Today is graduation, for the Staples High School Class of 2022.
It’s a day of pomp and circumstance. The ceremony takes place outdoors, at Paul Lane Field — a welcome change from too many years in the stifling, cavernous, hard-to-hear fieldhouse.
Three valedictorians — they earned the same GPA, down to hundredths of a point — will share the stage. Two will address them; one will play the violin. That’s as it should be: It’s the students’ day.
But this is my blog. So I’ll take today to deliver my own graduation address. If I had the mic, I’d say:
You did it.
I have no idea how, but you did it.
I went to Staples too, back in the last century. I know that if I faced what you faced, I could not have done what you did. And my friends and classmates — many of whom still look back very fondly on our days here — could not have done it either.
We could not have coped with COVID the way you did.
One day, you were in school, living normal teenage lives. The next day you were home, isolated by a virus that ricocheted around the world.
School became a screen. Sports, drama, music, your social lives — all screeched to a halt. You were isolated at home, with parents who were terrified and teachers who struggled to find the “unmute” button.
What did you do?
You delivered meals (at a safe distance) to elderly neighbors. You sewed masks, created informational websites, and painted inspirational slogans on rocks. Every day, patiently, you reminded your teachers where the “unmute” button was.
You returned to school in the fall as juniors, but things were far from normal. You followed hybrid schedules and one-way arrows. In the cafeteria, Plexiglas shielded you from your friends. Your sports seasons were a shell of what you’d expected. Your Candlelight Concert was online.
Senior year has been better. You’re back in the classroom, on the fields and on stage. Plexiglas is gone; masks are optional.
But you have been forever changed by COVID. You have learned that the world is a dangerous place; that close human contact can be deadly; that the science you’ve learned since elementary school means nothing to some people.
The Depression left its mark on everyone who grew up then. Long after, living comfortable lives, adults ate everything on their plates; they still worried about their next meal. They switched off lights when they left rooms, to “save the electricity.”
I don’t know what the residual effects of the coronavirus will be on you. Yet it’s marked your lives in a way unimaginable when you entered Staples as freshmen.
But cast COVID aside. I know that when I was a teenager, I could not have dealt with all the pressures you face, with as much grace as you do.
It was hard enough being a teenager before Instagram offered instant, idealized versions of everyone else’s life; before a barrage of notifications demanded constant attention, responses and concern; before every photo was scrutinized, every text examined for clues to where one stands on the social ladder.
At all hours of the day. And night.
I know I could not have dealt with the academic pressures of a school like Staples. It was high-achieving then; now it’s exponentially tougher. We knew our grades four times a year: at the end of each quarter. Our parents knew only if we showed them our report cards.
As for college, it was a part of our thinking — but only a part. It did not consume our lives (and our parents’ lives) from middle school on. We visited a few (maybe); we applied; we got accepted; we went. And we did not worry about being in debt for the rest of our lives.
For many of you, this year’s college process was brutal. It’s tough to get into any school these days; it’s tougher still when there is so much focus on “the right” one.
I hate it when commencement speakers give advice, but WTF — I’ll do it anyway. Trust me: Wherever you go, you will do fine. Your Staples education has given you a huge advantage; so has growing up in this town (despite its many faults). You are smart, creative, persistent. You are well-prepared. You will rock whatever school you attend.
So stop worrying about college decals on the car, or what you think others think. Take courses that interest you, make interesting friends, then rock the next steps in your life.
You are a wonderful class, filled with talented, accomplished, energetic, caring and compassionate young men and women. You have given of yourselves in so many ways.
You have been Best Buddies and SLOBs (that’s a good thing). You have coached youth sports teams, taught religious school, and shown elementary and middle school kids that they should be proud of whoever they are.
And you’ve done it all — well, most of the time — quietly, with generosity and smiles.
I have spent much of this speech telling you that back in the day, I could not have done what you did, in your time at Staples.
This school served me well. I am proud of many things I have done.
I am not proud, however, of the world my generation is leaving to you. It’s a mess. We’ve broken many things: our climate. Our political system. Our faith in each other.
When I was at Staples, my friends and I were sure we would change the world.
We did. Just not in the way we planned.
So, Class of 2022: Congratulations on an astonishing 4 years. You have made your school, and our community, very proud. Thank you for navigating a very difficult time, in your own very special way. It’s not something I — and very few of your parents or grandparents — could have done.
The universe is yours. Go rock it.
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Fantastic speech! Along with the class of ‘22, you rock, too. Congrats to all the Staples graduates, and to you as well.
You said it all so beautifully, Dan!
Thanks Dan, a lovely message to the Class of 2022 ! I am printing it right now, for my daughter’s keep sake box. Thank you!
Well said Dan. I hope they all get to see it that amazing class of 22
Dan, great graduation speech. You think your generation screwed up. We gave the world B43! You’re right. This group is special. Great job 2022 Class!
Wonderfully written Dan! Beautiful. Congratulations to the clas of 2022
A friend told me last night that I would cry today. I didn’t think I would. I am so happy and excited for this class and ready for this day. And yet, here I am crying. You got me!
Thank you, Dan, for your message to the Staples Class of 2022!
An absolute perfect way to start the day my firstborn graduates from Staples. Thank you. Cheers to SHS Class of ’22!
This was amazing
Our son is graduating today!!! Thank you very much for this.
Bravo Dan!! So well written and articulated!! Thank you for sharing!
Dan, while I agree with a good part of what you have eloquently written, I think that a) you understate your own abilities and b) put way too much blame on our generation for certain crises today.
