Grounded in the past, eyes on the future: Ludlowe Class of '14 celebrates graduation

The hours leading up to Wednesday's commencement exercises for the Fairfield Ludlowe High School Class of 2014 were "pure excitement" for Kayla Beck.

As she stood on the school's football field after the tassels had been turned and the mortar boards tossed, the future University of Vermont student admitted, she is "kind of nervous" about college. "But I'm so ready for those next steps. I feel very prepared."

All around her was an exuberant sort of chaos as the 361 members of the graduating class picked up their diplomas, hugged friends, searched for families and, in a few cases, lit celebratory cigars.

Caroline Araujo, who will be heading to Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, said she spent the day being happy, and just a little apprehensive of the future, as well as slightly saddened about saying goodbye. With diploma in hand, she said, "Now that it's done, I'm happy."

This year's Ludlowe commencement exercises deviated a bit from the previous eight years, Headmaster Greg Hatzis explained. When the students' final GPAs were calculated to determine who would be valedictorian and who would be salutatorian, two students were in a statistical dead heat. So, for the first time in the short history of this high school, there were co-valedictorians -- Ellie Schroeder and Kevin Warten.

"Wherever life leads you," Schroeder advised classmates, "remember, it's okay not to have a plan."

She recalled the day that students in the Class of 2014 started studies at Ludlowe as freshman on Sept. 1, 2010. "It was a nerve-wracking day for all of us," she recalled. "We preoccupied ourselves about everything ... I was about 20 minutes late for all my classes."

Now, however, the classmates are finally graduating, she said, and have grown from the self-conscious, often unsure freshman who were over preoccupied about fitting in.

More Information
Number of graduates: 355
Co-Valedictorians: Ellie Christine Schroeder and Kevin Martin Warten
Salutatorian: Brigitte Caroline Dale

"We are a colorful graduating class, not afraid to stand out," Schroeder said.

Her co-valedictorian, Warten, joked that they were asked to keep their speeches to about three minutes long, but he decided to add a minute for every snow make-up day added to the end of the school year.

Rather than talk about the past, or give advice about the future, Warten instead wanted to focus on the present. During his time at the high school, he learned from his band director's insight that "some of our best moments happen in rehearsal, not in the performance."

Too often, Warten said, "We save our best for when we think it matters most" and, in the process, miss some of the best moments of life. "You don't need the spotlight to give the performance of a lifetime ... Have the willingness to live in the moment and be the best you can be."

"If nothing else," Warten joked, "we're not Fairfield Warde," a reference to their cross-town rivals.

Salutatorian Brigitte Dale said many of her classmates probably recognized her voice, because for the last two years, she had been making the school's morning announcements. In making those announcements, she said, she tried to make each day special. "On Wednesdays, I would wish everyone a wonderful Wednesday," Dale said. "I think we can all agree this is the most wonderful Wednesday of all. We endured, survived and succeeded."

Class of 2014 President Cameron Yates said as soon as he was elected to that post, he began to think about what he would say at commencement. In fact, he said, he even opened up a document file on his computer -- a file that he didn't reopen until the night before graduation.

Yates said he wanted to remind classmates not to focus so much on the future "that you forget to enjoy the moment."

And the commencement speaker, AP government and psychology teacher Sara Bassett cautioned the graduates that while "the village" has done its best to raise and educate them, mistakes were made. Those mistakes, she said, won't be known for years and have been going on "forever." Mistakes, she said, like believing the world was flat, separate is equal and no one wants to watch a 24-hour weather channel.

"You get to each stage of life without a standardized answer key," Bassett said, and urged the students not to become defensive when someone challenges them or tells them they are wrong. "May I suggest you use compassion as your compass ... If you want to be on the right side of history, ground yourself in compassion."