WESTFIELD - It was a day filled with thanks as the Class of 2012 celebrated the completion of its education at Westfield Academy and Central School.
The morning brought a bright blue sky, allowing the 175th commencement ceremony to be held on the high school football field at the standing-room only affair on Saturday, June 23. With the boys in blue and the girls in white, the 71 students walked in to Kent Knappenberger playing "Pomp and Circumstance."
After a welcome by Class President Alec Freyn and the Pledge of Allegiance, WACS Superintendent David Davison congratulated the students on the achievement of graduating. Davison said he finds it funny young people get asked what they are going to do in their future, expecting them to have a pre-determined answer, even though he quoted statistics that a United States worker will have seven different jobs in their life after the age of 21.
Photo by Jenna Loughlin
Westfield Academy and Central School Valedictorian Alex Freyn spoke during the school’s graduation ceremony on the football field on Saturday, June 23.
The advice he gave to the students came from Steve Jobs and Davison's own mother. From Jobs, he encouraged the students to do great work and love what they do.
"You will find it. Keep looking and don't settle," Davison said. "As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."
From his mother, he told the students to work hard, don't let frustration get the best of them, be humble, smile, be courteous and respectful, and to have the courage to follow their heart and intuition.
"My advice to you is when you leave this field today ... take what lies within all of you - the love and support of your family and friends, the lessons you have learned throughout these past 13 years, your hopes and dreams and the promise to yourself to make those dreams come true -this is what will make you successful in any of your endeavors," Davison said.
Margaret Sauer, the interim superintendent for most of the 2011-12 school year, offered her congratulations through Davison to the class as well. Davison said she had hoped to be able to attend the ceremony, but in the end was unable to do so.
Valedictorian Freyn suggested his fellow students take advice from a line spoken by the character Han Solo in "Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back," "Never tell me the odds." To Freyn, the quote means to defy the odds by taking risks and taking chances. His use of a "Star Wars" moment as inspiring was reminiscent of the 2011 Valedictorian Michael Bova playing the "Star Wars" theme song and 2011 Salutatorian Zachary Kitchen bringing up Anakin Skywalker's epic adventure.
Freyn used J. K. Rowling, author of the "Harry Potter" series, as an example of someone who defied the odds as a single mother on welfare who had lost everything but her talent and ideas.
"Determination and perseverance will allow you to learn from your failures and attempt to achieve the impossible," Freyn said. "Even when the odds are stacked against you, there is still the opportunity to overcome."
He used this year's graduating class as an example, noting some of its accomplishments - the track team winning the Division III title for the first time in 45 years with only a cinder track to practice on, being the only school in state history to attend the All-State music festival three years in a row and sending 12 students to the national We the People competition.
"We've achieved the extraordinary in so many different ways," Freyn said.
He thanked the Westfield teachers for supporting the class and pushing them to accomplish great things and the parents who have given encouragement.
"I am so thankful that I live in a town that values its youth and education so greatly," Freyn said.
He left those in attendance with this thought, "Let nothing stand between you and your passion. It's better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all."
Salutatorian Joseph Marshall, joked that his reward for 13 years of hard work was one last homework assignment, his speech. He shared his philosophy of the past year, that of not letting his fears guide his actions. Normally a shy, nervous person, Marshall said he joined clubs, worked on the yearbook and even attended prom.
With mixed feelings about graduation day and what will happen in the future, Marshall compared the Class of 2012 to a family, going through so much together.
"How many of us can honestly say that our classmates have not affected us in any way," he said.
On behalf of the entire class, Marshall thanked the community, the faculty, parents, friends and family for their continued help and support.
"It may not always have been easy, but we are always going to be grateful for all you have done without every asking for anything in return" he said. "We are who we are and where we are because of all of you."
The commencement address was given by 1987 WACS graduate Matthew Young, an Andrew U. Thomas Professor of History at Marietta College in Ohio where he is currently the department chair. On the 25th anniversary of his own high school graduation, Young encouraged the students to talk to and get to know people, even people they do not agree with.
As a professor, Young considers himself a coinsure of commencement speeches, though he admitted this would be the first he has given. He also commented on the characterization of the class as a family by Marshall as something remarkable, noting that among his own students he has seen this generation do a better job of working together and having a clearer sense of the value of community. He told the students true meaning can be found when an individual has gotten outside of themselves and grasped onto something bigger than one's self.
For Young, real relationships with others is what life is about, really knowing other people. He challenged the students to consider relationships with those who are not friends and family, who do not think the same way, who disagree in a fundamental way, who have different backgrounds and perspectives. Young did this during a year teaching English in China which forced him to look outside himself and begin to understand others on their own terms.