172nd Williston Northampton School Commencement

“The essence of our school is founded on community,“ said Head of School Bob Hill in his opening remarks on Sunday at the 172nd Williston Northampton School Commencement, and that sentiment was at the center of this year’s ceremonies.

Traditions are a part of a school’s “perpetual current,” said Mr. Hill. This year, for the first time, underclassmen attended Commencement to celebrate the Class of 2013 as they bid farewell to their teachers, coaches, and friends. A representative from each class carried a banner that featured traditional Williston icons such as the lion, the Victory Bell, and a lamppost. Matt Freire ’13, the student body class president, carried a banner designed by senior Keely Quirk.

“I urge the classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016 to enjoy this moment and cheer for your friends, but also to project forward and imagine yourself on this stage in a year, or two, or three hence and consider what you have to do to get here, like the seniors before you have done so successfully,” said Mr. Hill.

Stressing the importance of “answering the call,” Mr. Hill introduced the Commencement speaker, New York Times best-selling author John Katzenbach P’00, ’04.  When the Columbian Ambassador to the United States, Carlos Urrutia ’68, could not speak at Commencement as planned, Mr. Katzenbach graciously stepped in, said Mr. Hill.

Joking that a graduation speech was a time for older generations to “exhort younger people in all sorts of incredibly heartfelt, and utterly useless advice,” Mr. Katzenbach admitted that a writer’s advice is, “highly specific and tailored for unique circumstances.”

“In my case,” he added, “I can fill you with wise suggestions were you suddenly being pursued by a serial killer who longs for notoriety, that’s my latest book.”

In his quest to provide lasting, inspiring words for the Class of 2013, Mr. Katzenbach turned to Google. The five most common graduation speech themes he found were: don’t be afraid to fail, remember that you are the future, always respect your parents, never stop learning, and follow your dreams.

Mr. Katazenbach challenged students to live a life free from failure, be up to the challenge of fixing previous generation’s mistakes, respect everyone, and to follow your dreams or, as he called them, “reasonable beliefs based upon solid expectations.”

“Never stop learning,” he warned, “when you stop learning you calcify. If you happen to look down one day and realize you’ve stopped learning, there are really only two viable possibilities: 1) You’ve died and are on your way to heaven. 2) You’ve been elected to public office.”

In closing Mr. Katzenbach said, “Writing fiction is acknowledging the power of daydreams…imagine what you can be, don’t put any limits on that bit of brain energy.”

During the ceremony, 11 seniors were recognized for their academic standing and inducted into the Cum Laude society, joining the 10 seniors who were inducted in January. Additionally, Devon Greenwood received the Sarah B. Whitaker Prize (White Blazer) honoring the top young woman in the class, Evan Jacobson was awarded the Archibald V. Galbraith Prize for top young man, and Eric Tallman was named the class valedictorian. More about the Academic Award Ceremony, held on Saturday, May 25 can be read here.

Miranda Gohh, the senior class speaker, spoke about the relationships created at Williston. “We are Williston,” she said. “All of us here make this place a community.”

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