WESTPORT, Conn. — “All Westport schools will be closed all day Monday, June 20:” Retiring Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon got a laugh and a round of applause for the start of his remarks at the 129th commencement exercises at Staples High School’s Field House on Friday afternoon.
Landon compared what life holds for the graduates to the resistance of the water faced by the crew that became the heroes of "Boys in the Boat," a recent bestseller about the incredible quest for a Gold Medal by young men prepping for the 1936 Olympics.
"Life will challenge your mind, heart and body, so you must be resilient, and learn and grow from adversity," said Landon, who is retiring after a 17-year run . Then he turned and said, "You gain power from your successes," and moved on, saying “make acts of kindness a priority."
Interim Principal Mark Karagus had opened the ceremony — following the processional accompanied by a superb version of Pomp and Circumstance by the school’s Concert Band — asking for a round of applause for the graduates. He then recognized the great many teachers who are retiring, “taking with them 350 years of contributions to Westport’s learning community.”
Class Valedictorian William Andrews offered the feature address. He complimented his fellow graduates, saying the class has a long list of noteworthy athletes, actors, singers, artists, intellectuals — and circus performers.
“There is no easy path through Staples,” Andrews said, and added “Staples offers a series of tests that is a series of tests, culminating in finals.”
He related a story that he said captured the essence of Staples. Walking behind two sophomores one day, he heard one say that he had to study for a chemistry test because “if I don’t get a good grade on the test, I’ll get a poor grade in the course. That will pull down my GPA, I won’t get into a good college, I won’t get into a good graduate school, so I won’t get a good job, and I won’t have the money I need to retire.”
“He’s a sophomore worrying about retirement 40 years from now,” Andrews said.
He added that many students feel they have to bring peace to Ecuador, and be able to ride a unicycle blindfolded on a tight rope, or their lives won’t be fulfilled.
The message he left was that Staples is a highly competitive and stress-inducing environment, one that can take away some of life’s enjoyment.
His advice, nevertheless, was “practice kindness toward those you like and those you don’t.”
Landon’s spoke next, then diplomas were awarded — and high school is now over for 489 new Staples alumni.