Wall Township High School is by no means unique when it comes to graduation ceremonies. And in some ways, Wednesday’s ceremony for the graduating Class of 2011 was exactly the same as it was everywhere else there is a high school:
Members of the school’s band played "Pomp and Circumstance" as bright-eyed teenagers in long gowns filed into a gymnasium filled to the gills with beaming parents and family members. Speeches were made -- some funny, some serious, and some in between.
Some parents, in their zeal, let loose air horns to herald the sound of their kid’s name being called to retrieve their diplomas. Younger siblings became bored and fidgeted about, being chided into quiet with stern looks from their parents.
But these 356 students, some of whom struggled for the opportunity to stand there, others who coasted, still others who quietly went about their days attracting little attention -- these were Wall Township students, kids who grew up attending Allenwood, Central, Old Mill and West Belmar, kids who passed through Intermediate, who shouted at the blue team across football field, took SATs, applied to colleges, grew up and now were ready to move on.
And standing beneath a blanket of sports championship banners in the Wall High School Crimson Knights gymnasium for the last time, talking about guiding their own futures, charting their own paths, talking about the promise of tomorrow and reverence for the past – that’s all that mattered. These were Wall Township kids. And this was their night.
“Congratulations Class of 2011 as you begin your journey,’’ said Rosaleen Sirchio, high school principal.
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Outside, thunder clapped – a reminder of the passing storm that forced the 51st graduating ceremony inside into cramped quarters as the families of graduates milled through the school’s hallways for want of instruction on where to go.
Inside, 300 seniors assembled in a hot, sticky auxiliary gymnasium that was cooled only by a small fan in one corner of the room and whatever air accidentally wafted in from the hallway. Here, Assistant Principal Robert Paneque ran down some last-minute instruction.
“We have two hours left where I am still in charge of you,’’ Paneque said to the throngs of graduates, half-jokingly. “If you can give me two hours of a fantastic ceremony, I will be forever grateful.’’
It may be tricky getting around the rows of chairs, so be careful. The configuration is slightly different than what they had practiced. Please listen for your cues. Paneque also makes a pitch for Project Graduation, the all-night drug and alcohol-free celebration being held in their honor.
“I hope you’re excited,’’ he says. “I’m excited for you.’’
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Graduations ceremonies often have a theme that binds the event together, giving the ceremony some kind of structural integrity. Wall’s theme this year was taken from a quote from Ralf Waldo Emerson: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’’
Top 10 student, National Merit Scholar and future Northeastern University student Victoria Ball was the first to apply her variation on the theme with the welcome address.
“Take risks, make mistakes, and find your solutions,’’ Ball said. “Make life decisions for the right reasons. Do something fulfilling and live with purpose.’’
Jacob Dawe is an Eagle Scout. He’s a talented French Horn player, a National Merit Scholar, a Top 10 Student and he’s been accepted to Yale University. Even as class valedictorians go, he’s among the elite. So expectations for his speech were understandably high.
Surely, if anyone could wax philosophical and drive home some yet-undiscovered truth, Jacob Dawe could.
“When I began to think of what advice I would bring today, what words of wisdom I might present to you all, I came up with nothing,’’ Dawe said. “I have no golden words that will solve every issue you face in life.’’
No one has the answers, Dawe said.
“Joy and stress, pride and regret, contentment and yearning – these feelings are a part of life, for better or for worse,’’ he said. “And the need to balance these feelings is life, for better or for worse.’’
Life will try to bring you down, Dawe said. Don’t let it.
“Please, as a favor to me, as a favor to your fellow classmates, and a favor to all the people who came here to celebrate you, refuse submission and refuse surrender,’’ Dawe said. “That is what this world so desperately needs: People who live and breathe and create and do.’’
Thomas Brennan, National Merit Scholar, Top 10 Student and future Boston University student, gave the salutatory address, asking his fellow classmates to go on, but remember where you came from.
“Never forget the football games, school plays, projects and lanyards, barbeque riblets, the screech of the fire alarm or the drone of the daily announcements,’’ Brennan said. “And never forget what it means to be a part of the Wall High School community.’’
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The awarding of diplomas was long, as younger siblings crawling along the standing-room-only floor can attest, punctuated with the occasional air horn or cymbal crash from the band, hoots and hollers of varying decibels and octaves.
Tassels were moved from left to right. And cheers. Lots and lots of cheers.
Back in the auxiliary gym, restless seniors crowded one last time around Assistant Principal Paneque, who gave a countdown from three and 356 red and white caps were tossed into the air.