Work at Your Dream, Moser Tells Students at 173rd Commencement

“If you don’t have a dream, how you gon’ have a dream come true?”

As the sounds of the 173rd Commencement processional faded on the Quad, Commencement speaker (and former faculty member) Barry Moser conjured those words from the musical South Pacific, in his speech on dreams, work, and action.

Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

Mr. Moser noted that despite being discouraged, forcefully, early on—by a father who said he couldn’t make a living that way, by the military school teachers who beat him when he was caught sketching—he never stopped drawing, or dreaming.

“And today I make a comfortable living. I live with my wonderful wife in a big house in the woods that’s full of life and love and art and music and poetry and literature and books,” Mr. Moser said.

Mr. Moser, who has been described as the “foremost wood engraver in America” and has illustrated such classics like as Moby-Dick, Alice in Wonderland, and The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible, said that the Class of 2014 should follow their own dreams.

“Don’t you ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do something,” Mr. Moser said. “Because if you have the dream, and if you have enough drive, determination, discipline—and above all, the passion for your dream— you can bloody well do anything you want to do.”

But Mr. Moser said that the graduates could not rely on talents, noting, “the most important thing in realizing a dream is to work. Work at what you dream of doing. Work at it. Work at it everyday. At the same time everyday, for as long as you can take it—work, work, work.”

On Sunday, May 25, the work of 146 seniors at the Williston Northampton School was rewarded with abundant congratulations, laughter, and most importantly, diplomas. Mr. Moser’s words followed those of Head of School Robert W. Hill III P’15, ’19, who drew parallels between graduating students’ journey to colleges, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

“I hope you will always remember which way is up. You are about to enter into another kind of rabbit hole—you will plunge into an unfamiliar place,” Mr. Hill said. “So while I invite you to embrace being unsettled and uncomfortable as you make your way through college, I also urge you to stay grounded in those values and mindsets that you learned at Williston.”

As part of the Commencement ceremony, 13 Williston students were inducted into the Cum Laude Society, following 13 seniors inducted in January. Madeleine Stern donned the Sarah B. Whitaker Prize (White Blazer) honoring the top young woman in the class, and Brendan Hellweg received the Archibald V. Galbraith Prize for the top young man and was also named the class valedictorian.

In his humorous, emotional, and rousing speech, Senior Speaker Oliver Demers talked about his childhood on the “cold, hard, dirt roads of Putney, Vermont,” before reflecting on the “the greatest thing you can ever do for someone: to listen.”

“Listening to someone halves the weight upon their shoulders, it gives them value to what they say, and it silently reminds them they are not alone,” he said. “To listen is the verb form of friendship.”

Though Mr. Demers’ speech drew laughs, his parting words were solemn, as he encouraged his classmates to “listen to everyone you face in life, and find peace through understanding.” Closing the ceremony, Mr. Demers sent off the Class of 2014 with an emotional parting nod:

“It has been a pleasure listening to all of you these past years,” he said. “Thank you for listening to me. I wish you far more than luck.”

Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

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