PHOTOS: Class of '19 - Darien High graduates encouraged to be themselves, make a difference

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

All photos Vic Eng/Hearst Connecticut Media
Using the often heard quote from former President Barack Obama, interim Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon told the Darien High School Class of 2019 on Tuesday that they “are the change that we seek.”
Addressing more than 340 students in their royal blue caps and gowns, Landon said, “Change will not come if you wait for some other person or some other time. You are the ones we have been waiting for.”
As they move on to their next chapter in life, Landon encouraged the students to “better the communities in which you live, work to improve the lives of those less fortunate—and work to become active citizens in the affairs of government at the local, state, and federal levels in the interest of protecting our values and our freedoms,” he said.
“In the years to come, we will be facing greater and greater challenges at home and abroad,” Landon added. “It is the young people — who will be required to meet those challenges and to lead us to a better world.”
Landon was one of about half a dozen speakers at the graduation, which, due to rain, was held in the high school auditorium.
Before the ceremony, students expressed enthusiasm despite the cloudy skies and the move of the ceremony indoors instead of on the campus’ outdoor field.
“It’s a very exciting day. All these kids, myself included, have been working hard for four years to graduate and take the next step in life. It’s a day hopefully we will never forget,” said graduate Will Rolapp.
“I can’t believe it’s gone by so fast. I wouldn’t want to graduate with anyone else,” said graduate Jack Gordon.

Other speakers throughout the evening included Community Council President Connor Fay, Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman, Darien High School Principal Ellen Dunn, valedictorian Ria Dhull, and salutatorian Aram Russell.
In her speech, Dhull told her classmates to be original and stay true to themselves.
Despite what others may think, she said, “It’s not necessary to have an epiphany — one big life changing moment.”
She reflected upon her high school years, saying she’s never had an epiphany herself.

“I changed a bit in these four years but I’ve never really had one of those life changing coming of age movie moments, the type you see plastered over every big screen,” she said. “I’ve never had an epiphany, a sort of dramatic shift in my life, the kind everyone’s supposed to have in high school.”
Dhull questioned why society values an epiphany so highly.
“I think it’s because we’re waiting for something to knock on our door and burst into our house holding a baseball bat and tell us ‘Hey, maybe this is how and why you should change your life.’ I think it’s because we don’t want to do the hard work of inducing an epiphany,” she said.
Instead, she told her classmates not to wait around for something or someone to tell them what to do or what to think, but to think for themselves.
“I want you to dream. I want you to keep your minds open. I want you to write, think, and create,” she said. “I want you to struggle to become yourselves, to think for yourselves.”

In Dunn’s speech, she used a metaphor for a piece of sea glass. “You are individuals. No two the same,” she said. “By themselves, each one can inspire others, but as a group, they can have even more impact.”
The same holds true for this year’s graduates, she said. “Your collective legacy of accomplishments is extraordinary, but even more important is the way your generosity of spirit, fun-loving good nature, and kind hearts reinforced and strengthened each other.”
Dunn gave nuggets of wisdom for the students to leave with that evening: “Do not let fear hold you back. Be bold. Have confidence. Be patient with yourself. Live in the moment. Spend time on those you love most.”
As raindrops poured down on the roof above their heads, Dunn looked out into the sea of young faces before her — as they got ready to move the tassels on their caps from the right to the left — and concluded her speech by saying, “The sun will always shine on the class of 2019.”
Additional reporting by Will Pegler.