There was a reason for the audience of family members and friends to smile, cheer and wave under the warm Thursday afternoon sun on Darien High School's Stadium Field: They were witnessing the graduation of the Class of 2012.
"Today is not so much about your glorious successes and individual achievements, of which there have been many," Superintendent Stephen Falcone said. "But it is to celebrate the fact that we acknowledge that your core is strong -- every one of you -- and you are well-positioned to face the challenges that can test your core, of which there are many."
Falcone added the diploma that students would receive represents the school's confidence in them to face these challenges thoughtfully and confidently.
Principal Dan Haron, participating in his last graduation at the school before pursuing a new career, encouraged the class to take risks that will help continue to strengthen them.
"Think for a moment about those times in your life when you've taken a risk, even if that risk didn't pay off immediately," Haron said. "Are you better for having done it in the long run?"
He noted that he had taken a risk earlier this year by dancing in front of 500 teenagers to LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It" at Dancing with the Teachers, a school event.
Haron gave seniors ideas for how they can take positive risks, such as entering social situations that are good for them, taking a class outside their comfort zone or starting a small business.
"Even if you fail, you will be a better person for having taken the risk and tried," he said.
Salutatorian Alice Wang had a similar message when she said, "Just remember, nothing is impossible, even green caterpillars smoking hookahs."
This was a reference to Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," which Wang compared to Darien from the perspective of the freshman she was four years ago.
"In a lot of ways, DHS is not so very different from Wonderland," she said. "For us, the ones that lived through it in each of the seven buildings, A through G, life was a dream, alternately dark and brilliant, gone in a flash."
Wang recalled some memories of her time at Darien High School, such as reading William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" aloud in a freshman English class and lighting marshmallows and croutons on fire in biology class.
"These and a million other moments exist like scraps of colorful film in our memories," she said. "It's how we'll remember our time here at this school, in bits and pieces, like a fantastical daydream that has come to an end but will linger in our minds as images in a precious slide show."
Valedictorian Will De Rocco came to a similar conclusion.
"There most certainly is a lot to look back on," De Rocco said. "But these recollections are like images, now permanently inked with a specific moment."
De Rocco admitted a secret -- that he did not want to write his speech, unable to settle on one topic. But by talking to his fellow seniors, De Rocco said he realized why he loved his time at high school.
"It was because of you," he said -- "all of you. Our class is populated by some of the most unique, fascinating people I will ever meet."
De Rocco also encouraged students to pursue their goals.
"Looking out into the audience, I can see the vast potential we have, 2012," he said. "I see artists, I see scientists, I see athletes, I see newscasters, I see musicians, I see future cult leaders. We are a grade rich with potential."
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