On a beautiful, sunny evening set aside to recognize the seniors’ many accomplishments, their peers and educators had what might seem like a strange message for the Class of 2011: Go ahead and fail.
In a speech delivered to a crowd of grads-to-be, family and friends on Memorial Field Monday night, graduating senior encouraged her classmates to take risks, challenge themselves and make mistakes.
“So after four years of hard work, stress and determination trying to get to this day, to set up our futures to be what we always wanted them to be, I want everyone to go out and make every mistake possible,” Marin said. “This is our time to try new things, pursue exciting ideas and commit the errors that will allow us to discover who we truly are and direct us on our paths to happiness.”
Needham Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Daniel Gutekanst also stressed the importance of imperfection.
“Here’s my wish for you: I hope you fail. I hope in the year ahead and the years to follow that you will go ahead and fail every once in a while,” Gutekanst said. “I am not suggesting that you should become a failure; on the contrary, I believe you have the skills, intelligence, talent, certainly the good looks, the love and support of your family and opportunity to become hugely successful. But I am suggesting that a life designed to avoid problems and challenges will not be very interesting and will not allow you to grow and learn.”
Gutekanst admitted it was a tough lesson to accept in a world that “craves success,” and particularly hard for parents and teachers who only want the best for the next generation. But he also emphasized a need for people who try, fail and try again.
“Here’s the thing: Our community, your little brothers and sisters gathered there on that hill and their friends, this nation, this economy, indeed this world, need you to take risks, fall down and do it again,” Gutekanst said. “You see, failing in many ways is an act of hope—hope in oneself and hope in a world that desperately needs your commitment, your courage and your leadership.”
More than 320 seniors graduated in the 5:00 p.m. ceremony Monday night, an event held under a perfectly blue June sky and filled with music by the Needham High School chorus and band, words of advice and even a little self-deprecation.
NHS Principal Dr. Jonathan Pizzi joked that in eight years of delivering commencement speeches he had yet to “dazzle” his students or “whet your collective intellectual appetite.” But he also encouraged the Class of 2011 to value three things above all else: family, good emotional, intellectual and physical health and education.
Pizzi explained how it was only after he was older, with children of his own, that he truly appreciated his parents’ wisdom. He offered up this advice from his father: “[First] you should always be learning and there is always room for improvement. Second, despite all of your hard work, you must earn everything and are entitled to nothing. And third, there is no such thing as rugged individualism. Everyone—and I mean everyone—has had a mentor, a benefactor, a teacher, coach or friend, someone along the way who never let them settle for less, someone who kept them in line, gave them support and guidance and made them stay true to their beliefs.”
School Committee chairwoman Marianne Cooley encouraged graduates to follow “the four Ps”—practice, persevere, perfection and play.
On the subject of perfection, Cooley noted: “It’s the best kind of experience to have, that experience from bad judgment. Succeeding in life is all about learning—not so that the next decision will be perfect, although it might be, but so that it will be better and serve more people well.”
In his opening speech, Class President encouraged his classmates to experience each moment—including the current one.
“It’s our last time here, now, together, home. In the future, this present will be the past, so don’t wait until this ceremony is over to contemplate exactly how you felt sitting where you are,” he said. “Remember to feel what you feel right now. And feel what you feel every now that you encounter.”
Along with speeches, the ceremony included a few special recognitions.
Graduating senior William Stenberg received the NHS Award For Service, given to a senior for outstanding service, character and leadership and contribution to his school, while classmate Remy Marin received the NHS Award For Service, given to a senior who has displayed superior scholastic achievement.
Samet-Marram then presented the 2011 Class Gift—Adirondack chairs for the high school.
“The chairs will be placed outside the front of the building on the grass as a relaxing location where future students and staff can sit, socialize, read, study or sunbathe,” he explained. “All remaining funds will be donated to Wide Horizons for Children, an organization through which we have sponsored three Ethiopian children since our freshman year.”
Samet-Marram then recognized Senior Class Advisor Katie Moylan.
“Mrs. Moylan has been our advisor for four years and has worked tirelessly in so many ways to benefit this class. She is truly an exceptional person, so great to work with, unbelievably diligent and incredibly friendly,” he said, presenting Moylan with flowers, soaps and a gift certificate to Elizabeth Grady Spas, “where she can hopefully de-stress from all of her hard work.”
Also unique this year, members of the Class of 2011 wore special tercentennial tassels on their mortarboards in honor of Needham’s 300th birthday. The tassels were funded through a donation from the .
More graduation coverage: Read the entire graduation speeches presented by seniors and on Monday by clicking on their names. Also, look for a photo gallery with more images from the commencement ceremony coming soon on Needham Patch.