While the 45th Rocky Hill School 12th grade graduation began with a round of applause for warm weather, the faces of 41 graduates were beaming like rays of sunshine Friday morning, as they each received a diploma.
Moments before they graduated, students lined up on the lawn of Hopelands, which looks out at Greene’s River in Potowomut. As the morning breeze blew through her hair, Laura White, 18, who will study elementary education at Emmanuel College, said she is grateful to Rocky Hill for helping her figure out what she wants to do for the rest of her life.
“I did an internship in the lower school here and I really liked it,” she said. “I like working with kids.”
Her friend and classmate, Simon Winokoor, 17, will head to Syacuse University and is undeclared in business school at the moment. For him, he’ll fondly remember some of his favorite moments he spent with his Rocky Hill friends, especially their trip to Washington, D.C. junior year.
“We all got to stay together in a hostel and it was really cool,” he said. “We were up until three in the morning talking to people from London. It was a really fun, good experience because we met different types of people.”
Dane Ardente, 17, the sole “lifer” of the Class of 2012, as he has been enrolled at Rocky Hill since pre-school, said he would miss his friends and teachers immensely. At the same time, he’s eager to take up business administration at the University of Montana.
“It’s kind of sad, but I’m happy,” he said of leaving his days at the school behind him. “I’ve been here all my life and I’ve never been anywhere else. I’ve had the same people with me the last 14 years.”
Valedictorian Steven Petteruti Jr., 17, who graduated with magna cum laude honors, will be off to Harvard to study engineering and economics. During his speech, he pointed out that much of his success, as well as the success of his peers, can be attributed to the “incredible teachers we’ve had here at Rocky Hill.”
He noted that Latin teacher Matt Gnolfo encouraged him to take up a foreign language despite the fact that he nearly failed Spanish in the past.
“I ended up taking Latin for four years and it’s been one of the highlights of my time here,” Petteruti said. “Although it was my most demanding class, it’s an experience that will stay with me forever. One of the benefits of learning a dead language is that there aren’t any Romans around to correct your pronunciation.”
Petteruti also praised his English teacher, Paul Tukey, who served as the school’s director of college counseling and retired this year after 36 years, as well as physics teacher Jonathan Spencer and chemistry teacher Richard Dempsey, also the head of the upper school.
When Petteruti was preparing for the AP Chemistry exam, Dempsey suggested he borrow a few books. But, Petteruti said Dempsey gave him a huge stack of “vintage” books.
“They were all from the ’80s and I was looking at them thinking, ‘This is ridiculous. What am I going to learn?’” Petteruti said. “I felt guilty, so I looked through all the books and on the day of the exam, there were several questions from the books, material I had never seen anywhere else.”
Of course, he also offered words of wisdom to his fellow graduates by quoting the late Steve Jobs, an American designer and inventor who was best known as the co-founder of Apple, Inc.
“You’re time is limited, so don’t waste it,” Petteruti said.
Like Petteruti, commencement speaker Martin Keen, principal and founder of Keen Design Studio and creator of Keen Footware, established in 2003, also quoted Jobs. He noted that through his work he was able to meet, befriend and trade products with Jobs.
However, by explaining his journey to America from the U.K. as a 6-year-old, Keen gave the graduates encouragement for the future.
“I was different from the kids at my school,” he said. “I had a funny accent and was an outsider looking in. I adopted this role early on and thought I really was different.”
That distance, he said, gave him the ability to question the status quo and “blaze his own trail.” Yet, he also realized the importance of realizing he was not a separate entity from all that surrounded him.
“We are actually a part of all that we see and experience,” Keen said. “Be conscious and aware to choose what you pay attention to. Reality is created by us; right here. Finding this place of absolute presence is the beginning of finding our true purpose, our intuition, and more importantly, our passion and creativity.”
Before Keen addressed the assembly, Headmaster Jonathan M. Schoenwald told students he thought Keen was a great choice to deliver the commencement speech because he knows what it means to be a leader.
Similarly, said Schoenwald, Westley Brown, a man who was born in 1927 and died last month, was also a leader, as he became the first African American graduate of the U.S. Navel Academy. Interestingly enough, Brown was the sixth black man to enter the academy, but the previous members were targeted and bullied for the color of their skin, causing them to drop out. “But, Westley didn’t,” said Schoenwald. “They whispered terrible things about him loud enough for him to hear and wouldn’t let him join the choir or participate in all sorts of things. But, he made it because he was a gentle guy and a hard worker. He came from a community where they taught their children to believe in themselves. He was a person who stood up for his rights and did what he believed in.”
Schoenwald continued, “Even as you exit, keep a firm grip on your values. Be confident in who you are. Don’t underestimate the power of love. Work hard. What summons you and makes you happy? How do you serve your fellow being? These are big questions that are important.”
The graduates of the Class of 2012 are:
Michael Caramadre *
Maria Charbonneau **
Ford Kelly-Riley *
Victoria Kue *
Christina Leahy *
Abby Moylan *
Steven Petteruti +**
Katherine Roberts *
Cooper Robinson *
Tingying Su **
Tyler Thran *
Giles Van Gruisen
Ci "Miranda" Wang
Yin Yefko *
** Magna Cum Laude