Ed. note: This speech was given by Convocation keynote Austin Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Amherst College. Prof. Sarat graciously accepted our invitation to speak after our scheduled speaker, Dr. Beverly Tatum, had to cancel because of a death in the family.
Today I want to ask you to think about two quotations, the first from the great physicist Albert Einstein…
“Imagination,” Einstein said, “is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
The second quotation is attributed to the American author John C. Maxwell who said.
“Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” Continue reading →
This is my sixth Convocation at Williston, so I feel very privileged to be able to take part in it in this one which carries so much historical significance for the school.
To me, Convocation is like a mini graduation celebration for finishing one week at Williston. I think that some of the hardest things we will have to do here are already behind us. If we can figure out whether we’re supposed go to Lunch 1 or Lunch 2 when we have art history during a Green Week, if we can figure that out, I mean, we can do anything in life, right?
We are here today, not only to honor this new school year, but to celebrate the 174 years that preceded us. All of us here today are carrying on a tradition that began when two people, Samuel and Emily Williston, decided to use their wealth to found a school that would provide an exceptional place for people our age to begin lives that would impact others.
I came to Williston five years ago. The very first day I was on campus with my new classmates, I walked through that blue door to Reed on my left when an older student, Pat DeNuccio, a sophomore at the time, said to me, “hey, cool shoes.” Now let me tell you, those high top bright blue and orange skater shoes were not cool. But when that older student spoke to me, my confidence, granted, more like ego, went through the roof. From that moment, I felt very, very comfortable on this campus. And I don’t mean comfortable in a comfy, go happy, complacent way. I mean comfortable in that Williston gave me the self-assurance to, the next year, in eighth grade attend a meeting for the school newspaper, The Willistonian. While I was the only student who showed up to that particular meeting, I managed to get the location and time correct for a few others, so I’ve been able to spend many enjoyable and productive hours with all the other writers and editors of the paper, along with our unbelievably dedicated faculty advisor, Ms. Mantegna.
Headmaster Hill, parents, faculty, staff, students and friends of the Williston community, thank you for your warm welcome. It is an absolute pleasure to be back on campus to help kick off the start off the school year—Williston’s 175th.
Students of Williston, 33 years ago, I sat where you sit today as a new junior to the school, having no way of knowing I was going to be completely transformed by my two years at Williston. But before I tell you how Williston changed my life for the better, I’ve got to address the issue of my name. Think about it…a guy who has the same name as the man who assassinated one of our most revered Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, is speaking to you today. Imagine going through your life with the name John Booth.
“That’s not really your full name, is it?” “Did you shoot Lincoln?” “Is your middle name Wilkes?” And those are just the questions I get from the person I am ordering shirts from at Land’s End! As well, with a name like John Booth it is easy to acquire unsavory nicknames like: “Shooter,” “Assassin” or the ever popular “Wilkes.”
And yet, I am proud of my name…for it forced me to be resilient from a very young age.
Names are important. They often link us to our family’s past or tell something about our ethnic heritage. The surname Booth, as you might have guessed, is an English name and yet it reveals only part of my background. I am also one half Slovak—something my name does not reveal yet is so critical to who I am as a person.
These remarks are inspired by a conversation, well more of an argument, that Mr. Harper and I had about a month ago regarding a scarf. This scarf. These scarves used to be what Widdigers wore during performances. During this argument, I basically demanded that Mr. Harper reinstate the scarves, not because I am particularly into neckware, or because I am especially into how this scarf looks, but because of what these scarves represent, something that I do really love: traditions!
As many of you know, I went to Choate Rosemary Hall and then that same school gave me my first job. Now, this is not a speech about Choate, though many of you know fond I am of my school, but my love for Choate is hopefully parallel to how you will love Williston or already do.
Hello Class of 2016, faculty and staff, trustees, my mom in the back, and more faculty and staff.
Over the summer, I was asked to speak to all of you guys—that’s why I’m up here looking kinda nervous, if you were wondering. For those of you that don’t know me, I usually look a little more tan and lot less sweaty. For those of you that do know me—please don’t tell the people that this is what I normally look like. Thanks in advance.
Anyways, I was super excited to write another essay over the summer, like majorly pumped, totally stoked. Uh, no—really, I’m extremely flattered to be up here with the opportunity to speak for five minutes straight without anyone making me stop.
Okay, here we are! Senior year. I came to Williston in 8th grade, so that makes me a five year senior which is pretty unusual—quick shout out to Sarah, Pinky, Davis, and Amelia for being the other four. I like to think that I’ve grown a lot since then… but the truth is I’m only a quarter of an inch taller than I was before. Let’s be real, you’ve probably all grown a lot more than I have over the past few years. I actually piled up all of the books I’ve used in my time here, and the pile was significantly taller than I was. There’s a picture on Twitter if you don’t believe me. Why did I do that, you might ask? Solely to make that joke.
I’m genuinely excited to be a senior. I mean, it’s been a pretty long road to get to this point—if you came in ninth grade and took five classes every trimester, you’ve taken 45 finals already. Yeah, that’s right, I did math for this speech. You’re welcome, Mr. Seamon. But honestly, we’ve come so far, individually and as a class it’s hard to even comprehend at this point.