It has been 30 years since Jason Curry spent one year as a student at Cheshire Academy — one year of what had been a tumultuous early educational career that found the young Curry all but out of chances.
Having attended five different high schools throughout his teens, Curry, a standout basketball player, was finally accepted at the Academy in 1990.
“I remember laying on the grass, looking up at the sky, knowing that this was my last chance,” Curry recalled on Saturday, June 5, as he delivered the keynote speech at Cheshire Academy’s 227th Commencement celebration. “I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it.”
What that one year taught Curry would stay with him for the rest of his life. It not only helped him graduate from the school as an honors student, but it also grew in him an attachment to the school that has remained strong for the past three decades.
“The Academy taught me how to study. It taught me how to sit at the front of the class,” he said. “The Academy literally changed my life.”
Curry attended St. Michael’s College, was a standout for the basketball team, and graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. His professional career has included everything from sideline reporter to management consultant. He is also president and founder of Big Apple Basketball. But for him, it all started on the grassy hills of the Academy.
“There are people who can’t be accepted to Cheshire Academy,” Curry told the 106 graduates, most of whom were sitting in front of him on a hot morning under the tent at the Academy campus. “So my challenge to you today is to be someone else’s Cheshire Academy. Be so inspirational to someone else that they want to send their children to the Academy.”
This year’s Commencement ceremony was a scaled back version of the school’s usual celebration, but much more in keeping with tradition than what was required in 2020, when the school moved its ceremony back to August in order to accommodate a small in-person event.
While masks were still being worn and the crowd was limited to select family and friends, the graduates were able to sit together, receive their diplomas, and celebrate as a class one last time.
The pandemic that has so altered the last year-plus of education was foremost on everyone’s minds throughout the ceremony, with each speaker mentioning the unique challenges that were faced beginning in March of 2020. Class President Alexis Tolentino told her fellow classmates that each one should be proud, not just of graduating, but having done so during a national health crisis.
“Last March, we had no idea what was going to happen,” said Tolentino. “This year, we have shined the most when we have had to endure the most.”
Tolentino made sure to thank not just her teachers for helping guide students through the tumult caused by everything from remote learning to health safety protocols; she also singled out families for making “the sacrifices that have allowed you to be here today.”
Salutatorian Caroline Fishbein mentioned that one of the positives produced by the pandemic was the ability to spend more time with her family. That meant movie nights, and it allowed the teenager to catch up on some old favorites of hers.
One of those happened to be the Disney classic “The Lion King,” which had Fishbein thinking about the similarities between the main character Simba and his journey throughout the film, and the Class of 2021.
Fishbein mentioned how, just as Simba dreamed of being a king someday, she and her classmates entered Cheshire Academy dreaming of one day being the “kings” of the school as seniors.
But Simba, like students of today, faced obstacles, and Fishbein mentioned how, in addition to a worldwide health crisis, the problems of inequality and climate change continue to be issues.
However, where some may see obstacles, Fishbein sees opportunities.
“How fortunate are we to be at a point in our lives where we can use our voices for changes,” she said. “We are the generation of acceptance. Whatever it is you become, our jobs will be (to work) for the good of humanity.”
Ziyuan Xu’s valedictorian address was a reminder of just how much the pandemic continues to impact society, as the senior delivered his remarks via a recorded message from Japan, where he has been remote learning since March 2020. Xu harkened back to his younger days fishing in Tokyo, explaining how one day, after a particularly disappointing morning that proudced no catcher, he was approached by an older fisherman who asked what was the matter. When Xu explained his frustration over having put in much effort and preparation to only come up, the older man simply inquired, “What did you expect?”
It was Xu’s first lesson in how uncertain life can be.
“The reason I love fishing is because you have to engage with uncertainties and find solutions,” said Xu. “Our lives are dotted with uncertainties. There have been COVID-filled uncertainties (this year), and some have often lost hope.”
“We have to face the fact that, as we explore this world and ourselves, we will encounter uncertainties,” he continued. “But uncertainties can be used to develop new strategies, become more adaptive, more powerful and resilient.”
Before students were presented with their diplomas, one last small surprise awaited them. Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, who is family friends with one of the graduating seniors, recorded a special congratulations for the Class, encouraging them to become the innovators of tomorrow.