Life is a salad bar, New Canaan High School Class of 2010 President Hannah Herde said at the school's graduation Wednesday evening.

"Our families, our friends and our teachers are our lettuce," she said. They form the foundation for each individual graduate.

"In the years to come, we will continue to add ingredients and grow," she told her 290 classmates and the hundreds of guests in attendance.

"We are all unique, yet we are all from the same salad bar," she said.

NCHS Principal Tony Pavia spoke of one particular member of the graduating class whose path to the commencement ceremony was particularly unique -- Frank Gallo.

"In 1944, he spent his 18th birthday not at graduation, but in Europe... with the 310th infantry," Pavia said. "Like many young people of his time, he placed his dreams on hold."

While Gallo may be the only graduating New Canaan Ram to have military service under his belt, the teens dressed in red and white robes have a lot to be proud of too, Pavia said. He spoke of the students' commitment to community service as well as their "shining" character and decency.

"You, like Mr. Gallo, will emerge as this country's next greatest generation," he told the graduates.

It was a sentiment echoed by other members of the faculty and staff, including NCHS teacher Michael McAteer, who served as commencement speaker.

"If any of you in this audience have heard of America going to hell in a hand basket ... let me introduce you to the class of 2010," McAteer said.

The graduates serve as an inspiration for McAteer, who has taught in the district for 14 years.

"Inspiration needn't be epic," he said. He spoke of being inspired by students' art work on display in the halls of the high school, and the kind words of a student admiring her younger sister's creativity.

"You inspire me to constantly try to be a better man," he said.

Members of the senior class are already beginning to go their separate ways to make their mark on the world.

Peter Huff, who earned the principal's achievement award, missed the past two days of school in order to fulfill his duties as a camp counselor in upstate New York. Instead of celebrating in the sun with his classmates, Huff has been working with young boys in Westport, N.Y., at Camp Dudley.

"It's an all-boys character development and leadership camp," Huff said. "It's about learning to be a good person."

Huff will attend Georgetown in the fall, though he is not yet certain what he wants to study.

"I'll miss being around the people I know every day, but I'm excited for a change. Change is good, and so is meeting new people," Huff said.

Some of his classmates will be attending colleges in small groups. Caitlin Anderson is one of a handful of NCHS grads to head to Boston University and Perri Finnican will join some older NCHS alumni at Gettysburg College. But other students will be carving out their own paths in just a few short weeks.

Jenny McEneaney will be the sole New Canaanite heading to the University of Arizona.

"I'm excited to move on, but sad to leave people and things behind," McEneaney said as she prepared for the ceremony.

But setting off on her own path is a good thing, she said. And she's not the only graduate who appreciates the value of blazing her own trail.

Stephanie Maffeo referenced Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled" during her address Wednesday evening. When two roads diverged in a wood, she took the one less traveled by, she said.

"As a person with learning differences, I've had to take different paths than most of you," she told her classmates.

She reminded those in attendance about the importance of "appreciating the person who seems to be on a different path," and recognizing that finding your own way can be fulfilling.

"Life isn't only surviving the storm, but learning to dance in the rain," she said. "So if you find yourself on the road less traveled, remember that road can make all the difference."

As her classmate Hannah Herde said, it could be the difference between a good salad and a really awesome one.