On Wednesday, May 22, Wellington High School honored the Class of 2019 at the South Florida Fairgrounds Expo Center. In what was the high school’s 30th commencement ceremony, the room was packed with friends, family members and teachers in support of the 635 graduating seniors.
After the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance, Principal Cara Hayden addressed the audience.
“Thank you for supporting our graduates. You helped them reach this goal,” Hayden said. “The Class of 2019 proudly — respectfully — stands for the things that matter to them. The things they value define their character. Although they will soon scatter, I have no doubt they will, individually, and as the Class of 2019, continue to stand for those issues that matter to them. Over the past four years, they have weathered and celebrated joys and triumphs, as well as shattering losses. And in both, they have continued to stand for what matters to them.”
Student Government Association President Alexandra Torregrosa brought a clear message to her fellow graduates.
“Today is just the beginning of the next chapter of our lives. We leave four years of memories behind us, and now what lies in wait is a future filled with unlimited possibilities,” Torregrosa said. “Right now, we stand at the cusp of greatness, not for what we have done, but for all we still have yet to accomplish. We have the power to make decisions that will determine the course of our lives, but to be successful, we must take risks. Shed your fear of failure and chase your dreams.”
Palm Beach County School Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy II provided advice the graduates could take with them into future careers and life choices.
“Today I speak to you not only as a superintendent, but as I look at the faces of our graduates, I also see my own children, so I’m also going to come at you a little bit like a father,” Fennoy said. “I will shake close to 14,000 hands. No two ceremonies or handshakes are the same, because each of you, whether you realize it or not, have developed over the years your personal brand. As you exit from one stage of life to another, I want to speak with you about protecting your brand.”
Fennoy stressed the value of marketing their personal brands in a way that shows maturity and responsibility.
“Like it or not, we live in a world fueled by judgement and first impressions. This is why your e-mail address on job applications needs to suggest that you can be taken seriously. You will also be judged by the parts of your life you share online. Think for a moment about every social media post, comment, picture and video you have ever uploaded. If you want doors open for you instead of closed, protect your brand.”
Salutatorian Riley Meve follows in the footsteps of her sister, who two years ago spoke at the WHS graduation as salutatorian. Meve was proud to carry on the family legacy.
“I was nervous to write a graduation speech. How could I memorialize our time in high school? Today I can’t help but look back and laugh. If high school taught us anything, it’s that we all need to laugh at ourselves. We must embrace the awkwardness. High school allows you to discover what you are passionate about and who you are destined to be, but finding yourself is often a messy business,” Meve said. “We will leave legacies based on our character — how we treated one another and expressed ourselves. The relationships, opportunities and difficulties we experienced at Wellington shaped our individual identities and perspectives.”
Valedictorian Eric Burchill stressed the diversity found within the Class of 2019.
“I remember my freshman year telling everybody I would be valedictorian and nobody taking me seriously — well, here I am,” Burchill said. “I have been profoundly inspired by the diversity we have in our class. We have a class president who is black. We have a student body president who is Latina. We have a valedictorian who is gay — that’s me. We’ve come a long way. We’ve eliminated plastic straws. We eliminated fidget spinners. But we have not eliminated racism, sexism, homophobia or xenophobia.”
He urged his fellow classmates to embrace change.
“Every single person in this room has the power to bring about change and to say that mindset will not be tolerated,” he said. “I implore everyone in the audience to find something you care about, whether that be in school or sports or gardening or writing or being more honest or anything, because the value in working toward and achieving personal goals is immeasurable. Committing to greatness is never wasted because of all you’ve learned in the process.”
Class President Nnandi Jean-Francois was the last student to take to the podium.
“As the 30th graduating class, we have accomplished so much. To quote Dr. Seuss, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’ We have made new friends, joined clubs, and become part of a team. High school has brought us many firsts and helped mold us into who we are today,” Jean-Francois said, continuing on to reference Matt Mounts, a WHS faculty member who died unexpectedly in 2016. “I cannot make this speech today without mentioning our beloved coach Mounts, as we are the last graduating class that knew all his greatest attributes. He was a father to all of us, and coach Mounts taught us to always love each other. He will forever be in our hearts, and we can say we are truly lucky to have known such a kind and selfless person.”
During the ceremony, both students and guests were able to leave with practical and inspirational tips on life.
“You cannot let yourself be one of the masses that hides behind a screen, where you have an opinion about everything but stand for nothing,” Fennoy said. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are better than a like or a comment. Graduates, I challenge you to live out loud. Build a personal brand of real action and interaction, not just posts. Build real relationships, not just followers. I am proud of the Class of 2019 for navigating a context in a world that we could not have imagined 20 years ago. I am counting on you to lead by example.”
After giving a lengthy list of accomplishments already achieved by the seniors before her, and before tassels moved from one side to the next, Hayden had some final words of encouragement.
“The Class of 2019 has maintained and expanded the academic legacy that is Wellington High School,” she said. “Above all, I am in awe of the accomplishments of the Class of 2019, and I am honored to be your principal. These students are incredible, and they’ll definitely be making their mark in the world.”