Commencement. It is both an end and a beginning. And while New Canaan High School's graduating class of 2011 is no doubt excited for their future, they couldn't help but look back at the journey that brought them to this point.

"It's bittersweet," Ryan Taylor, who plans on pursuing music at Full Sail University, said. "I am really excited to graduate but it's definitely sad to leave all this behind. There are just so many memories from high school that I am never going to forget."

Alex Farina, who will attend Lafayette College where he'll play Division I baseball, couldn't believe the day was finally here.

"It feels great," he said. "It was really quick actually. High school just kind of flew by so fast. It will be great to move on but I will definitely miss this place."

Selectman Rob Mallozzi's son, Robby Mallozzi IV, who will attend the University of Vermont, also took the time to think about the past.

"There has definitely been a lot of nostalgia today," he said. "I actually went back to South School and Saxe Middle School today to visit. It has been a really reflective time I guess."

More Information

Fact box

If the students were reflective and excited, the parents and relatives packing the bleachers at Dunning Field were beaming. Ernest Ouellette made the trek from Massachusetts to come see his granddaughter Jacquelyn graduate this year.

"I am super proud of my daughter," Alan Oullete, Jacquelyn's father said. "It's great to see her graduate with her grandfather here from Massachusetts and her grandmother here all the way from South Carolina."

The combination of excitement, anxiousness and sadness certainly characterized the mood amongst students, parents and faculty on a day that held more meaning than a typical graduation ceremony. Not only was the community saying goodbye to the class of 2011, but also to their leader and mentor, Tony Pavia, who will take on the role of principal at Trinity Catholic July 1.

Throughout the evening, each speaker made it abundantly clear that the class of 2011 was marked by an uncommon sense of responsibility and compassion. Board of Education Chairman Nick Williams described the students' reputation as "unusually mature and enlightened." Superintendant Dr. David Abbey said it was no coincidence that these students exemplified the qualities of Tony Pavia himself.

"You helped to make New Canaan High School a more human and accepting place," Abbey said.

Student speaker P.J. Larson gave a somewhat satirical power-hungry speech about how he and his fellow graduates set an example to stop bullying.

"The class of 2011 was born in blood. Broken and horrified at the abuse of power and bullying, we set out, alone but individually inspired to swear off using that power to suppress others, to use that power to stop a fight, defend an innocent, speak out for a cause we believed in," Larson said. "But the miracle here was not that a few new leaders displaced the old ones. No, the miracle that will forever distinguish the class of 2011 was that those first leaders inspired new ones, and before long, everyone became leaders, everyone pursued their ambitions, everyone inspired each other to new lengths. But we didn't stop there, we intervened everywhere else in the school, nothing stopped our path, we won, we created a bully-free New Canaan High School!"

In his commencement speech, Pavia was as reflective as the students he guided to that very field. But he could not let them go without some final words of wisdom and inspiration. Years ago, Pavia began writing a book about World War II veterans and the people who shaped history during that era. He recalled the critics of that time calling many of those young Americans a "wild, undisciplined and carefree generation."

"Yet, this group when faced with a monumental crisis, rose to the challenge. At this moment of history, these ordinary Americans became extraordinary," Pavia said. "The average rose to greatness. This diverse, undisciplined group of common citizens came together to build modern America and give us the life and the freedom we enjoy today."

So what did the World War II generation have in common with the class of 2011? A lot more than you might imagine Pavia says.

"Your generation too has been judged by social critics. You have been characterized in many of the same ways as your grandparents and great grandparents. But having worked with you these past four years, I do not have a single fear as to your place in history. Time and time again, you, the Class of 2011, have demonstrated the power of the ordinary individual to be extraordinary," he said proudly. "You have demonstrated that respect, love, civility and consideration for others trumps pettiness, incivility and meanness every single time. You have shown that leadership need not come in the form of loud, grand or dramatic gestures. That leadership can come in the form of persistent civility, single acts of kindness or courage in standing up for others."

Every student, parent, relative, faculty and administrative member stood up for Pavia at the conclusion of his speech. A wave of applause and cheer echoed throughout the field for what seemed like minutes. So as the graduates walk away from their school they called home for four years, they can carry more than their diploma. They can carry the words and inspiration of Tony Pavia, something that need not be framed or photographed, just remembered.