very successful program for boys and girls with disabilities.

Chad Knight (rear, center, white shirt) and Challenger commissioner Beth Cody (front, blue shirt) join Challenger players, buddies, and Staples baseball players today.

Chad’s generosity came from the heart. Throughout the years he has served as a “buddy” to the players. He always found time to help out. He loved the youngsters, and they adored him.

In appreciation of Chad’s gift, commissioner Beth Cody announced that Gatorade is the official drink of the Westport Winners challenger team. Today at Meyer Field, she presented Chad with a bottle with his name, number and the Westport Winners name.

Starting this fall, every Challenger player will get one too.

It was a quick, fun ceremony, before Westport took on Norwalk in their final game of the season.

Then Chad headed off to his next celebration: his own graduation party.

In 2014, Chad Knight (right) was a Challenger buddy with Dylan Curran. Dylan is now manager of the state champion Staples baseball team, and still plays with the Westport Winners.