Staples High School faculty and Class of 2024 members enter the athletic field for Monday’s 137th commencement ceremonies. / Photo by Linda Conner Lambeck
Staples Class of 2024 valedictorian Leigh Foran, left, and salutatorian Andrew Berkowitz address graduation ceremonies. / Photos by Thane Grauel

By Linda Conner Lambeck

WESTPORT — Two characteristics of the Staples High School Class of 2024 stand out to Principal Stafford Thomas — their maturity and penchant for having a good time.

“This year I’ve seen you live your best lives,” he told 430 graduates seated on chairs spread across the school’s football field at the 137th commencement exercises Monday evening.

Under sunny skies and a breeze that made keeping mortar boards in place a challenge, Thomas told the graduates they had a school spirit second to none and contributed to the restoration and transformation of Staples post-COVID pandemic.

Elation at graduation: Happy graduates at the Class of 2024 commencement. / Photos by Linda Conner Lambeck

It was a class that spent part of their middle school years together at Bedford Middle School when mold problems caused evacuation of Coleytown Middle School.

Freshman year at Staples began in hybrid format because of the pandemic. “Those of us with the last names A to K did [at least],” class salutatorian Andrew Berkowitz noted during his remarks. The rest of the class, names K to Z, would spend that first day of freshman year at home, attending classes via a computer screen.

Neither normal or easy, Berkowitz, a varsity swimmer headed to Amherst College in the fall, said the class nonetheless persevered.

“We would be the class that turned failure into opportunity,” he said.

Camera ready: Portrait of the Staples ’24 commencement procession.

As parents and friends watched from the bleachers, Thomas said the class created more clubs than the school has ever seen: 120.

Some 85 percent of the class participated in a sport, club, or a music or theater group.

During their years at Staples, the class has chalked up 11 state championships, the latest coming two days ago when the boys’ rugby team won the Connecticut Boys D1 high school title.

Members of the class are headed to 171 different post-secondary institutions, according to Inklings, the student newspaper. Top majors are: undecided, business and psychology.

Five classmates enlisted in the armed services, while nine are taking a gap year.

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To see a large photo gallery of scenes at the Staples High School 2024 commencement, click here.

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Valedictorian Leigh Foran, who will attend Columbia University in the fall, told classmates she knows what they are capable of doing.

“Even when there are other factors we can’t control, the Class of 2024 has always done everything we can to give ourselves the best shot at success,” said Foran. 

“We have a deeply rooted sense of drive and grit.”

She urged the graduates to use their skills to rejuvenate and reinvigorate a world that, from what she can tell, is tumultuous. “Let’s make the choice to get involved in our communities. To speak up and use our voices. To educate ourselves and take advantage of every single opportunity to stay informed,” she said.

“I am excited about this feeling of confidence I can’t seem to shake,” said Foran. “We all have too much potential to let our LinkedIn profiles define us.”

Thomas described Foran as someone with a brilliant mind and kind, inclusive spirit. Selected as a U.S. Presidential Scholar, she also ran track, played on two state championship soccer teams and also found time to conduct biomedical research at Yale and Fairfield universities.

Principal Stafford Thomas.
Principal Stafford Thomas. / Photo by Thane Grauel

At Staples, Foran also helped start one of those 120 clubs — IDEA, or Inclusion and Diversity through Education and Awareness Club — that aims to teach young children the importance of inclusivity.

Before collecting diplomas and turning tassels, Thomas told the Class of 2024 that the usual advice most graduates get about bracing for the real world really doesn’t apply to them.

“Your middle school experience coupled with freshman hybrid days at Staples, increased your exposure to just how real and how fast things can get,” Thomas said. “You’ve been living in the real world for quite some time.”

“Go Wreckers!” he concluded.

Freelance writer Linda Conner Lambeck, a reporter for more than four decades at the Connecticut Post and other Hearst publications, is a member of the Education Writers Association. 

A scoreboard salute to the Class of 2024.