The 52nd Annual Montville Township High School Commencement Exercises were held on Thursday, June 22, 2023. As is the tradition at MTHS, the graduation ceremony was held outdoors on the field in the Mustang Stadium. Over 275 seniors participated in the annual processional from the high school to the field. The procession was led by Administrators, Board of Education Members, Supervisors, and Faculty, and was underscored by POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE. The MTHS Symphonic Band and Orchestra performed Elgar’s traditional graduation composition.
Following the procession, Student Activities Council President Joleen Amer led the Pledge of Allegiance and sang a moving a cappella rendition of THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER.
“That was amazing,” MTHS Principal Douglas Sanford declared as the resounding applause following the National Altham began to quiet. Sanford took a moment to reflect on Amer’s outstanding performance before he welcomed the students, families, faculty, administration, and honored guests to the ceremony.
“Before I get to my speech,” Sanford said following the introductions, “can we give a big round of applause to Mother Nature? About ten hours ago we thought for sure this ceremony would be indoors.”
Seated before him, the Class of 2023 and their families cheered. Due to the morning’s unfavorable weather predictions, the decision to hold the 52nd MTHS annual event outdoors was not made until late afternoon. Though cloudy, the evening was dry, and the outdoor ceremony was beautiful as daylight dimmed to dusk.
Sanford began his speech by saying, “We are here tonight to honor the students seated before us—the Class of 2023. This year was a great, albeit challenging, school year and our seniors have been spectacular. I’d like to heed my own advice, given a few hours ago to the Class of 2023, and simply say to them, ‘thank you.’”
Sanford continued, “The past four years have been unique and amazing. This school year has been successful for so many reasons, but please know, I attribute that primarily to each of you, the members of the Class of 2023.”
The Class of 2023 were high school freshmen when the pandemic shifted schools across the country to virtual learning in March of 2020.
“This class has had their high school career interrupted, more so, than any other group of students,” Sanford recalled. “Starting in March of their 9th grade year, they experienced more remote and hybrid learning in a high school setting than any other class.”
Sanford went on to note the unique school spirit the Class of 2023 demonstrated during their senior year.
“I personally started this year with some concern,” Sanford explained, “—concern that this year’s seniors wouldn’t know how to be seniors. With so much of their high school experience taken away from them, how could they be expected to know how to act?”
However, the Class of 2023 surprised Sanford and the entire MTHS faculty and staff.
“If you attended any football games,” Sanford noted, “you’ll know that our fans’ enthusiasm was off the charts. Then came the homecoming dance. For years, this Thursday night dance for all grade levels might have close to 200 students in attendance. This year, over 600. Fast forward to the waning weeks of the school year. In past years, students would be lining up at the door after dinner was served at prom. This year, we practically had to drag our seniors off the dance floor at Legacy Castle when the night was over. Finally, who could forget the most unique spirit day in the history of MTHS? Never have I seen such complete student participation.”
As SAC President, Amer announced the morning messages during the 2022-2023 school year. At one point during his speech Sanford turned to Amer so she could say the words she had used to concluded each of her daily broadcasts: “Run wild, and lead your own stampede.”
“The Class of 2023 carved their own path. They tried something new each and every day.” Sanford concluded.
Throughout the evening there were four student speeches.
Aaron Parisi, the President of the MTHS Class of 2023, spoke of the impact COVID-19 has had on this year’s graduates. He noted that his initial reaction to school closing in March 2020, “for two weeks,” was excitement. But that excitement quickly faded. Well before two weeks was up, Parisi said he missed school and his classmates.
The class president noted that one of the things he learned during the pandemic is that “You never truly realize what you have until it is gone.”
Parisi went on to explain, “Now, roughly three years later, I still find myself learning from the pandemic. For example, many of us at one point or another believe that we can finally be happy once we reach a particular goal, or a certain point in time. I find myself falling into this same trap. I often tell myself I will finally be happy once it is summer, or I will finally be happy once my AP exams are over. But, this begs the question, ‘Why can’t we just be happy now?’ This line of thinking undermines the present moment, and delays your happiness. It causes people to fail to appreciate the things right before their eyes.”
