Monday, June 11, 2012

The Speech



            I know that we each have our gems of senioryear, and mine was poetry. Which, I realize, sounds a little silly. A littleteen angsty. But really, it changed my whole year, because what I discovered isthat poetry is about truth – not look-you-in-the-face, put-shiny-label-on-it truthbut dancing-around-the-way-things-feel, trying-to-grasp-some-understandingtruth.
            W.H. Auden described poetry far better than Ican when he wrote, “a poem is a tangle of opposites working towards unity.” Ofcourse that’s true: a poem is a magnolia tree in full bloom, a favorite pair ofred stilettos that never fit quite right and that feeling you get beforegetting off the ski lift for the first time. A poem is getting at the truthwith things that aren’t supposed to go together, like, say, poetry andcommencement addresses.
            Consider this: if you walked into our seniorlounge during this school year, you would likely have witnessed: a rivetinggame of sting pong (welts and all); a group of boys – pale from lack of sunexposure – playing Magic or Super Smash Brothers in the corner; a deep andmeaningful conversation about Anthropologie dresses (or reproductive healthcarerights) coming from girls on the couch; and blaring out of the speakers,Sinatra.
            A tangle of opposites? Absolutely. A poem?We’re getting there.
            Not unlike Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the class of2012 sets up and subverts expectations. Our soccer players write comedysketches, our mathematicians make films, our student body president leads adouble life as Voldemort. Our birdwatchers write short stories, ourphotographers ride horses, and our lacrosse players fight breast cancer. Not asingle member of this class could be put into a box of the absolute, definite,here-is-your-identity, look-you-in-the-face and put-a-shiny-label-on-it truth.This is, at least in part, because we’re not afraid of trying new things and wedon’t make our decisions to avoid failure. Classes and activities were pickedup (and sometimes dropped) on whims. Sometimes we excelled, sometimes we nearlygot expelled, sometimes it was just worth the experience of trying it, but hereat Waterford we were afforded the opportunity to indulge any interests we had –and we had a lot. We grew into racquetball, lacrosse, robotics, crew,volleyball, and soccer champions; to genuinely engaged historians,mathematicians and scientists; to award-winning photographers, artists, and writers;to moving actors, dancers, and musicians.
            In such a group, unity is not always evident.With one notable exception, each time our tangle of opposites had to make agroup decision, chaos ensued, because in reality our grade doesn’t have asingular voice. It’s not that we’re voiceless, in fact, it’s just the opposite:everyone has something to say and everyone says it. We are a group of peoplewho speak up. We’ve been called fractured and splintered at times – like when wefailed entirely to choose a senior class theme or when we nearly missed gettingsenior sweatshirts and electing alumni representatives – but we also had briefmoments of absolute unity, because when push comes to shove, we are more thanjust a group of people randomly thrown together through education. We areunified as teammates, classmates and friends. And each one of us has, at one point or another, had a crush oneither Parker Dolbin or Kasandra Rasmussen.
            Our prime moment of unity came in choosing oursenior gift, when we made our decision unanimously and instantly, insisting wedidn’t want or need any more time to consider other options. For our seniorgift we’ve created a scholarship in the name of Linda Kitchen. Every single oneof us contributed money (the second class to do so in Waterford history) andwith help from our parents we recently hit $22,000, with plans for thescholarship to be sustained in the future. We made this our senior gift becausewe felt that it was a way to thank Linda Kitchen for the impact she made oneach of our lives.
            And though she’s special, Linda Kitchencertainly isn’t the only person who we would like to thank. Thank you to parents,grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, neighbors, friends – all who haveplayed a role in helping us get here today. We appreciate the sacrifices youhave made to get us to where we are, the fights you have fought for us, and thelove with which you have taught us.
            Thank you to the administrators and teachers ofWaterford. We relied on you as constant forces of goodness in our lives, and asrole models for people we’d like to become. Thank you for believing in us, makingsure we knew it, and pushing us until we too, believed in ourselves.
            Additionally, each one of us graduating todayespecially thanks someone - often many someones - who has gone out of his orher way to individually take care of us, teach us, put us on the right path, dowhat was best for us far beyond what was required. To the deans, coaches andteachers who personally made immeasurable differences in our individual livesthrough their actions big and smallwe offer a deeply felt and most sincere thank you.
