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MONTVILLE, NJ – Montville Township High School graduated 304 students on June 21 under a warm sky filled with deep rose streaks, with messages from now-former students regarding inclusion and the importance of saying “yes,” and of course, the traditional throwing of caps.

Principal Douglas Sanford presided over the ceremony, reminding the students what he had told them at their freshmen orientation day: try something new every day.

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“But after today, I want you to aim higher, and be bolder,” he said. “High school was only practice. In addition to trying something new every day, I want you to Be The First. You are tomorrow’s inventors, trail blazers, explorers. I hope you leave this ceremony comforted in knowing you can accomplish any and all endeavors you pursue.”

Class President Jack Motherway, who was also a liaison to the Board of Education, talked about the power of saying “yes.” He said he changed from being quiet and afraid of speaking out in 9th grade to someone who spoke at his high school graduation.

“Say ‘yes’ to the small things,” he said. “A role in an ensemble can become a lead in a musical. An extracurricular activity can create a lifetime of friendship. Say ‘yes,’ and life will return the favor.”

Daniel Lee, Student Activities Council president and a liaison to the Board of Education, brought the audience’s attention to the gray ribbons graduates were wearing in honor of teacher Peter Porter, who passed away in the fall. He became very emotional thanking his parents, and it was a very tender moment in the ceremony.

His speech turned serious when he brought up the school shootings that have occurred in 2018, and stated that three of the shooters had no friends.

“I urge everyone here to be more inclusive of those around them,” he said. “[Those] who may feel like outsiders. Go and sit with someone new at lunch. Invite others to school events. Try new sports or clubs. Most of all, be willing to make friends with people you never would have imagined. No one should ever feel alone, and everyone here has the power to change that.

“Recently our country has been more divided than ever, and as a result, people have been prone to ignore the opinions of those who disagree with them. We have bred a culture in which those who don’t believe the same ideals as you are regarded as having nothing important to say and therefore their opinion is insignificant. On the contrary, I believe it’s the other way around. Speaking with those of opposing viewpoints is an opportunity to expand perspectives and better understand our world.

“Today more than ever, it’s critical that we try to open our minds to new people and new ideas. We don’t need politicians to pass laws about inclusion. We don’t need people to teach us about how not to treat other people, but what we do need is someone to break down the social stigma that just because someone seems weird or odd, therefore we shouldn’t try to talk with them or try to be their friend.

“My words are not the solution to the problem. There won’t be any definitive answer. But being more inclusive is a step in the right direction.”

Salutatorian Andrew Sun-Yan talked about how philosophers said that “virtue comes from habits.”

“Habits like running and washing my hands after I use the bathroom, I’m proud of,” he said with a laugh. “Habits like sleeping late, and not eating breakfast, not so much. Like it or not, we eventually become the things we do.”

Sun-Yan talked about the people in his life who encouraged him and helped him to develop good habits – or at least shared in the challenges. He thanked many of his teachers.

Valedictorian Emily Liao talked about the importance not of fixing the world, but of changing things one interaction at a time.

“A couple of days ago, I sat trying to decide what I wanted to say in this speech,” she started off. “I wanted to perfectly encompass that confusing feeling of having to ask for a pass to go to the bathroom one day, and then deciding what you want to do for the rest of our lives the next.

“Class of 2018, we have seen enough. We have seen enough discrimination; we have seen enough violence; we have seen enough grief. We have bowed our heads in too many moments of silence and honored too many lives cut short. We are living in a precarious society that can progress forward to gender and racial equality or that can topple back to times of oppression. We have to recognize the privilege we have, and use it to change our personal worlds, and by proxy, the world around us.

“In order for us to get to this point where we are graduating, we have had thousands upon thousands of interactions with others; thousands and thousands of worlds have collided. We may not have realized the impact we have on others, but I invite you to look at those around you. You have gone through highs and lows with your friends and family. You have offered a helping hand and reached out to receive help. These are the daily interactions that shape the world of those around us. The culmination of all of our actions will change the world, so go forth with no fear of being forgotten, because the people that are the most important to us will remember us.”

Superintendent of Schools René Rovtar said she enjoys attending student events – and tongue-in-cheek she said she enjoys calling snow days – and she said she particularly enjoyed watching the progress of the girls’ basketball team as they advanced to the state sectional semifinal and their hashtag/motto, #OutGrit.

“This appealed to me because it’s such a simple statement, but it’s a very powerful one,” she said. “It is a fantastic mantra – when the going gets tough and you’re up against some formidable opposition, dig down a little deeper inside of yourself and get just a little measure more of that drive that pushes you to succeed; then use it in the most powerful way you can.”

Rovtar encouraged the graduates, using GRIT as an acronym, to be genuine, take responsibility, have integrity, and take time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

Board of Education President Charles Grau referred to the sign in front of Woodmont Elementary School which states, “Your road to success begins here.” He told the students that they will learn by their failures so they can’t be afraid to fail.

Teacher Chrisopher Butchko spoke on behalf of fellow class advisor Kathleen Maggi and told the graduates to follow their passion.

Richard Yan, who is the father of salutatorian Andrew Sun-Yan, told TAPinto Montville that he didn’t think of his son so much as being book-smart.

“He spends a lot of time volunteering, and he runs after school every other day,” Yan said. “He also swam on the varsity swim team during his junior year. He was on the forensics team and he lost all of his debates until his last one last year. [Forensics advisor Mary] Gormley told him, ‘you are like my daughter, a fighter; you have a lot of tenacity.’ What she wrote in her note to him was beautiful, and I think ‘tenacity’ is a great way to describe Andrew. I think he’ll bring with him every skill and lesson taught by his teachers at Montville High School.”

Theresa Liao, mother of valedictorian Emily Liao, told TAPinto Montville before the ceremony that she and her husband Kevin were obviously very proud of their daughter, and excited to hear her speech because she wouldn’t tell them any of its details. They said Montville Twp. High School has changed their daughter by helping her to grow.

“She’s more mature now, and she has participated in so many clubs and activities,” Theresa said. “They helped her grow so much.”

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