New London - Asked to think ahead to a day when they are in a position of power and faced with a decision that will have a profound effect on the lives of others, commencement speaker John Knudsen challenged the 53 Williams School graduates to make the responsible, compassionate choice rather than the expedient one.
"Our hope rests in the integrity of the choices you make," Knudsen, history teacher and father of one of the graduating seniors, said during the ceremony at Palmer Auditorium at Connecticut College.
His admonition came after recounting the tale of two World War II fighter pilots, one American and one German, who first encountered each other in 1943, when the German pilot escorted the badly damaged American plane to safety rather than shoot it down. Some 50 years later, the American pilot tracked the German pilot down to his home in Canada, and the two became best friends and fishing buddies. In 2008, the two died within two months of each other.
The story, Knudsen said, reminded him why he teaches: to help guide the lives of students, just a few years younger than those two pilots were during World War II, and to help prepare them to make the kinds of decisions that German pilot made.
Before Knudsen's remarks, senior class speaker Andrew Watson of Madison urged fellow students to appreciate the present.
"Celebrate and throw your imaginary hats in the air," he said, referring to the Williams graduation uniforms: cream-colored dresses and dark suit jackets rather than caps and gowns. "It's your moment, but it's fleeting."
He acknowledged that "we are a little sheltered here at Williams," but that the private school has given them experiences they can build off of when facing the world.
"Stay humble and thankful," Watson said. "Both will serve you well in life."
He closed his remarks with a simple goodbye: "I love you all. Class dismissed."
Watson was part of a "fun-loving (and) quirky class," said Mark Fader, head of school.
But it was also one that distinguished itself in several ways. One example, he said, was the first-ever coffeehouse fundraiser the class ran for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund. It was the first time the Williams senior class made a donation to the fund, which in turn will help members of their peer group go to college, Fader said.