Senior Dinner Speech by Paul Rutherford

First off, let me say thank you to everyone in attendance for being here tonight and thank you to the Class of 2014 for selecting me as your speaker. It is an honor and I offer my sincere thanks for this opportunity. Here is your first lesson for your journey through life, say thank you. It is the most important thing you can do.

Well, that and not eating yellow snow; that is your second piece of advice, do not eat yellow snow. If I was an English teacher I might make some metaphor for the yellow snow representing the harmful pollution ruining the innocent beauty of the natural world and by “eating” it you are engaging in the mass production of carbon fuels adding to the slow demise of our delicate planet. But I am a science teacher, so I honestly mean, do not each snow that is yellow. I can’t tell you how often this piece of advice has come in handy.

Enough with the direct advice, I do not want this to be a speech where I tell you everything you will need to know for the rest of your life. Because it doesn’t matter what I say tonight; you won’t remember any of it. If there is one thing I learned from teaching physics to seniors, it’s that it takes more than one lecture for things to sink in. I do have a lot of advice to share, but I find a big audience is not the best way to share it. Even though adults (am I an adult yet?) love telling you how to live your life, I will try to refrain. Therefore this will not be a speech to motivate or inspire you to achieve your goals, do what you love, or to enjoy the small things in life (like the salt and pepper shakers). I just hope to entertain you for the time being, make you laugh, and try to hide advice in the stories I tell.

Sorry if you were hoping to hear something profoundly inspirational tonight or get some advice to help with the first awkward year of college. But, hopefully you have already heard tons of good advice to help you live your life, but if not, Google “50 inspirational quotes” and you’ll see more advice than you can handle from people smarter than myself. My hope for the night is the slight chance something I will have a profound impact on your life, you’ll become wildly successful and philanthropic, realize that it was this speech that changed your life, and you’ll want to honor me by giving me a nice sum of cash.

Actually, I am hoping you at least remember it was me who spoke tonight, because I have no idea who spoke at my commencements, baccalaureates, or if I even had a speaker at my senior dinner. Did I have a senior dinner? I honestly can’t remember. The best I can do is try and try I will.

I am anticipating this to go well because this is the first time I did not procrastinate on a paper. So hopefully all those English comments from high school were right, you know the ones, “Paul, you could be a better English student if you applied yourself and put in more effort.” Seriously, we need to hope Mr. Post was right, and Mr. Gahan, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Vink. Also, I only took one English class in college, and that was a poetry class called “It’s all about me”. But instead of reciting poems, I’m going to tell you some stories from my life and how boarding school has been prevalent in every phase of my young life. Now you may be thinking that teachers and students have nothing in common, but I beg to differ.

For example, you guys love summer break and we love summer break. You guys had college essays to write and we had college recs to write. You guys hate doing homework and we love giving you homework, I mean we hate grading homework. You anonymously spread rumors and we are the subject of some of those rumors. So let’s take a moment here to clarify something. Yes, I do have a girlfriend, and no, it is not Ms. Lawson or Ms. Brown. I am not married to Ms. Chambers, or even dating Mr. Harper. Where do these things come from?

But another thing we have in common is the sorrow we will share when you graduate. You will be sad to leave your friends and we will be sad to see such an amazing group of talented students leave Williston. I’ve enjoyed taking photos at your sports games, laughing during the plays, and seeing the beautiful art you create. However, before we get too emotional let’s take a deeper look into my life and see how boarding school was and is a major factor in my life.

My first glimpse into the boarding school life, was as a faculty child, or “fac brat” as we were so kindly named. If you want to see what my childhood was like, look no further than Holden Tyree, Will Sawyer, and the faculty children amongst you all. You can see how I grew up in a great community with people always willing to help me reach the tongs for sliders or get a glass chocolate milk. It is something I will always cherish and I want to say thank you to all of you for being so kind to the faculty kids here. You do not know how much of an impact you have on them. They love hanging out with you guys, watching you play sports, and having you babysit them.

Someday you’ll come back to Reunion saying you can’t believe how big they have gotten and how you remember them when they were this big. Please, please, please embarrass them as much as possible with babysitting, dining hall, and any other stories you have about them. These may be some of your fondest memories.

Which reminds me of something else I like about boarding school, getting to know the dining hall staff, security, and cleaning crew. They will most likely be here longer than some of your teachers and you will enjoy seeing them as much as anyone when you return. I love coming in here on a Sunday morning and joking around with Robin, talking to Dave when I walk through Reed or the gym, and waving to Kevin as he rides by on his bike. It is always a pleasure catching up with them and they are genuinely interested in how everyone is doing.

Now, let us graduate from high school (too soon?), skip college (because you don’t want to hear me talk about ultimate the entire time), and move out west to Idaho and California. Yes, Idaho, the land of potatoes and no, not the nice coastal part of California, but the smoggy, hot, and polluted central part. Most of you may not know that before I started teaching, I worked for two minor league baseball teams. I was an intern for one and an assistant general manager for the other.

