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Love at the Core of the Waterford Experience

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Jackson Anderson ’17 was chosen by his peers to give an address at Waterford's Commencement ceremonies in Abravanel Hall. 

I made a promise nearly one month and a half ago to Waterford’s class of 2017 that I would expand upon the backstories of two quotes from two unlikely sources that have stuck with me throughout my entire life, and I believe encapsulate the Waterford experience. The first was said to me by my grandfather --a man who played a larger part in raising me than he has ever been giving credit for-- when I was seven years old. It was said at a very special place at a very special time. It was a languid summer night in Indio, California at my grandfather’s ranch, that special place that every child has that exists outside of time. My grandfather woke me up in the middle of the night and said to me “Jackson, a baby goat is being born, do you want to go see it?” and of course I said “Yes” without hesitation. I did not see the goat birthed live, but I saw it exist while that word’s application to that animal, that entity, had only taken effect for a single-digit number of minutes. But what was most important about that night was when my grandfather procured --as if by magic-- a baby’s bottle full of goat milk, and allowed me to feed the newborn kid with it in my lap. I saw in its grey and jejune eyes a stainless beauty too pure for this world, and then my grandfather said something that would puzzle me for years to come, something that I have never been quite sure that I have been able to fathom on every level: “one day you will understand this.”

The Waterford experience is “one day you will understand this.” The seed of knowledge is planted early --nourished and given ample time to germinate-- such that after enough tender care is given it may bloom into something splendid and unique.

Keep that in mind. “One day you will understand this.” Keep that in mind as I tell you this next story that explains this next quote that further explains the Waterford experience. This second quote was said by Captain John Price to a man known only as Private MacGregor in the video game Call of Duty 2. The scene is Tunisia, 1943. Private MacGregor has been thrust into the role of driving a commandeered sdkfz 222 armored car, a vehicle that is more complicated than anything in his experience or pedigree and with regulations and standards that are foreign to him. He freezes up. Wehrmacht soldiers are rapidly closing in. To both extol a sense of haste and to snap MacGregor out of his trance, Price says “It’s not that hard; just turn the wheel in the direction you want to go.” MacGregor was able to wrestle with the controls of the armored car, and the duo successfully escaped from Tunisia.

The Waterford experience is “It’s not that hard; just turn the wheel in the direction you want to go.” This quote is the pragmatic and applicable side of the Waterford experience, the side in which --when a giant neon sign that reads “Opportunity” is present-- we are given a firm yet gentle thrust in its direction, and are able to reap its rewards, becoming the people standing here today.

See more photos from Commencement 

The Waterford experience can be distilled down into these two quotes, into these two stories. It is a perfect combination of these two ethe. It is a pedagogical --at times aphoristic-- institution that offers instruction along the ever constant journey to become more complete. Mrs. Rosett says “one day you will understand this” when we read Animal Farm in sixth grade, because there is a dawning moment years later when we feel like we almost do. Mrs. Reinhardt says “one day you will understand this” when we sing songs in latin as third graders because some of us become prodigious latin scholars in our upper-school years, while others of us appreciate the theory behind the keys and scales that make up those same songs as we grow older. Mr. Henrikson says “one day you will understand this” when geometry and physics feel impossible because some of us go on to become engineers and roboticists as teenagers. Mrs. Dahl says “one day you will understand this” in nursery threes when the prospect of counting to twenty appears insurmountable because some of us will go on to win math competitions and become certifiable mathematical geniuses. Mrs. Knight says “one day you will understand this” in nursery fours when learning the alphabet appears an alien impossibility because some of us will go on to read works such as Infinite Jest and Ulysses on our own time for personal enjoyment. Mr. Wade says “one day you will understand this” when sorting out the various belligerents in world war two seems a useless chore in sixth grade because some of us will go on to become anti-war advocates once we have attained greater historical knowledge.

The second core Waterford ethos is this: the direct push to strive for realistic and pragmatic opportunities that we are too afraid to take. Mr. Harris says “it’s not that hard; just turn the wheel in the direction you want to go” because world class musicians resides inside reluctant sixth-graders frustrated with their mandatory band class. Mr. Brewer says “it’s not that hard; just turn the wheel in the direction you want to go” because future award winning artists feel that completing their AP portfolios is an impossible task. Mr. Morris says “it’s not that hard; just turn the wheel in the direction you want to go” because state champion athletes dread that final lap in practice. Ms. Jorgenson says “it’s not that hard; just turn the wheel in the direction you want to go” because nationally recognized poets need that reminder that they are their own agents. Mr. Tanner says “it’s not that hard; just turn the wheel in the direction you want to go” because awe-inspiring thespians and stage crews are overwhelmed with the time and commitment to deliver their broadway-worthy performances. Ms. Linsley says “it’s not that hard; just turn the wheel in the direction you want to go” because elegant and luxuriant dancers become bedazzled with the complexity and poise required to accomplish their flawless and professional-level performances. Mr. Beckwith says “it’s not that hard; just turn the wheel in the direction you want to go” because quick-witted and eloquent debaters need that reinforcement to push through their multi-day tournaments and achieve their victories.

And present throughout all of these anecdotes is the final thing that makes Waterford what it is: love. It is a community immersed and saturated with love. I see love in every corner of Waterford. Students and faculty have a vested interest in each other’s success that ascends the personal; there is a genuine and unmitigated desire for universal accomplishment. I see it in Mr. Davis and the writing center, with their friendly smiles and friendly hands always there to ensure that every paper is the best it can be, caring not for their personal time that needs to be lended to the task. I see love on the various sport fields, both in the bonding that comes with being part of a team, and in the stands with all of the enthusiastic fans there to support their peers. I see in The Allies Club inside the intensely welcoming and responsive eyes of the student and faculty attendees who try with unabashed passion to make the Waterford community as safe and inclusive as it can possibly be. I see it in the affectionate smiles and weathered hands of the community service members who dedicate inordinate amounts of time and ardor towards extending the love in the Waterford community outside of its physical boundaries. I saw it in the third grade when Mrs. Andrach suggested I use a computer to complete written assignments due to the complete illegibility of my handwriting, a move that offset years of potential struggle in school and showed a great degree of prescience in regards to a diagnosis of dyspraxia as she suggested this a full seven years before I was officially diagnosed. I see it in all of you, right now. The Waterford parents love and support their children, and without them, we wouldn’t be here right now. Thank you. I would be remiss if I were to not thank Mr. Andrew Menke, who I believe --from the bottom of my heart-- has stepped into the role of the Head of School with a personable and observational approach in which he seeks to better this institution that all of us so value. I believe that as we leave we can have safe knowledge that the school’s leadership is in good hands in large part due to the fact that he has embraced this new community with that same love that is omnipresent within it. And now we have to say “goodbye” to one another, to our parents, to this institution. I love you.