            Finally, the class of 2012 would like toextend a special thank you to Mr. Alexander for being our exceptional dean forthe past four years. Thank you for being our teacher, friend, ally, and forknowing what was best for us far better than we did. Thank you for the lifeadvice – we promise not to buy health insurance or houses – and thank you forjoking with us while insisting we serve our detentions. Above all, thank youfor seeing beyond policy and procedures to look out for us. Mr. Alexander, welove you, we’ll miss you, and you are so invited to come to college with eachone of us.
            Really, we love this place. We are so gratefulto have grown up here. It isn’t all that us easy for us to be leaving. PaulValery wrote “a poem is never finished only abandoned.” Valery rightlyrecognizes that you can beat a poem like a dead horse unless you’re willing toput it to rest and understand that better poems are waiting to be written. Andthat is really how today seems to us, because even though it feels like we’refinished here, the things we’ll be loosing and abandoning, weigh heavily on ourshoulders. Yet we believe we’ll do just fine because as we move on we’ll carrywith us the values this community has instilled in us: the understanding thatintelligence is not rolling your eyes and saying something snarky; the grace tobe humble in both excellence and failure; the wisdom that it’s most importantto be good.
            And while this school has played a very largerole in our lives, we as a class have also shaped each other. We teach oneanother – whether with a much-needed slap upside the head, a hug in thehallway, or the passion with which interests are pursued. We may know too muchabout each other, but we are friends that can be relied on for whatever’sneeded - we have one another’s backs. We have been a part of each other’s livesfor two, five, fifteen years. Some of us have lived our entire lives atWaterford. Some of us are absolutely dying to get out of this town. But there’snowhere else we would rather be graduating from, and we are so proud to beleaving together, with all 55 seniors that came onto campus in Septembergraduating today, walking across this stage and onto the next.
            My very favorite Mary Oliver poem ends “tellme, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” And Ican’t really tell you what anyone in my class with do. Catherine is most likelyto marry the governor of Maine and it’s all too likely that Richard will inventthe next Velcro and make a bazillion dollars, and if we get our way, Kathy willbecome a tattoo artist, but really who knows where we’ll end up. We’re18. Some days we hardly know our right foot from our left. But I know that theending spot, wherever it ends up being, will be good. I am absolutely sure ofthis because the 54 people behind me are a group of unusually high-caliberhuman beings who have character far greater than most graduating seniors. Infact, I think that character is our class’s defining characteristic.
            As seniors, the tone we set for the upperschool this year was something to truly be proud of. Applying to colleges, wewere there for each other through every admissions letter – cheering for theacceptances, angry for the rejections – and never were there any bad feelingswhen someone else got into our dreamschool. We set the example that we were a team and college acceptances couldnot change that. And this year there were no issues with inappropriate dress upday attire. In fact, on Halloween, probably the most iffy was Clark as psychomantis. And anyone who knows Clark can recognize the beautiful humor in that.
            Laughter wasever-present (perhaps too ever present) in our classes. A member of the classof 2012 is equally likely get a 5 in APUS as to quote the entire Mean Girlsscreenplay. And whether it was the endless water fights on senior trip, ourriveting game of assassin or our senior service day spent helping out withLower School Field day, our class’ character is shown in our perpetualwillingness to have fun.
            We made our senior year, without question, thebest one. At times it felt like finishing out a prison sentence, at times itfelt like our final time before we had to walk the plank, and even though Istill can’t tell you if today is a happy day or a sad day, I can tell you thatI am so proud to be walking across this stage with such a talented, passionate,remarkable and downright epic graduating class. A class whose daily presence Iwill dearly miss. But I think things will be okay because I believe CarlSandburg when he wrote “poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes,” and Iknow that a poem will always fit in my pocket, even if the Waterford school won’t. 
            Today, we are on happy paths to where we wantto be. Exciting paths. Challenging paths. Unknown paths. And while we’re sad tosee that this especially wonderful Waterford path has run it’s course, we’rethrilled by what we find at the end: our future, which asks us that samequestion it has asked those who came before and will ask those who come after:
Have you enjoyed your poetry?
Andthe Waterford class of 2012 can answer with absolute certainty yes.


  1. I'm giving a speech at BYU Idaho next October and I'm going to quote you somewhere in it about poetry. I do like the question "Have you enjoyed your poetry?" I want to take a beginning poetry-writing class, but not from anyone who knows who I am. You make me want to write poetry.

    This is a fine speech.

  2. Kasandra RasmussenJuly 2, 2012 at 3:31 AM

    I couldn't be more grateful that this is up here.