Students, faculty, staff, class of 2018, welcome to Convocation!
I was terrified. Excited, but terrified. No, I am not talking about when I sat down to write this speech. I’m talking about when I was first accepted to Williston the spring before freshman year. I was afraid that I wouldn’t dress the right way; that I wouldn’t be smart enough; that I would fail in athletics; that I wouldn’t know how to be “preppy”; and before the year had even started, I somehow already felt behind. Luckily, that summer I met one girl from Williston that would change all of that.
A rising senior at the time, Ashley Fitch was captain of both the girls cross-country and girls swimming & diving teams. I knew her from a distance, since we swam for the same rec team, but I had no idea who she was until she came up to me and introduced herself at a meet. Ashley told me how excited she was that I was coming to Williston, and before I knew it she had set up a captain’s run on which I could meet girls from the cross-country team. Many of those girls became my first friends here, and are still people that I am close with today. Without hesitation, Ashley welcomed me onto campus before the year had even started, and by the first day of classes, I felt perfectly comfortable at Williston. Two months earlier, I hadn’t known anyone. Now I had a team of girls that I admired and an inspiring captain that I could go to if I ever needed support. For the rest of the year, and even after she graduated, Ashley was a leader and role model to me.
During your time here on campus, you may hear this community referred to as the “Williston bubble.” Within this bubble, you not only have resources such as your surface, a diverse library, a variety fields to practice on, and an impressive theater space, but you also have people such as your coaches, teachers, and peers to help you reach whatever success you are seeking. And I’m sure that many of you already have an idea of what you want those successes to be—we all have goals for this year: maybe you’re looking to finally figure out what’s happening in math class; or to score more goals on the soccer field this season than any past year; or to land a lead part in the school musical; or to stop spending so much money on Tandem.
Not only are we privileged to be able to set these goals, but it is exciting that we have the opportunity to dream them in the first place. But as we take advantage of the all the privileges that we have while we attend Williston, please do not forget the great quote of Spiderman: with great power, comes great responsibility. While we are expected to earn good grades, impressive scores, and standing ovations, it is easy to fall into a routine and forget that our role in the Williston “bubble” is only one part of our larger role. In a world plagued with conflict, division, and a sense of “other-ness,” it is important to redefine our idea of personal success: we are more than just a list of accomplishments or failures.
So the challenge is this: while you are focusing on becoming the next Van Gogh, training for another sports season, finding the perfect college, do not forget to make connections with the people around you. We live in a diverse community of students and faculty who have come to Williston from all over the world. Look around you. Everyone here has something to teach and share about something outside of Williston that has shaped them into who they are today. And each of us has our own experiences, stories, and empathy to give in return; because, when you leave this community, which of your high school “successes” will you remember? The grade you got on your APUSH paper and the game you are so nervous for now may fade compared to the stories, the perspectives, and the values we learned from the people around us, and the memories that we have made doing the things we love with the people we love.
In the words of South African-born poet Iain Thomas, “And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’”
What has made my time up to this point on Williston’s campus so special has not been the academic achievements that I’ve made or the athletic wins that I’ve had, but the people that I have been able to experience them with. It has been the people like Ashley that have made me feel so welcome, the teachers and coaches that have made me feel so capable, and the friends and family that have taught me to value things that I cannot see, hold, or touch.
Don’t be afraid this year to take advantage of the things that not only will look good on paper—like awards or grades—but also of the types of the people here who will show you what they are passionate about. And do not be afraid to redefine your idea of success and focus on the kind of person you wish to be. Be kind. Be funny. Listen to new perspectives. Treat people with respect. Recognize your privilege. Be grateful for what you have. And whether this is just the beginning, whether you are at the end, or whether you are somewhere in the middle of your time here in the beloved bubble, remember: this ***put hand over heart*** is what’s important.