Williston Northampton Commencement
May 29, 2016
Good morning and welcome to The Williston Northampton School’s 175th Commencement. Welcome to parents, families, guests, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, and staff.
I want to begin this morning, as we have in the past, by recognizing that this ceremony falls on Memorial Day weekend and so I would ask that we begin with a moment of silent reflection for all those who give their lives in service to our country.
Thank you. And Welcome Classes of 2019, 2018, 2017—having you all here under the tent brings us together as a community one more time and makes sure that important traditions are transmitted from seniors to the classes that follow. And for you Class of 2016, the two weeks of celebration are coming to a close and our attention turns to you.
Yesterday during our Academic Awards Ceremony, I asked the audience to acknowledge Williston’s incredibly dedicated teachers who work so tirelessly and selflessly to help students achieve their goals. Class of 2016, you did not get to where you are today without support, love, and guidance. In that spirit, there are a lot of people at this ceremony just for you–parents, relatives, guardians, and friends. So I ask 2016 that you stand, turn around, and face the audience to show your collective appreciation to those who are here today.
As I look out at the 132 members of the Class of 2016 I know that some of you have been here six years and have literally grown up in front of our eyes–if you don’t believe that, think of, Abbie Foster or Nate Gordon’s pictures in Friday’s athletic awards ceremony.
Others of you, like Matt Folger or Rylee Leonard have been here for one short action packed year of engagement, leaving your mark in the classroom and on the fields. And some of you, like Maddy Scott, really don’t want to leave at all.
But high school years being what they are, and with adult freedom beckoning, I know that some of you have the Vietnam-era protest anthem in mind “We’ve Gotta Get Out of this Place….” And that’s ok too.
Since this is the last time I get to speak to you as a class together, and since Commencement is all about imparting words of wisdom that you forget by the time you get to lunch, I’m going to ask you a question.
Why would you want to leave Williston, seriously? Think about it: No more ECBs or late night Diner runs; no more slices of Antonio’s chicken, bacon, and ranch; no more sightings of Imran hustling late to check in.
Do you really want to leave Williston? Who will instill in you the important life-long value of being part of a team, that when you put on a Williston jersey you represent your school, something bigger than yourself? If you had Mr. Ketcham for AP Biology, what college professor will could inspire you to call exams “opportunities?” Who among you might actually miss the attention you get when Mr. Koritkoski asks you to stop wearing a baseball hat inside school buildings.
Do you really want to leave Williston? What about those times with your best friends, the ones whom you hope to see at reunions just as you observed Williston alumni doing on campus a few weeks ago. Or what about those times in October when you look at the pond and see the foliage reflected back as if in a mirror. Think of all that you are going to be leaving behind.
Now let’s think for a moment about the adult world you are going to enter. This is a world of dissension and name calling. A world where you have to pay your own rent, consider the cost of a gallon of gas before a road trip, take your hat off before you enter your bosses office.
You might not realize this now, sitting here under the big tent, but as soon as you graduate from Williston a quantum change will take place with respect to how those college professors and university administrators perceive you. They will see you as a full-blown adult, solely responsible for your words and deeds. If you miss class, mom or dad cannot call the deans’ office to get it excused. If you don’t get playing time in a game, no college coach will be speaking to your parents about that. If you mess up, your adviser will not be there for you the same way Ms. Marsland magically seems to appear whenever needed. And you still really want to leave Williston?
But you have to go, and pretty soon. You must leave Williston behind you and that’s as it should be. This is one of those boundary moments that you learned about in literature or psychology where you cross a threshold and there is no turning back—you all read The Great Gatsby.
And if I were to be really honest right now, we are ready for you to go—we’ve done our job, hopefully really well, of preparing you for all of those challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Our honored speaker is here today from her home in Seattle, Washington, to explain how all of this works. For some of you it will be a straight line, for others a crooked path
Nonie Cream graduated from Williston in 1990, when the first president Bush was in office. She carries a Williston diploma with pride and traces some of her most meaningful life influences to her alma mater and teachers who remain friends to this day. Ms. Cream is an entrepreneur, successful business woman, creative talent, and most importantly a loyal Willy. I won’t spoil too much of her biography for you, but I hope she tells us whether being dubbed a “Fashionista” is a good thing or not. In any event, after a highly successful career with the famous brand Butter London, Ms. Cream launched out on her own—a fiercely independent impulse that she has had her whole life. Please join me in welcoming back, Nonie Cream.
This really is a big moment for you the Class of 2016. Not only are you leaving Williston but your setting forth corresponds to a national election—I think even the youngest of you will be able to cast your first vote for President of the United States. Most people, no matter how old recall their high school graduation, and the same can be said for your first presidential vote. You are more than ready to be serious citizens of the world, and I wish to close with a traditional Williston prayer.
Regardless, as you think about your time at Williston, I bet that each of you feels a sense of time’s compression, the compacting that takes place in your mind’s thumb drive as you reflect on the countless events that have happened in your Williston career.
I am equally certain that whether you think of one of your best moments or one of your most challenging, you will recall a teacher figuring prominently in that memory. Yes, Williston is a place defined by 194 Main, or Ford House, or John Wright, or other spaces of significance, but its true essence lies in its people.
Think about it this way: each of you seniors has worked with a teacher, coach, or adviser to achieve conspicuous victories and imperceptible transformations. While it is perhaps easier to recognize and celebrate those larger public events, conversely, it is harder to identify and therefore acknowledge those subtler and maybe even more important moments that have changed you, altered your course, changed the way you think.
Perhaps it was a new way of solving a math problem, or perhaps you broke out of your circle of friends to get to know someone who just might impact your life many years from now. Whatever it might be, I hope that you take reflect on your Williston experience so that it can become a touchstone for you in college and the years beyond.
Living as we do in this digital age, your cell phones or iCloud accounts are probably filled with digital reminders of your time at Williston. You guys are the Snap Chat generation, but sometimes I worry that what should be a direct human interaction has become a digital one. I worry that a string of emoticons takes the place of a good one-on-one conversation. I worry that a quick re-tweet takes the place of thoughtful discourse or deeply held convictions. The way to avoid these de-humanizing tendencies, I would caution you, is to hold onto the things you learned here at Williston. Your teachers have taught you to be independent thinkers, patient problem solvers, unselfish team mates, good citizens who strive to live by our universal values of respect for self and others, responsibility and trust, honesty and integrity.
As I look out at you seniors I cannot help thinking that you are crossing a double thresh hold–your graduation from high school coincides with your ability to vote in your first national election. Both of these are what I like to call boundary moments–