EASTHAM – When Benten Niggel first came to Cape Cod, it was as a timid three-year-old recently adopted after several years in foster care. On June 8, Niggel, president of Nauset Regional High School’s Class of 2019, became one of 240 graduates of the school, grateful for the journey that saw him through his formative years and which will encourage him to soar as he heads to Harvard University in the fall.
“The hardest times in life often lead to the greatest moments,” Niggel told his fellow graduates in a powerful speech at the start of Saturday’s commencement. “Adversity is not burdensome. It is a series of episodes in one’s life that build character.”
Niggel reminded the Class of 2019 that everyone would face his or her adversities, which they must work to overcome.
“Smooth seas do not make skilled sailors,” Niggel said, borrowing from an African proverb.
He went on to cite numerous examples of how the Class of 2019 triumphed over adversity, from the rowing team’s determined performance in the Head of the Charles Regatta to the boys tennis team claiming the Atlantic Coast League title for the first time in more than 20 years, as well as the boys soccer team’s two state championship victories.
There was much to celebrate, as evidenced by the enthusiastic applause of the hundreds gathered to watch Nauset’s graduates in black gowns accentuated with gold stripes, the school colors, accept their diplomas and become official alumni.
Salutatorian Francesca Galazzi of Orleans dubbed the event both a coming and a going. She filled her speech with gratitude for the family members, friends, and educators that helped each graduate along the way before sharing a short story she’d written, using it as a means of encouraging her classmates to live and love deeply, sharing their light with others.
Valedictorian Katie Leland of Chatham infused a bit of humor into her speech, recalling leaving school on an icy winter afternoon and narrowly avoiding an accident. Unscathed, Leland drove safely home, unaware that behind her a slew of cars ended up in their own small pileup, for which Leland apologized before reminiscing about her years at Nauset with fondness.
“Although I’m turning my back, I’ll always carry a piece of Nauset with me wherever I go,” she said, giving a special nod to her girls soccer teammates, whose bond will carry well beyond the high school walls and playing fields.
Nauset Principal Dr. Christopher Ellsasser drew inspiration from the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken,” explaining that he often encouraged students to turn left out of the school parking lot so as to enjoy the view during a drive along the shore. But as time passed, Ellsasser realized his students had something to teach him as they continuously chose their own routes home.
“Whether you turn left or right when you leave school today, what is important is that your choice is right for you,” he said. “There is not one way, one road, or one life that is best for everyone. Thank you for teaching me that.”