by Dylan Kenseth ’14
Several hundred people sat with rapt attention under the perfect blue sky over the Reed Center as Head of School Robert W. Hill, III welcomed them to Williston’s 170th Commencement exercises on the morning of June 4, 2011. In his usual cheery but dignified manner, he spoke of how, in his earlier years, he would watch three episodes of M*A*S*H daily, a TV show thought to be “the best of all time.” Without further ado, he turned and gave the podium to the man sitting casually to his left. Alan Alda, distinguished actor, writer, and grandfather to senior Emilia Caligiuri, rose and began a speech filled with unique advice for the graduating seniors.
“Try to arrange to have wisdom now,” Alda said, looking out over the attentive seniors before him. He quickly followed this up with other suggestions such as “oldness should be avoided at any age,” as “youth and old age should be the same thing.” Old age could be avoided, he said, by continuing to learn throughout one’s life. Also, “learning is the only thing you can get high on that actually does you good.”
The overall message of Mr. Alda’s speech was that you should have a dream, and keep working on it throughout life to make it happen. However, a dream can change over time, as evidenced by his personal history. When Mr. Alda was eight, he dreamed of being a writer. By the age of nine, this had changed into a dream of becoming an actor. There was even a time, he added, when he was twelve, when he wanted to own a cream puff factory. Mr. Alda also offered guidelines to make a dream a success. First, you should devote yourself to your dream and involve other people in it. Those who create a dream that benefits others will find that it also benefits themselves. When you have a dream that you’re working on, life has more meaning. There is a “pleasure of learning how to be useful.”
Following Mr. Alda’s speech, academic prizes were awarded, and ten more students were inducted into the Cum Laude Society. One by one, the seniors rose and accepted their diplomas, presented either by Greg Tuleja and Mr. Hill or their parents. When all was said and done, Emilia Caligiuri, chosen as the senior class speaker, said a few words about her first coming to Williston amid stormy October skies and entering the darkened theater during her tour with Ms. Talbot. The wings were blanketed in darkness until the lights miraculously flipped on and made her realize that “gray skies are a temporary condition, and illumination is always possible.”
After commencement, in an exclusive interview for The Willistonian, I was granted the opportunity to ask Mr. Alda a few questions regarding his work and beliefs. In the span of five minutes, I learned an incredible amount about the experiences he creates through his works and the roles he has played. Adding to his speech, Alda mentioned that regardless of the advice given to the seniors, they will truly be affected and shaped by their experiences more than anything they are told. The complete audio of this interview is available for downloading at www.williston.com/podcasts.