Editor’s note: This speech was delivered by Harrison Winrow ’18 at Commencement, May 26, 2018, under the tent on the Quad.
Ain’t no mountain high
Ain’t no valley low
Ain’t no river wide enough, baby
I heard a disturbing sound.
I smelled a disturbing scent.
I was looking in the mirror, a halo of bulbs crowning me.
In the backstage dressing room, sweating profusely, on the closing night
Of my final theater performance on the Williston stage.
I was on top of mountain high.
Buried deep in the valley low.
I was floating down the river wide on an inner tube, that I had purchased just down the road at the Dollar Store. It was severely discounted. Sentimentality serves one well on days like that, on days like this.
So I tooted my frugal bugle, and I applied my stage makeup, layer upon
layer upon layer.
I sat in a puddle of my own butt sweat, as many of you are now.
And I closed my eyes, and I retracted all limbs into my core, and I rolled like the very first
Back in time, to my very first day here, at Williston.
Well it wasn’t the first day, I think it was a collage day, compiled of the sweetest moments I have experienced here. So many teeth, grinning. Even more hands, firmly grasped, gently shaking.
The lion was painted silver, then, and the grass was a richer green. Full of promise.
We entered the green gates of the Williston Northampton school, an open hand.
Palm raised to the sky.
And with the days and months and years. The collage of
days and months and years closed and curled each finger
with the laboratory precision of pressurizing coal.
And now, we are a fist.
And with this fist we have the power of phenomenal destruction. Or construction. Creation.
Or! with the first step you take beyond these bricks, you can pry those fingers up. Crack the fist open and reveal the precious stone that was produced under the immense pressure in the palm of your hand. Find the diamond, the pearl.
The diploma you are soon to receive. That is your diamond. That is the culmination of every hour you spent reading, every nod you so graciously granted your tireless teachers teaching away, every test and quiz, every massage you gave your hand because Holy Shit the pencil is a tenacious opponent.
That pearl, that diamond, that diploma, is the magnified artefact that shines now because it once could not shine.
And so there I was
Sitting in front of that mirror, my halo of lightbulbs, puddle of butt sweat, you remember.
Closing night, hearts on sleeves.
Over mountain high, valley low, and river wide, some Sherpa inside my ribcage
took me back to then another collage of days, and teeth, and hands.
I heard that disturbing sound,
I smelled that disturbing scent.
You see, this is not my first time saying goodbye to Williston.
About two years ago now,
I was committed to a general admission psychiatric ward in a nearby hospital. This was a terrifying collage of days, but also the most beautiful opportunity for the Williston Community to bare that beating heart of theirs, and rescue me.
A few weeks ago, I told the senior class that they will never ever have to be alone.
That we will always be the graduating class of 2018,
that we can all get matching neck tattoos: purpose, passion, integrity. An idea not well-received, but presented in good faith.
I say again, today, that we are never alone.
Once you step inside this green fencing, you become part of something far greater than yourself. Far deeper, and more cultured, and alive.
When I was in that hospital, and subsequent hospitals, I was never alone.
Phone calls, emails, visits, not a day went by without being touched by the Williston family.
My parents came to see me, Nurse Autumn Roy, Peter Gunn, Sarah Sawyer, always bearing gifts beyond just their company: books for me to read, updates from campus, with food in hand. Really delicious food— because hospitals are not known for their elegant dining facilities.
And, there was one visitor whose presence, I think, defined the character of this school.
On a particularly dreary day, Kathy Noble, Dean of Students, stopped by and sat with me. And spoke with me. Suffered in that insufferable place with me.
Now I’d like to see that written in her job description.
She wasn’t out hunting you down.
Wasn’t frantically gesturing for you to ‘tuck in your goddamn shirt’.
She was there.
So many people were there. With me.
I don’t think at a lot of other schools like this, that would have been the case.
Because there aren’t a lot of schools like this.
There aren’t a lot graduating classes like this.
The hearts. The teeth, grinning. The hands, shaking. The mutual respect.
I really am honored, and grateful, and feel so loved,
That I can stand before you, all of you, and say a few words.
Cuz baby there ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you, babe
In just a few minutes, we will be politely asked to leave and less politely asked not to return to this campus. Ladies and gentlemen, take your shenanigans and flee.
Over mountain high,
Pack your bags with memories.
Let your hearts, and your tear ducts swell.
If you hated Williston, fine. Get the hell out of here.
But I implore the rest of you to take the time,
Sit in front of your mirror, halo of lightbulbs, puddle of sweat,
And roll like the very first wheel back to your own collage day. Your
Mosaic of moments that brought you joy, sadness and suffering, smiles, friends.
You are my mirror. The bricks are my mirror. The golden lion, the green grass, every tree is a mirror that shows me the days that have curled my fingers and cut my diamond.
Find your mirror in the eyes of those around you.
Remember the days at Williston that held your hand, tightly.
The days that welcomed you with the sunrise, as who you are.
And who you wanted to be.