Daniel Arena, the Montville Township High School Class of 2022 Student Activities Council President, will be going into the PGA Professional Golf Management Program at the North Carolina State University in the fall.
“The most important wisdom I’ll take with me from High School is that balance is the key to happiness,” Arena said recently when asked about the wisdom he has gleaned during his four years at MTHS. “I spent a lot of my time, more than I would have liked, with my head buried in a book and stressed about school. Grades are important, but so are healthy relationships and a healthy mind. I’ll be much more balanced in my college years and beyond.”
In his address to the Class of 2022, Arena shared the story of his academic career with the 255 graduates who attended the 51st Annual Commencement ceremony on Thursday, June 23, 2022.
Most specifically Arena talked about his mother waking him up, and his routine for getting ready and going to school each day. He noted that at every phase throughout his time in school, while the wake-up routine would change, from elementary to middle to high school, the morning message from his mother remained constant.
“My mom would repeat the same phrase,” Arena explained. “’Make it a great day Daniel.’ ‘Make it a great day.’”
Arena, who attended William Mason Elementary School and Robert R. Lazar Middle School before attending MTHS, walked his classmates through the changing morning rituals at each phase of schooling, but marveled at his mother’s consistent message.
“I can go on forever about my mother and the miracles she works every day,” Arena said. “But it was this one small thing that stuck with me for 13 years. It will certainly stick with me for the rest of my life, as now I won’t have her in my room waking me up in College and beyond. It's on me now to live her message. The goodbye was never ‘HAVE a good day’. You make it the great day. It doesn’t happen to you. It happens because of you.”
A full transcript of Arena’s commencement speech is published in italics below.
The 18-year-old who was one of two Class of 2022 seniors to represent the MTHS student body twice a month at Montville Township Board of Education meetings, recently wrote the following when asked about the future and the world at large: “I think people tend to look on the dark side when it comes to the future,” Arena noted. “Many will look at the next generation and see kids glued to their phones and socially isolated due to the pandemic. What they don’t see is the resilience and the fight we all had to endure as kids during this time, and the dividends that will pay down the road. We’re in good hands.”
The full commencement speech presented by MTHS SAC President Daniel Arena can be viewed on the Montville Township Public Schools YouTube Channel.
The full transcript of Arena‘s speech is printed below:
“My brother and I were woken up by our mother every day before elementary school. It was a delightful pet on the head, “Daniel honey, CJ Honey, it’s time to wake up we got school today”. He and I would get out of bed, walk into the TV room, and stand directly in front of the TV. My mom would turn on Nickelodeon, SpongeBob would begin at 7am sharp. She would then go into our room, pick out both of our outfits for the day, bring them out and hand them to us. CJ and I with no shame, and without missing a second of the ongoing episode, would get changed right in the middle of the room, not just a couple feet from the television, but also a couple feet from our humongous, sliding glass door. I’d have my double chocolate poptart, a glass of milk, and we’d be on our way. We’d walk up the hill with mom, and wave goodbye at the top of Macleay Road heading up to William Mason Elementary School.
Yes, at some point in time, I have no recollection of when exactly the transition was made, I did grow out of that first phase. Although there is nothing wrong with it, and I would even go as far as to encourage it if there is a can’t-miss television program interfering - with a quick outfit change. But middle school was not as happy of a wake up. I was a complete grouch. The first half of middle school my mom gave me the pet and the “it’s time to get up for school”. The second half, it was a cautious prod, made sure I was up, and then a swift and deliberate exit from the room before I could grasp my consciousness and snap at her. TV was no longer part of the routine. No SpongeBob. A breakfast consisting of a Nutella stuffed croissant in silence, got ready, and my mom waved goodbye from the top of the stairs as I walked out to the bus stop.
Phase 3 - high school.
Scarily similar to phase 2. I'm still a grouch. I’m still a puke. I hate the mornings. I don’t want to see anyone. I don’t want anyone to see me. That's all the same. The difference is it’s not a pat on the head anymore that wakes me up. It’s an alarm clock. Breakfast of a protein bar, packed my bag, and phase 3 had my mother waving goodbye from the porch as she left to walk the dogs.
Clearly. Things changed overtime. I got older. I got grumpier. I changed my routine. I stopped watching SpongeBob, not sure why. Things just changed, as all things do. What didn’t change, what remained constant despite all the movement in the routine over the years, was the goodbye from my mom. At the foot of the William Mason hill, at the top of the basement stairs, or walking out of the porch with the dogs, my mom would repeat the same phrase. “Make it a great day Daniel”. “Make it a great day”.
I can go on forever about my mother and the miracles she works every day. But it was this one small thing that stuck with me for 13 years. It will certainly stick with me for the rest of my life, as now I won’t have her in my room waking me up in College and beyond. It's on me now to live her message.
The goodbye was never “HAVE a good day”. You make it the great day. It doesn’t happen to you. It happens because of you.
Living life passively is easy. Trust me, I know. I did it quite often. It’s so easy to get out of bed, put your head down, go to school or go to work, say hello and that’s it - go home, watch TV, and repeat. What’s not easy is laying in bed after a day like that and wondering why you’re unhappy - Why you are unsatisfied and unfulfilled. It’s not easy to ask for forgiveness time and time again to loved ones after you treat them poorly because you’re stuck on autopilot.
In golf, in school, in a dying social world, I’m realizing how correct my mother is. It’s rare to just have a great day. It’s so rare for a great day to simply fall into your lap. You have to go out and take it yourself. Don’t rely on the person beside you, don’t rely on your friends and family, and don’t rely on the grace of an outside force to hand you the day. Because they won’t.
Make it a great day. One after the other, until it’s a great week, and a great month, and so on.
Now I obviously can’t stand here and define what a great day is to you all because everyone has a different definition.
Bob Ross says “I believe every day is a good day when you paint”
Tim McGraw sings to us “eat a root beer Popsicle. Shut off the AC and roll the windows down, let the summer sun shine”
Dwight Schrute would tell you to break into Tiffany’s at midnight. Go for the vault? No, go for the chandelier. It’s priceless
And legendary NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano preaches “we should do 3 things every day. Number one is to laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is to think…you should spend some time in thought. And number 3 is you should have your emotions moved to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that is a full day -that’s a heck of a day“
My advice? Execute the little things to an absolute T. Smile at your mom and dad when you wake up, drink a lot of water, hold the door for the person behind you, do the Wordle. Once you master the little things, you’ll feel motivation to chip away at the big things, and you’ll be well on your way to making it a great day.
As I see it. And I’m only 18. And, while not often, I have been wrong before. But - Destiny is in our hands. It is entirely in our hands. Yours in yours, mine in mine. Our stories are not yet written. Tomorrow is a blank page. Regardless of what you may hear, NOTHING is predetermined. Your story and my story do not follow, “It is what it is”. No no no no no No… It is what you make it. So make the story unforgettable. Make it legendary. Make it last generations. Make it be felt across the world. Make it change people, move people, inspire people. Make it help people and save people. Make it worth it. Make it everlasting
Make your story a great one.