Old Saybrook High School graduates and staff expressed tears, laughter and lessons during an outdoor ceremony Friday night for some 100 students. At the podium, Principal Sheila A. Riffle and Associate Principal Joseph Anastasio first thanked everyone at the school — custodians, administrative staff, teachers and parents — for the students’ success.

Then there was this exchange: “What’s the matter?” asked Anastasio. “I’m fine,” said Riffle. “I’m worried you’re going to cry,” said Anastasio. “Why would I cry? Kids come and go,” said Riffle. And with that, both hid behind smiling life-size pictures of themselves to hide their true feelings. Riffle told them: “If we’ve said it once we’ve said it a million times you are a special group of people.”

Salutatorian Elaine Yang said she was “pretty sure I’ve been spoiled” at the school and thanked everyone who had taught her so much. Valedictorian Tenzin Kunsel and Yang humbly offered some advice, with Kunsel first noting the admonition of a karate master: “I have shoes older than you.”

They advised students: Be yourself and be respectful because you never know what people have endured. Kunsel shared her family’s story. Her grandparents fled from Tibet to Nepal in 1959, where they were farmers and animal herders and raised ten children in harsh conditions. Her aunt came to the U.S. in 1990 and brought 10 other family members. Her family arrived in 2015.

Her advice: “The key to overcoming any hardship is perseverance” and “always believe in yourself, never give up.” Yang told the graduates to take care of their mind and body by exercising, eating right and getting plenty of sleep. The graduating class also presented the school with a bench in honor of the late Tim Stenz, a beloved custodian and a gift of lunches for the custodians next year.

Laughter was shared with teacher Karen Carlone, admittedly of small stature, who first stood in front of them and did a power pose to gain confidence and told them, “Life is hard. You have to ask for help,” after telling a story of spilling salad dressings when she tried to navigate her children in a large shopping cart through a grocery store. She also told them, “Happiness is not a destination. It’s a thing that you earn.” She also advised them to, “Bring passion with you.”

Connecticut Media Group