By Joel Kost

MediaNews

GROTON -- Lawrence Academy's graduates and their families entered the school's quad on Friday morning to find potted plants bearing inspirational messages:

"Plant your path." "Sow seeds for your future."

Head of School Dan Scheibe worked that inspiration into his speech, aimed at an emotional day for students, friends, and family. But first, he addressed the topic on everyone else's mind: the heat.

"The first thing I want to acknowledge is the weather. It is warmer. It is going to get warmer. And by the time we finish, it will be hot," Scheibe told the 220th commencement as temperatures raced into the 90s. "These conditions express the nature of time, the elements and the universe. So I encourage you to do what human beings do: adapt and evolve. In other words, feel free, within reason, to remove stifling clothing and accessories and to engineer your programs into the best possible fan."

Scheibe praised students for their "acknowledgment," owning their knowledge, which they gained during their four years at Lawrence Academy.

"The word of the moment is acknowledge. We recognize the word knowledge in there easy enough, but what's the 'ac' at the beginning?," Scheibe said. "It's not just some choking response or an allergic reaction, it's an activating agent proposing some kind of action of knowledge, which you all have today."

Student speaker and graduating senior Haley Gowland recognized the knowledge she's gained and the journey that brought her to where she is today. She compared her time at Lawrence Academy to the movie The Sandlot, a story about a group of kids going to extreme measures to retrieve a baseball out of a neighbor's yard.

Similarly, Gowland did everything she could to "get the ball," from acting, to playing nearly every sport Lawrence Academy offered, to being accepted into the Cum Laude Society.

But in the end, the journey makes the experience worthwhile, she said, not the destination.

"(Graduation) is not what's important," Gowland said. "How we get here is."

This year's guest speaker, Capt. Helen Furbush, the deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Navy as chief of staff of the Intelligence Directorate, stressed the same idea.

"To fulfill their potential: I hope that's their mission," she said. "To not settle for second rate when they can be first rate."

Furbush ended by quoting Dr. Seuss.

"This is your day. Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way," she said in her speech.

Despite the students' excitement, some were sad to say goodbye to their home for the past four years.

"This is a very diverse group but it's very caring," graduating senior Sean Mullaney said. "It's tight-knit. We all count on each other."

"I loved all of it," his twin brother Joseph added. "I'm going to miss it a lot."