Graduates reminded to ‘listen’

Virtually every high school graduation contains advice given to the soon-to-be grads. The June 8 graduation for Unionville High was no exception. This time the advice was “listen.”

Principal Jimmy Conley gave the charge to the class of 2016, invoking the imagery of movie superheroes saying, “Class of 2016, as you maneuver through the obstacles and triumphs that life throws your way, you are fully equipped to face this world — if you remember one piece of advice that will be your secret weapon and superpower and that is to listen.”

He explained they should listen with a desire to understand what would be thrown at them during college, while in the military, or on the job.

Clarisse Cofransesco recites a poen, "Open the Door," that she wrote for the graduation.

Clarisse Cofransesco recites a poen, "Open the Door," that she wrote for the graduation.

“Listen with an ear that seeks truth and delves into the heart of the matter so that you can better understand; listen with the future in mind…”

Conley said listening has become a forgotten art and that no one is praised as a good listener. Rather, people are praised for being go-getters, not for their listening skills. However, he quoted Winston Churchill:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Superintendent of Schools John Sanville also offered his advice, telling the graduates to be wary of the advice on social media. Some of what can be found there can be valuable, while other opinions seem to be offered by people “whose sole intent is to wreak havoc in the lives of anyone who follows them.”

As examples of advice worth following, Sanville offered one comment found online quoting Margaret Thatcher, saying, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”

That’s “a timeless lesson in perseverance worth heading,” Sanville said.

Educator of the Year Joe Ahart reminds graduates that life is not always a direct, straight line.

Educator of the Year Joe Ahart reminds graduates that life is not always a direct, straight line.

He then referred to other quotes: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” by Dr. Seuss, and “Don’t be the same, be better,” anonymous, and “I haven’t failed, I just found 10,000 ways that don’t work,” from Thomas Edison.

Sanville evoked strong laughter when he said, “If your wife says she doesn’t want a birthday gift this year, don’t believe her — John Sanville.”

He closed by saying life is filled with the good and the bad, humor and adversity. You will cry and you will laugh. As young men and women setting out to navigate new places and meet new faces, you’ll be given lots of advice…I invite you to think not just of the advice you will follow, but what you can offer to others.”

He told the class members that everyone has a unique set of abilities and experiences that make them the only ones who have seen and done things from a specific perspective.

“As you go through life as newly minted graduates, you are sure to encounter someone starting something that you have finished. Make it a point to consider how your experiences can be useful to help someone else,” he said. “Save the things you’ve figured out, and pass them on. Remember when you were there and had to start over, and tell another how to avoid that. In this way, you will accrue wisdom.”

Also addressing the graduates were UHS Educator of the Year Joe Ahart and class members Elise Covert, Jacqueline Bridges and Clarisse Cofrancesco.

Ahart said that being undecided about their futures is nothing to be ashamed of.

“My life’s thesis was written on a whim, then drastically revised, then suddenly and inexplicably abandoned,” he said.

He then proceeded to tell the tale of his journey from a high school student who wanted to be a major league baseball player and who was told by an English teacher tell that she didn’t believe a word he wrote. He then went on to write for a college newspaper before becoming a professional journalist and then a teacher.

“My career [as a journalist] was soaring, but there was one nagging problem, I was bored…I had a tough decision to make. I could continue life according to plan, or I could start anew and rewrite my life’s thesis,” he said.

But Ahart continued to say he followed a piece of advice he received from a fictional character, Dwight K. Shrute: “‘Whenever I’m about to do something I think, would an idiot do that? And if they would, I did not do that thing.’”

The UHS Chorale, under the direction of Jason Thorn, performs.

The UHS Chorale, under the direction of Jason Thorn, performs.

Ahart, however, stayed on at the paper until he began taking classes at West Chester and earned his master’s degree in English, became a graduate assistant and wound up teaching.

It was the sum total of all his experiences, he said, that made him a better teacher.

“Even work that seems pointless at the time will have its value someday,” Ahart said, quoting his father.

Of the student speakers, Cofrancesco recited a poem she wrote, and Covert reminded her classmates of the value of the work they did over their four years at UHS:

“As we move on from Unionville High School to whatever life paths we’ve chosen, let us not forget the drive developed when a mountain of work stands before us, the value of accountability that all those group projects impressed upon us, the communication skills acquired as our adolescent years changed people and altered friendships, the time management abilities necessary when midterms and basketball season inevitably collided. Let us not erase the encouraging messages and words of advice from our teachers, the love and laughter of our friends, the inspiring pregame pep talks from our coaches.”

Bridge, too, made reference to the work and how it affected them, “Somewhere in all these moments, we became ourselves and shockingly enough, we grew up.”

The Class of 2016 was 321 strong with students earning more than 70 scholarships and awards.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.



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