Reverse Selfies and Acts of Kindness at Williston’s 173rd Convocation

As he stepped to the podium for Williston Northampton School’s 173rd Convocation, Head of School Robert W. Hill III pulled a cell phone from his pocket. With the school community looking forward to a year of new technology, it was only appropriate that Mr. Hill kick off the ceremonial beginning with what he described as a  “reverse selfie.”

Mr. Hill turned his phone toward his audience and took a quick panorama of the assembled students in their formal jackets and dresses. The students waved and smiled.

In thinking about the upcoming year, Mr. Hill said he was reminded of another modern wonder: the Panama Canal.  Mr. Hill said there was a metaphor in the human ingenuity, colossal machines, and transnational cooperation that each canal passage required.

“You are all under your own power, and your passage—from one ocean of possibilities to another—is steadily guided by your teachers, coaches, and advisers,” he said. “Whole new horizons will appear on your improbable transit if you are thoughtful, purposeful, and willing to enlist the assistance of others. So please be open to the endless possibilities that stretch before you.”

Being open to endless possibilities had been a guiding principle for Convocation speaker David E. Sullivan. On his way to becoming the Northwestern District Attorney, Mr. Sullivan said he had held almost type of job: paperboy, telephone operator, adoption worker, salesman, custodian. Even  chimney sweep.

“Yes, a chimney sweep,” Mr. Sullivan told the assembled students. “Trust me when I tell you, if a chimney sweep can become a trial attorney… you can do anything in life—if you believe in yourself and work for it.”

While he gained practical skills in every position, Mr. Sullivan said he relished his current work as District Attorney the most.

“Because it’s interesting and I am passionate about seeking justice and helping people,” he said. “I’ve had a wonderful legal career discovering ways to help people, causes I could believe in, and ways to make changes in my community.”

Mr. Sullivan told students to find their passions, take chances, and dream big. He also offered that the largest impact could come from the simplest deeds, such as helping a fellow student feel welcome, helping around the house, or extending a kind word to someone in the dining hall.

“Your acts of kindness, no matter how small, are never wasted,” Mr. Sullivan. I’d ask that you take the gifts you have now, and will be given in the future, and pay it forward.”

With that sort of community good will in mind, Mr. Sullivan announced that he was “shamlessly plugging” local hotspot, Tandem Bagel Company and would be pulling a winning student’s name for a semester of free bagels at. In a rustle of excitement, students flipped over their programs and Meredith Peppes ’14 was revealed as the winner.

Then, as the New England Brass Quartet played the recessional, students filed out of their seats and threw arms around one another for a few more photos of their own.

Read the full speeches from Williston’s 173rd Convocation, including a the full address by David E. Sullivan P’08, ’10, Moment of Reflection by Glenn Swanson ’64, the Class President’s Welcome and Senior Dinner Speech by Maddy Stern ’14,  Welcome by Robert W. Hill III, and the Senior Dinner Address by Sara Delano Collins ’98.

View a video of the 2013 Convocation here.

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