Senior Dinner Speech by Peter Gunn

Editor’s note: These remarks were delivered at the Williston Northampton School’s Senior Dinner on May 10, 2013, by history and global studies teacher Peter Gunn.

I am grateful to be part of a community defined by the devotion of Robert Ward, the kindness of Dan and Jane Carpenter and by the goodness of the Class of 2013. While I never knew Bob Ward personally, his conviction that people can do good well compels me as much as Abraham Lincoln’s faith in government by the people and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s belief that all women and men are created equal. We don’t need to know someone to share their vision—great ideas can bridge and bind generations.

So, I believe we can feel Bob Ward’s spirit in our community and it is reflected in our best days. Certainly, Carpy’s warm “hello” and genuine affection Williston carried that tradition forward. While you, the class of 2013, have done much good here and done it well—there is more good to be done building bridges into the future.

To understand what I mean and why I support Williston and my alma mater—imagine who might not be with us but for the gift of financial aid. In truth it’s a stark image because everyone in the room receives financial aid to attend Williston. That’s right, even if your family pays the full amount, you still benefit from a 20 percent discount because of the generosity of others who came before you. Indeed, Williston Northampton thrives because of that kindness.

Let me seize this as a teachable moment—by making you feel good, then a little sad and ultimately, I hope, truly powerful. First, think of a classmate, a roommate, a teammate or a friend who has made your Williston experience better – thinking about your shared memories with that person feels good, right?

Now the sad part—imagine your Williston experience if that person had never been here—she wasn’t there in class to work on the history project, he didn’t make the pass on the basketball court, you didn’t share a laugh or a kiss or a smile or a hug—thinking about your friend’s absence is sad.

Finally, the powerful part—when you give to Williston, you thank those who made it possible for you to be here and in paying it forward—you make it possible for someone to be here next year and five years from now and for decades into the future. You make it possible for someone else to feel the way you do tonight with all those wonderful memories. Your small act of generosity is powerful. You don’t have to wait to be able to vote, to build a successful career or to become a Trustee to make a difference at Williston—just in giving a little, you have the power to keep our community moving forward and to make someone’s dreams come true.

Reach for that power and, in the spirit of the Carpenters and Robert A. Ward, use it kindly to do good well.

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