CAPE ELIZABETH – Along with roars of laughter, tears and plenty of sunshine, 123 Cape Elizabeth High School seniors marched across the field at Fort Williams Park on Sunday to accept their diplomas and to celebrate turning the page to the next chapter of their lives.

Sunday’s ceremony – which boasted blue skies and a temperature reaching 80 degrees – commemorated the students’ accomplishments during the last four years. On behalf of the faculty and staff at Cape Elizabeth High School, Principal Jeffrey Shedd said this year’s senior class would definitely be “missed.”

For Shedd, the memories trace back to when the students were kindergartners in 2001 – the last class taught in what is now the high school math wing – and when “jet planes ripped into the twin World Trade Center towers in Manhattan,” he said.

“That day at school, I suspect, is a day they will never forget,” said Shedd. The kindergarten teachers “no doubt” knew what was happening during Sept. 11, said Shedd, “but their guts must have been churning up inside,” in order to keep the students’ learning experience “as normal as they could make it.” He said the common theme in Cape Elizabeth that day – and it is always – was “teachers doing what is best for kids.”

In addition to honoring the graduates, Shedd encouraged the students and their parents to show appreciation to the “dedicated teachers K-12 in the Cape Elizabeth school system,” and reminded the seniors to thank their parents for ongoing support throughout their academic years.

Shedd identified the graduating class as “way above average.” Some students were also given “excellence” awards for their achievements, school spirit and leadership.

In keeping with graduation tradition, Shedd announced the top 10 percent of seniors of the class of 2014, including this year’s valedictorian, Kevin Chamberlain Hare, who is also a member of the National Honor Society and the Maroon Medal Society. This society rewards students of Cape Elizabeth High School for their achievement in scholarship, service, leadership and sports, and for promoting greater student participation in all school activities.

During his valedictory address, Hare reminded the assembled graduates, family and friends that President John F. Kennedy “challenged the United States to safely put a man on the moon.”

“In doing so, he set the loftiest national goal ever proposed by a president,” Hare said.

“This wasn’t the only example of taking on something unheard of and awe inspiring. Look at the projects that preceded it,” Hare added, including the Hoover Dam, the Manhattan project, and the interstate highway system.

“As a nation, we looked up and down these tremendous challenges and accepted them with willing and open arms,” Hare said.

He said today’s society “seems devoid of these concentrated efforts” and “all too often we worry about the lives of celebrities and athletes” and “devote hours to electronic games of all forms.”

As a result, “we forget about the greater challenges in the world around us,” he said.

He told the graduates that in the “not-too-distant future,” they would be confronted with issues, including climate change that would require “ambitious solutions and demand teamwork, ingenuity and perseverance.”

According to Kennedy, Hare said, “the greatest challenges are the ones that serve to bring out the best in humanity.”

“We must be willing to, above all else, to take on challenges,” Hare said, in his own words.

This year’s alumni award recipient, an entrepreneur who graduated from Cape Elizabeth High School in 2003, Luke Holden, said, “The happiest and most successful people I have come across in life have learned how to consistently make the right decisions.”

The alumni award is given annually to a Cape Elizabeth graduate who has made a “positive contribution to their community, profession or society through dedication and perseverance,” said Michael Wood, a member of the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation Board of Directors.

Holden shared some tips with the graduates about “good, general decision-making” during Sunday’s commencement ceremony, drawn from personal experiences, including what he calls the “80-20 Rule.” He said, according to this rule, “approximately 80 percent of the effects in life come from 20 percent of the causes.”

“Those who can identify that 20 percent are significantly more efficient and productive and therefore are more happy and successful,” Holden said.

“Life moves fast; often so fast that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Force yourself to take a step back, slow down and reflect on the various decisions that you make, the cause and effect of those decisions, and learn from them,” he said. “With every decision you make, make them with passion.”

English teacher Joel Shroder, who gave the faculty address during Sunday’s graduation and shared musings about his students and his own life, had similar advice for graduates. “You will be surprised at how quickly things start to move when you’re not looking,” Shroder said. “I think of age not as time spent but as life accumulated.”

He told the graduates that as a high school student, he knew he was meant to be a teacher; but he worked various odd jobs to “get a taste of the real world” before going back to college and launching his teaching career at the age of 30.

“No amount of money, no social cache, no swanky address will make living the wrong life worth it. Be brave,” said Shroder. “Make yourself sensitive to the force that pulls you toward the thing it is you are supposed to do. Take your time and do your homework.”

“Get ready to make a lot of mistakes,” he continued. “If you are lucky you will make them early and often, and realize the gift they are in the journey to becoming a decent human being.”

Henry Gent, a member of both the Maroon Medal Society and National Honor Society, delivered a short speech, influenced by anecdotes by writer David Foster Wallace. He told the graduates a story of two young fish that came upon a “wise” fish as they were swimming. The wise fish asked the two young fish, “How is the water?” Gent said.

As the two fish continued swimming, one turned to the other and asked what water is, but the other fish did not know the answer, Gent said.

“I don’t know what water is, I am not the wise fish, I am one of the young, clueless fish,” Gent said. He related that anecdote to a former job he had at Village Crossings, a retirement home in Cape Elizabeth, where a conversation between an optimistic woman and a pessimistic man particularly struck him, he said.

Gent said he had overheard the man ask the woman how she could always be so happy. Her response was simple, said Gent. She said, “Why not be so happy? It’s free.”

In Gent’s speech, the water served as a symbol for the “real world” that the graduates are about to enter, and as a metaphor for the old woman’s acknowledgement about her “inability to decide and control everything.”

“She could not change the water, but she could change herself and her outlook,” Gent said. “Happiness, and even optimism, is one of the first stepping stones to becoming a wise fish,” he said.

“The principle choice we have, the one we make everyday, lies in our attitude and our ability to choose what our outlook in life will be,” said Gent.

He told the graduates that at this point in their lives they may not be able to choose their “water” – the world around them – but as time goes on they must learn that they “have the power to change.”

“However, perhaps most importantly,” said Gent, “Wherever and whenever you find your water, make sure you’re happy swimming in it.”

Cape Elizabeth High School’s class of 2014 marches to “Pomp and Circumstance” played by the high school band during their graduation ceremony at Fort Williams Park on Sunday. Class of 2014 valedictorian Kevin Chamberlain Hare delivers his valedictory address on Sunday. Hare told his fellow graduates that they “must be willing to, above all else, take on challenges.”The Cape Elizabeth High School Band plays processional music at the start of the class of 2014’s graduation ceremony Sunday.Cape Elizabeth seniors, from left, Mollie Thibodeau, Shannon Howard, Hannah Homans, and Mackenzie Leighton, sing a choral medley featuring “Home” by Edward Sharpe and Magnetic Zeroes, during their graduation on Sunday.

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