As great as this sounds, and there were great parts, there was something missing. I was cutting grass, hanging signs, MCing the mid inning challenges, that guy on the field saying “It’s time for the subway dice roll!”, giving career talks, and visiting fast food places as the mascot. Advice alert! If you ever want to feel like a rock star, give a speech to an elementary school when you work for a minor league baseball team or go to a fast food “playplace” as the team mascot. Kids go nuts. I signed about 100 pieces of paper, shirts, hats, dollar bills, and arms. I kid you not! Dollar bills and arms. All I did was make phone calls for the team, but the kids didn’t know the difference. As crappy as it would seem to lose five pounds of sweat in a mascot costume, it can also be the time of your life.

Although the job was fun, after nine months I decided to move back home to Mercersburg and figure out what was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew it wasn’t homework. You will never miss homework. I also figured out… as much as I love them, I did not miss living with my parents.

So from there I moved to Philadelphia, the greatest city in the world, and worked for a media company making videos. I lived with some high schools friends and had a great time reconnecting with them. It was fun to recount our senior spring at Mercersburg staying up late watching movies (before the Netflix binging you guys do today), playing video games, and enjoying the spring weather (I wish Kan Jam was around back then, we just played campus golf). We were also excited for our fifth year reunion that was coming up the next summer. Even though I was sleeping on the floor on an air mattress, it was an amazing experience. Which reminds me of another piece of advice, get a good mattress, you spend a third of your life on it. And go to your fifth year reunion. It will be awesome, I promise. I can’t wait for my 10th that is coming up in two years.

From Philadelphia, I moved to a boarding school in Connecticut. It was my first time teaching; I had a good experience but I wanted a change and started searching for a new school. And there it was, I had an interview lined up, laid out my best outfit, and was ready to visit Suffield. Yes, Suffield. But a week before my visit I received a call from Williston asking me to interview with them and scheduled it for the day after visiting Suffield. So on back to back days I made the drive up past Hartford wearing the exact same outfit, because it was my best outfit and no one would know I wore it two days in a row but me. The outfit worked as both Suffield and Williston offered me the position.

Obviously I chose Williston, but let me tell you why. The difference maker was teaching a class, because I got to experience the best part about Williston. You guys. The students. You are eager, driven, and tremendous young men and women. I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to help you improve every day. The thing I was missing at other jobs was the community and the opportunity to help people. You have no idea how much I enjoy helping you with all your problems. As much as you’ve heard it, you will not experience another community like boarding school. You can see how prevalent it has been in my life and continues to be. Enjoy it while you can, ‘cause your out of here soon, but I know you’ll be back. So thank you for helping me to choose Williston. Before I finish, I do want to make one point clear. So hold still for one more short story.

I still keep in contact with a few students from the school where I used to work. In fact earlier this year one of them texted me, “just to see how things were going”. We exchanged a few texts and he said he wanted to ask me a question over the phone because it would be easier. Of course I obliged and within a minute my phone started to ring. I picked it up and after a quick hello he starts asking his question, “So I have a 2 kg block and a 3 kg block that are a meter away from each other, how do I find the force of gravity between them?” Are you kidding me?! I taught him this two years ago! Of course I helped him with the answer, made sure he was doing well, and told him to keep in touch.

So in the future, whether you’re bored, struggling in math, physics, or economics, or just want to relive some of your Williston memories, I hope you get in touch. Email, call, text, visit, whatever. Just stay in contact. Contact me, your other teachers, or friends. I’m serious about keeping in touch. Anytime in the next two weeks, I will exchange phone numbers with you, because it is always a pleasure hearing how you’re doing and what you’re up too. Seriously, stop me in the dining hall or on the sidewalk to class and we can exchange numbers. And no, I will not be your Facebook friend or add you on Snapchat, yet.

The teachers here want you to succeed, contribute to the world, and most importantly be satisfied with your life. We teach here because we care about you, not to shove information into your brain or give you attendance units. I don’t do this job for the money, obviously (you know how much I love thrift shopping), I do it because I want to make a positive impact on you every day. That is why I teach, to help all of you. And right now, you don’t need the life advice. Right now, you need to enjoy your last 15 days at Williston. Whether that means spending as much time in the art studio as you can or hanging out in front of Mem. Enjoy it. But know that when you do need the advice, I’ll be there for you. So whether you’re in my physics class, on my sports team, or just walking by me on the sidewalk, I’m here for you. I’m here for you now and I’ll be there for you in the future when you do need the life advice. So if you want some practical advice, just ask.

Thanks again and I can’t wait to see how all of you will turn out, but I already have a good feeling that I won’t be disappointed.

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