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.”
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.
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.
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.
But 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.