STONINGTON — At last, Matt Fields can relax.
The 18-year-old has spent four years getting to the top of his class at Stonington High School — a goal he set for himself after, at 6 years of age, he watched a graduation.
“I always saw myself speaking at graduation,” Fields said. “It’s a big deal. Whether I needed to spend my entire existence devoted to homework and studying, well, I’m not sure.”
Regardless, Fields will address the SHS Class of 2014 during commencement exercises Thursday as the valedictorian. John Dong, 17, is the class salutatorian.
Less than a week before receiving his diploma, Fields, who lives in Mystic, reflected on his high school career.
“I would freak out if I got an A minus,” he said. “That’s kind of dumb. You shouldn’t be in school to get a grade but to learn.”
Fields was the committee chairman of the National Honor Society, a National Merit Scholarship winner, the treasurer of the Students Without Borders Club and a member of the SHS band for four years.
“Band was a lot of fun, one of the best things I’ve done at high school,” said Fields, who plays the clarinet. We got into some challenging music.”
Fields also founded the Magic and The Gathering Club that centers on an intense strategy card game.
“It had nothing to do with academics,” he said, “but it builds brain power and diversifies your mind.”
Dong, a Pawcatuck resident, competed on the Bears’ tennis team and was co-captain. Tennis, he said, helped him balance his life during high school.
“I spent hours during the season playing tennis and I was more productive in academics,” Dong said. “It releases tension so you can go back home and study.”
Dong “always hung around the top of the class, but wasn’t as dedicated as Matt,” he said.
“You have to have that mindset to devote yourself to academics,” Dong said. “It takes a lot of hard work. But there are things I had to give up, like band. I played alto saxophone in middle school and didn’t in high school.”
Dong was vice president of student government and his class, a member of the National Honor Society, the co-editor of the yearbook, and he participated in drama.
He plans on attending New York University in the fall and majoring in international relations and economics.
Fields plans on attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and majoring in aeronautical and mechanical engineering.
Both have clear messages for their classmates.
“Make your time in high school worth it,” Fields said. “It means exactly nothing if you don’t use it.”
Added Dong: “You can be anything you want in life. Decide and then do it. No matter what path you do choose, go to the end. Don’t just go halfway.”
SHS Class of 2014 commencement exercises are Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Stonington High’s Donald E. Palmer Field.