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Darien High Salutatorian Melanie Turner Says 'It's Time To Do Great Things'

Darien High School graduation
Darien High School graduation Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern

DARIEN, Conn. -- Here is the full text of the Salutatorian Address given Tuesday at Darien High School's graduation by Melanie Turner:

Good evening graduates, faculty, and families. At graduation, we are constantly reminded that we “are going to do great things.” Teachers tell us we “are onto bigger and better adventures.” Relatives speak of the days when we will “rise to the top of our field.” Parents look forward to how we will “make a difference in this world.”

I’m sure most my peers have been told in so many words, “You are going to do great things.”

No pressure.

While it is unrealistic to think that each of us will be featured as Time’s “Person of the Year,” I actually believe all of us can do great things, though perhaps not in the way most would think.

For my senior internship, I have been at Waveny Care Center (a nursing facility in New Canaan), working with patients who suffer from dementia, physical illness, and other limiting conditions. Though many now appear physically weak or mentally unstable, these men and women were once the doctors, artists, athletes, scientists, and CEOs whom we long to become.

I’ve met a former Madison Avenue advertiser, a previous CBS corporate nurse, and a retired law professor who wrote over 100 books on his area of his focus. Business owners, directors of facilities, engineers, architects, management consultants, World War II veterans…these people did great things.

And yet, when I ask these residents to share about all the great things they accomplished, they don’t talk about the achievements we sit here and think about at graduation. Instead, they mention cooking a long-lasting family recipe for Italian red sauce. Or receiving a letter from a granddaughter that spoke of her newborn girl.

One man mentioned learning from a favorite teacher in elementary school. Several recall getting married or having kids. These moments never made it onto resumes, job applications, or certificates of honor, but they are clearly lasting hallmarks of a great life.

The former artist may no longer be able to paint due to decreased motor control, and the retired athlete may have to move with a walker, but their relationships continue to add purpose and meaning to their lives.

By the time we are wheelchair-bound and perhaps losing our memory, it’s very possible that many of us, like those at Waveny, will have contributed to mankind in a significant and public way. However, even these accomplishments will fade into the past as we return to a state of dependency, losing whatever titles we may have earned to the descriptor, “that old person.”

By contrast, the love we have for family and the enjoyment of carefree moments shared with friends will endure.

So go out and make important discoveries, become influential politicians, write world-famous novels, appear in the media, create beautiful art, earn large sums, and contribute to this world in big ways, but remember that those may not be the only great things.

Let’s allow ourselves to wonder, listen, encourage, empathize, laugh, appreciate, and celebrate as we start this next chapter in our lives.

Congratulations Class of 2015. It’s time to do great things.

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