Melissa Beretta: “This Place Will Always Be A Part Of You”

Melissa Beretta’s baccalaureate speech last Thursday night nailed it.

The Staples High School salutatorian talked insightfully about the importance of Westport as home. She paid tribute to the people and experiences her town and school provided her. She did it with wit, wisdom, grace and maturity. It’s a speech worth savoring.

Melissa began by saying that — contrary to popular myth — most students did not spend every Saturday night partying. Many watched television — shows like “Gossip Girl” and “The Office.” From time to time, Melissa tried to emulate characters she saw on TV. She noted that some of her best lessons in high school came not from a teacher or coach, but from a TV show. In fact, she said, many of her life philosophies — including the following example — come from “One Tree Hill.”

Melissa explained:

Melissa Beretta, Class of 2014 salutatorian.

Melissa Beretta, Class of 2014 salutatorian

In the show, Karen Roe says to her son, Lucas, “In your life, you are going to go to some great places, and you’re going to do some wonderful things. But no matter where you go, or who you become, this place will always be with you.”

Now, to a girl who has lived in the same house for 18 years, who loves her family, and who seriously contemplated failing Culinary so she wouldn’t have to graduate, this insight struck me as nothing short of brilliant.

We, the class of 2014, are immensely lucky to have grown up in a place like Westport. Our hometown is nurturing and cutthroat. Its people are both open-minded and occasionally biased. It breeds both innocence and worldliness. Each of these traits can be positive, even while they seem contradictory.

On any given Saturday you can find a father sitting in the bleachers at a Little League baseball game, screaming at his son to keep his eye on the ball. Mothers stay up sewing rhinestones onto dance costumes so that their daughters will get the role of Clara in the annual Nutcracker. And parents check Home Access Center every day, but don’t understand that “incomplete” may be your teacher’s way of saying your test hasn’t been graded yet.

I’m not going to stand up here and tell you our town is perfect. Because it’s not. We have bullies and peer pressure. We are overscheduled and sometimes overwhelmed. But at the same time, we have so many things to be proud of.

When I was writing this speech, I started by listing the negatives of growing up in a place like Westport and how those can be advantageous. I wanted to highlight all of the things we take for granted. But as I wrote my first draft, I felt as if I were trying to capture everyone’s experiences growing up here as if they were all the same.

All of us are wildly fortunate to have grown up in Westport and to have gone to Staples. However, we are lucky for different reasons.

Staples High School means many things to many people.

Staples High School means many things to many people.

Some of us are lucky because we found refuge in the classroom.

In 10th grade I had the good fortune to be in a class with 21 other sophomores, taking the first-ever AP US History class offered to underclassmen. At first, I did not want to take it. I hated social studies, I definitely hated history, and I absolutely hated the very large summer assignment given to us by Mr. Heaphy.

We left the room on the first day, some of us terrified, others quite confident. Most of us were not friends.

This is how many classes begin.

Daniel Heaphy (Photo/Inklings)

Daniel Heaphy (Photo/Inklings)

In the beginning, we clung to those we knew and those we were comfortable with. But as class went on and Heaphy’s eager spirit and sense of humor drew us in, we became a family. Soon, we were teasing, interrupting, and laughing without realizing that the barriers between us had broken down.

In my 4 years at Staples, I’ve had many classes like this. The progression is the same. We find refuge with peers who scare us, and with teachers who scare us even more.

Some of us are lucky because we found refuge on a field, on a stage, on a court, or in a club

As a freshman, I had the daunting task of finding my place on the Staples tennis team, made up primarily of upperclassmen. Others found themselves in similar situations. We each had the task of fitting in to a new group, with a new set of rules and endless possibilities. We watched year by year as seniors left and freshmen joined. These families formed and morphed. We each got a taste of something special, something that made our experience in high school different and memorable.

Staples made that possible. Westport made that possible.

Lots of you are probably sitting in the audience right now kind of hating your parents for making you come, kind of hating me for continuing to talk, and kind of loving the fact that tomorrow you will be out of here for good.

I get it: We are going on to the next chapter of our lives. Independence. Freedom. Money. Love. Excitement. All of these lie just around the corner.

Staples High School Class of 2013But some of you, like me, are already nostalgic for that teacher who’s inspired you, that kid who always says hi to you in the halls, or this school that’s been your home for 4 years. Some of you — hopefully most of you — realize that, while at Staples, we’ve already been given independence, freedom, money, love, and excitement.

“No matter where you go or who you become, this place will always be with you.” I’ve heard those words 100 times, and they will stay with me forever.

Westport has given us all so much, and Staples is at the center of that. Remember, as you go on to your exciting new home, that no matter what happens down the road, this place, your hometown, will always be a part of you. Be proud and embrace it.

We are unbelievably lucky.

Thank you.


9 responses to “Melissa Beretta: “This Place Will Always Be A Part Of You”

  1. Debbie Wilson Hoult

    Wow Melissa. 41 years on from my Staples graduation, your thoughts resonate with my great fortune to have grown up in Westport; experience all that Staples offered and recognize that it all is still a part of me, of which i am proud!

  2. Tom Allen '66

    Ditto for me, Debbie (and Melissa) — and it’s been 48 years.

  3. Betty Lou Cummings

    Bravo Melissa…A great & loving speech for us all in Westport…The Best to you always. Betty Lou Cummings

  4. Congrats, Melissa! Nice speech.

  5. Ellen Wentworth

    I did not grow up in Westport or lived anywhere like it. I moved here almost 21 years ago and have grown to love this town. What drew me to Westport was friends I had made while living in NY and my new passion for golf.
    This young lady has so eloquently put into words her experiences and I can almost believe that I was there, but have the feeling that although I am here now I can never forgot where I came from or the lessons I learned back in New York.

  6. Taylor, Charlie



    Charles Taylor
    Director of Major Gifts
    Vanderbilt University
    School of Engineering
    Mailing address:
    PMB 401531
    Nashville, TN 37240-1531

  7. What an eloquent and thoughtful speech. That, along with the warm and inspiring video from last week graduation festivities you posted last Friday, has only reinforced my faith in our schools and its students. Thanks

  8. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Tom and Debbie, my feelings exactly! I graduated 45 years ago from Staples and everything Melissa said pertains to me today as much as it did on the day of graduation, June 19, 1969! We are about to have our 45th reunion in August and I can’t wait to see my old friends and some new ones and share how much we love Westport and Staples High School and the teachers and support staff who helped us through! All the best to the class of 2014! We are all so fortunate to have lived here in Westport and attended Staples!

  9. Bev Breault

    I have graduated 62 yrs. ago from Staples & our classes 1951 & 1952 still to this day have class reunions every 5 yrs. We have at least 85% turnout & it’s like we have never left. We have so much fun & have remained very close even though we are spread all over the U.S we couldn’t wait another 5 yrs! Maybe because we are all turning or are 80 yrs old(OMG) but still have the spirit we had at Staples, we are having a very last one this August at the Fairfield Hunt Club. The last one was 2 yrs ago. But, alas, we are coming to the end. However most of us keep in touch by email, phone, and even take trips together. We loved Staples & Westport so much we had a reunion for anyone that attended Staples in Sarasota, FL every year until our organizer, Lou Santella, past away. We had at least up to 60 people attend. My friends and neighbors here (Sarasota) just can’t believe we still have so many friends from high school. All I can say is that Westport & Staples High School have become part of our DNA so the town & school will be with us wherever we go.