The senior class president encouraged his peers to “not worry about the uncertainty of what the future holds. Instead, be grateful for the moment you are in right now. Because, at the end of the day, life is too short to wish your days away and delay your happiness.”
SAC President, Joleen Amer echoed Parisi’s reflections on happiness.
“It is important that we recognize that we live among many people who are different from us, and that we not only accept them for who they are, but also show them that they are appreciated and cared for,” Amer said. “Everyone deserves to be treated equally and fairly.”
“Thank you to the faculty,” Amer added. “The love and support each of you has given the Class of 2023 is unbelievably commendable. You’ve taught me what it truly means to be a Mustang.”
Salutatorian Ashley Xiang employed her forensic skills during an amusing speech that encouraged her classmates to share kindness and to “care less about image and more about what you really want.”
“It is kind of crazy how fast people like to neatly draw the lines at what you can and can’t be, what you can and can’t do,” Xiang observed. “People are too quick to judge and see others as one-dimensional creatures. ‘You’re the funny one, you’re the smart one, you’re the attractive one.’ Okay and I’m all three. But seriously, most people are actually funny, good at a variety of things, and have stories to tell. Be kind to other people and let’s stop stereotyping ourselves as well as others…. Do things for yourself.”
Valedictorian Eshani Patel summed up the four-year high school journey of the Class of 2023 with the following observation:
“Throughout our high school years, we have collectively experienced moments of triumph and moments of adversity. We have celebrated victories and persevered through challenges,” Patel recalled. “Specifically it is impossible to ignore the COVID pandemic, an unforeseen circumstance that forever altered our high school careers. Yet still, we have laughed together, cried together, and supported one another through it all. It is the strength of our unity and camaraderie that has made our high school journey all the more meaningful.”
Patel concluded with wise words from Winnie the Pooh, and a cheer for her fellow Mustangs: “’How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?’ A chapter’s ending but our story’s only just begun. Congratulations Class of 2023! Thank you Montville. Roll Stangs!”
Class Advisors Stephanie Bongiovani and Christopher Butchko congratulated the graduates.
“When you began the journey here at MTHS in the fall of 2019, who knew what a wild ride we were gonna have?” Butchko said on behalf of himself and Bongiovani. “But here we are today having overcome the challenges of the previous three years.”
Butchko also offered two pieces of advice, and a sincere reminder: “One, always follow your dreams, and two, don’t worry about things that are beyond your control…. It has been a pleasure to be your advisors. Always remember your teachers here at MTHS are here to help you and we are just one email away. Congratulations.”
Explaining that he and the Class of 2023 have been on a similar trajectory since the graduates began their junior year, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Gorman also addressed the students. He told them that while they were researching their options for their next steps following graduation, he too was researching his next steps which ultimately brought him to the Montville Township Public Schools district. Their senior year was his first year at MTPS.
“Life is not stagnant and we make decisions as we pursue new goals, opportunities, and dreams,” Gorman explained. “The change may be a little scary and you may have some doubts, but know in your heart that you have made the right choice and that you have everyone in attendance, both here and virtually, watching from around the globe, supporting you and wishing you well in all of your endeavors.”
The final speaker of the evening, Montville Township Board of Education President Dr. David Modrak, promised to be brief, and was as he wished the graduates “All the happiness and success in the world, however you define that.”
The BOE President concluded with an enthusiastic “Good luck and congratulations on a job well done.”
The Montville Township High School Concert Choir, under the direction of Choir Director Theodore Cherney, sang the ALMA MATER and UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN.
The 52nd Annual Montville Township High School Commencement Exercises were broadcast LIVE on the Montville Township Public Schools YouTube Channel and can be viewed at www.montville.net/mthsgraduation.