Re your claim that your could not have dealt with the “academic pressures of a school like Staples” today, my feeling is that, as we have said in discussions about sports, the great athletes of decades ago would be great athletes today if they had grown up in the same kind of environment. And, since you won (I believe) the Harvard Book Award back in the day while also having the writing skills and industriousness to land paid local newspaper assignments—writing columns about the Staples scene and articles about Staples soccer—I have no doubt you would have thrived at today’s Staples if born 50 years later.
And to say that “I know that when I was a teenager, I could not have dealt with all the pressures you face, with as much grace as you do.“—well, you had to deal with the pressure of being a gay kid hiding his sexual orientation who didn’t come out until he was in the 30s. I think that was much more difficult to deal with than what so many of the teens today face.
Finally, speaking of our generation, I think it is unfair to make it seem as if the world is a mess because of our peers. To the contrary, for example, one of my college classmates was the founder of a CT environmental group and ultimately became prez of the Environmental Defense Fund, my wife was very active in the women’s rights movement in its early years, and, last but not least, LGBTQ high school kids are in a much better place today thanks to your efforts. I know so many people from our generation who have dedicated themselves to important public interest and community work—and all of this has resulted in a variety of improvements from when we were growing up.
And, hey, we did not create the Electoral College, gerrymandering, or the structure of the US Senate.😐
In any case, kudos to the graduating class and I hope the weather holds so that you can have an outdoors ceremony.
Dan, mea culpa: I meant to write that you didn’t come out til your 40s. (And the same was true of our classmate and friend Andy Lewis.)
30s. But who’s counting?
Wasn’t it 1994 in your column in the Westport News? And isn’t that when the soccer team became aware of it? I recall that wonderful story you later told about the captain coming up to you in the cafeteria and being so supportive.
Beautiful speech and you said what so many of us are thinking and feeling. Life is not the same but this class of 2022 will astound us. My daughter was the class of 87 and it was a different generation. The “yearbook” tells the story and it was WILD in comparison to today’s restrictions. THANKS AGAIN!
Beautifully written! Congratulations to all the 2022 graduates!
Bravo Dan! Beautifully written to the class of 2022 and all of us…I’m actually sending it to my granddaughter who is graduating high school next week. Congratulations to all!
Thank you for this post, Dan. Beautifully written!
This was absolutely wonderful!! Beautifully written!!!
Well said Dan! One of your best…Congratulations and good luck to all of Staples Class of 2022
Congratulations Staples Class of 2022!!
Well said; I’m glad you told them to take courses in things they liked .
ADW Staples 1956
So well said. Thank you!!
Wonderful piece, Dan! Brought tears to my eyes as well. Will share with my three Staples graduates. The oldest one’s graduation was that last one held outside!
Dan, you are Westport’s treasure! Excellent piece!
Wow – didn’t expect to be sobbing this early in the day but here we are. This is beautiful, Dan!!
Thanks Dan. As my Staples class, Class of 1982, gets ready for its 40th reunion this year, these words resonate…..I don’t remember what was said on our graduation day, but would like to think it was as thoughtful as what you have written here……And for those of my classmates who have not yet gotten the message, the reunion is scheduled for August 6th.
So much for knowing how to Spell my own last name
Thank you, Dan, for your exceptionally wise words. What a gift to the Class of 2022 – and to our community.
Well said, as always! And a HUGE thanks to you Dan for supporting and promoting our kids every step of the way. We have to hope that those little obstacles (and masks) have only made these kids stronger. Congrats Staples Class of 2022!!!
Dan, I had a different experience at Staples (back in the day) but I’ve always admired the love you have for our alma mater. In terms of sharing life’s gifts and making the most of the education Staples offered you can hold your own with any Stapleite, past, present and future. It’s what’s kept you young.
You got my tears flowing. Thank you for connecting the dots. Time is flying by and yes these challenging times have really showed us all how strong and resilient our students are. This is a great bunch of kind young adults! I am proud of them all!
One thing I differ with is when concern about college started. I graduated class of 1978, I believe one year after Dan. I wouldn’t say things were like they are now back then. I have two kids in college right now, and indeed we spent much more time and effort considering colleges than I recall doing. However, I do also recall starting to look at the college catalogs in the main office as early as sophomore year, and I had a list of chosen colleges to apply to by the end of junior year. It is “exponentially” more complex now, but the process wasn’t a casual and short-term as Dan describes. At least not for me.
Thanks, David. I was Class of ’71. (My sister Laurie was in your class.) I think a lot changed in 7 years. We were at the tail end of the “do your own thing” college application experience. Everyone’s mileage varies, of course!
Yeah I would say there would be a big difference between ’71 and ’78. My sister was class of ’77. She and I both went on multiple college visits. Of course we didn’t have the vast data available now, but there were published guides and of course guidance counselors at Staples. That collection of catalogs in the main office was actually a good database for its time.
This article was beautifully written! brought tears to my eyes
Best of luck to you All 👏👏👏
What has changed, over the generations from when I graduated from Staples in 1953, is that the high school-age young women and men of today are seen as “adults-in-progress.” In the post-Korean war period, when I emerged from Staples, (and enlisted in the Navy) we were seen (at best) as “you kids.” “And some day, when You Kids get really old (like being parents) you will magically inhale what being grown up is really like. Bravo, Dan!
TBH, the Class of 2020 had it way worse. No Prom, no Graduation, no fun Senior Slide. I had kids in both years, these 2022 kids went thru stuff, but their Senior year was business as usual. Luckily they have four years of college in hopes that the global recession is resolved and the job market is once again hot.
Nicely said Dan.