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‘Try your voice, and don’t hold back,’ Groton School graduates urged

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GROTON – Graduates at Groton School’s prize-day ceremony learned that eccentricity can be a virtue when the mainstream is mired in establishmentarianism and oppression.

“Democracy is a great thing because it says that people can rule themselves,” said former Bulgarian Prime Minister Philip Dimitrov, the keynote speaker at the school’s May 31 commencement ceremonies. “There is no class born to rule. Whenever you have the chance, try your voice and don’t hold back.”

Introduced by Headmaster Richard Commons as an early fighter against the oppressive communist rulers that controlled his country for 50 years, Dimitrov warned graduates that there would always be those who sought to discourage them by saying that one person could hardly be expected to change things. But speaking from his own experience, he insisted that it was not true.

“In the course of human events,” quoted Dimitrov from the Declaration of Independence, “do whatever you can.”

Citing his own experience, Dimitrov said that in taking part in protests against communist rule in Bulgaria he did not start out with the intention of overthrowing the regime but merely to “polish” its rough edges. But modest beginnings turned into a tidal wave that swept the establishment away and freed the people.

Talking is good, said Dimitrov, but sometimes it becomes necessary to take to the streets and fight for what you believe. Struggle, however, is not necessarily something that can be measured in victories. George Washington, after all, won only a single battlefield victory but that victory ended the Revolution.

“The important thing,” concluded Dimitrov, “is that the cause should win.”

It was an unusual way of putting the question of change, of victory through defeat, but it was a concept not altogether strange for the 74 graduates listening in the audience.

“I think this is a class of really cool students who found unity not in the usual definition of how people conform, but in an exchange of interests and values and even personal peculiarities,” noted Texas resident Adrien Duroc-Danner, who was chosen to speak to fellow graduates at Sunday’s ceremony. “We got to know each other so well and to value each other’s eccentricities that we created a new kind of conformity, and that’s a good thing.”

“I admired this class particularly for their utter unity and harmony as well as for being persons of diverse talent,” Commons said. “Together, they led the school and gave it great spirit and direction when necessary.”

“We were a pretty diverse group,” agreed graduate Jono Turchetta of Harvard. “People at the Groton School are great, and the administration puts the kids first. Teachers don’t just teach, they build relationships with their students.”

“Because of the small size of our class, we all got to know each other personally,” added graduate Kerri McKie of Groton. “But that just makes it so much harder to leave.”

Of the students in the graduating class, all are expected to move on to institutions of higher learning.

“They were a great class,” noted mathematics teacher Nishad Das of the graduates. “They were very thoughtful.”

“I think they led well,” said science teacher Bert Hall. “The problems of school and relationships are always a challenge for students, but they were able to handle them and led the rest of the school in the process.”

But if unity and eccentricity prove to be the hallmarks of the graduating class, it was hoped that they would be qualities that helped them in the years to come, years that promise not to be as easy as for past graduates.

“This is a place that builds strength,” said James Higgins, president of the school’s board of trustees. “And this is a world that requires strength.”

In an economic and political environment that over the past year has become “uncertain, complex and risky,” having the intellectual and moral strength to tell the true course from the false will be a valuable skill to have, he said.

But the graduates of 2009, said Higgins, are proof that the Groton School has not failed to prepare its students well.

“Use the strengths you found here to help yourself and more importantly, to help others,” concluded Higgins. “Drink deeply of today; it will support you the rest of your life.”

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