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By Kathryn Carlow
Special to the Herald
The rain lightly pattered the grounds of Cheshire Academy as family and friends descended upon the campus the morning of June 11 to celebrate the graduation of the 90 members of the Class of 2011. Despite the cool temperatures and overcast skies, the large white tent pitched in the center of Kevin Slaughter Field buzzed with excitement as all awaited the commencement exercises. Though the poor weather rendered the small paper fans distributed before the ceremony unnecessary, Headmaster Doug Rogers suggested that they still “could be a memento” of the day.
Indeed, the theme of remembrance resonated throughout the entire ceremony. A recollection of the highlights of the past year—prom, senior speeches, plays, and sporting events—dominated Rogers opening remarks.
Michelle Hughes, chosen by her peers to give the graduation address, told the captivated crowd that “today is bittersweet” and urged her classmates to “remember these experiences because you can never do this again…never forget the people…after we graduate, all we have is memories.” Tearing up, Hughes told her classmates that, while she will look back on her address in a few months hopeful that she might have touched at least one of her peers, she will “mostly just be missing” the Cheshire Academy community.
But, as much as the ceremony looked back on the students’ special time at the Academy, it also highlighted the importance of continuing to eagerly pursue goals. The commencement included one other student address, this one from valedictorian Yiran Li. In his speech, Li, heading off to Georgetown University, chose to highlight the many opportunities ahead for the graduates, telling his peers “commencement marks the new beginning. We are the architects of a future yet to come.” He also excitedly reminded his class of the many upcoming chapters of their education, in which they could build “from the past, and the great treasury of knowledge” that preceded them.
Hughes also took a moment to look toward the future, imploring her peers to “dream bigger than you live, and you will end up living bigger than you ever dreamed.”
Guest speaker Steven Schussler, an entrepreneur, best-selling author, and motivational speaker, proved to be a particularly enlivening portion of the program. Schussler impressed upon the graduates his overarching message that, with persistence, “‘No’ is ‘yes’ waiting to happen.”
Schussler entertained the crowd with the story of how he came to eventually create the popular restaurant chain, the Rainforest Café. He humorously recounted turning his own home in Minnesota into a prototype for the restaurant, complete with elaborate foliage, electronic decoration, tortoises weighing hundreds of pounds, and even a baby baboon. He shared how his neighbors watched these developments and chipped in to pay for his psychiatric appointments, convinced he was insane.
A drug enforcement agency even once paid a visit to Schussler’s house, which had the highest single-home electrical input in the entire state. They found no drugs, however, just one man with a manmade rainforest. Schussler maintained this model for three and a half years, until he finally secured an investor. Today, the restaurant has dozens of domestic and international locations. Despite his many setbacks, Schussler succeeded because, as he told the graduates, “giving up is never an option.”
While these speeches filled much of the morning, the most anticipated moment of the program was the awarding of the diplomas. Loved ones rushed forward with their cameras, camcorders, and phones to capture the moment their graduate crossed the stage to receive his or her diploma. Each student was called up individually, and the crowd began to converse amongst themselves as relatives and those acquainted through their graduating children shared the special moment together.
After the final name, the Class of 2011 threw their caps in the air and Rogers addressed the students for a final time.
“I wish all the members of the Class of 2011 a life rich with endeavor, purpose, safe journeys home, and peace in your lives,” he said.
After the ceremony, the graduates hurried to greet their families and friends and many shed tears as they embraced their classmates and teachers for a final time. But, despite the difficult goodbyes, an exciting future lies ahead.
As graduate Ju Yeon Kim of Korea, who will attend the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology come fall, put it, “While I will miss my friends, I am most excited for college.”