FAIRFIELD — In a hot and humid gymnasium Thursday evening, three outstanding students tried to put the importance of graduating from Lawrence High School into words for a group of 1,000, faculty and fellow graduates.

The bleachers and a sea of folding chairs were jam-packed with adults. Many were dressed specially for the occasion; others seemed happy just to have made it to an event that had overflowed the parking lot, leaving newcomers to park on lawns, in fire lanes and in front of residential houses for blocks away before hurrying inside in their work clothes.

When the 156 graduates entered in an imprecise lockstep to a processional from the school band, the boys in blue with white carnations and the girls in white with blue carnations, parents craned their necks and jockeyed for the best angle to take a picture of their children.

Michaela Hinckley-Gordon had the unusual distinction of being elected as class president for four years running, and her graduation was just one step in a larger journey of learning.

“The discovery of who we are is based on learning who we are not,” she told her classmates. “The biggest mistake would be not to make any.”

The student honors speaker, Josie Champagne, characterized their years in school together as an experience that was more alike than any individual student knew.

While each student was familiar with his or her own particular challenges, she said, “we didn’t know we were all facing the same fears and struggles.”

The students carefully parsed which of their peers were different, she said, but “what we didn’t know is that we are all weirdos.”

As the proud expressions on the faces in the crowd slowly pinkened with the heat, teacher James Willis offered a moment of levity as he introduced class valedictorian Aaron Brown.

“I was 79th in my high school class,” he quipped. “We had 50 kids in the whole class.”

Brown, said Willis, distinguished himself not only academically and as a student athlete, but through his creativity and energy. Willis said Brown once crafted a slingshot that shot a pencil with such force that the pencil went into Brown’s own hand. On another occasion, Willis said, Brown invented a different method of shoveling snow that resulted in a broken thumb.

“Aaron has not let any grass grow beneath his feet,” Willis said.

Brown, who has been accepted into the honors college of the University of Maine, where he plans to major in mechanical engineering, confirmed that both stories were true.

Brown said the moment of graduation would not define the lives of the classmates.

He told the stories of NBA superstar Kevin Durant and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who both faced hardship and failed to distinguish themselves academically.

Brown told the students that their own chances at high achievement would depend on what happened after graduation, not before.

“What we do now for the rest of our lives will determine whether we will be successful,” he said.

Principal Pamela Swett told the students that she had grown to appreciate words of wisdom from her own mother.

“There is no benefit to toughness,” she said. “Be nice. Stay as special as you are.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

Twitter: @hh_matt

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