News - Upper School
2012 Commencement Address by Hannah Pugh
Hannah was chosen by her peers in the Class of 2012 to deliver the commencement address. We were impressed by her speech and wanted to share this transcript for anyone who may have missed it.
I know that we each have our gems of senior year, and mine was poetry. Which, I realize, sounds a little silly. A little teen-angsty. But really, it changed my whole year, because what I discovered is that poetry is about truth – not look-you-in-the-face, put-a-shiny-label-on-it truth but dancing-around-the-way-things-feel, trying-to-grasp-some-understanding truth.
W.H. Auden described poetry far better than I can when he wrote, “a poem is a tangle of opposites working towards unity.” Of course that’s true: a poem is a magnolia tree in full bloom, a favorite pair of red stilettos that never fit quite right and that feeling you get before getting off the ski lift for the first time. A poem is getting at the truth with things that aren’t supposed to go together, like, say, poetry and commencement addresses.
Consider this: if you walked into our senior lounge during this school year, you would likely have witnessed: a riveting game of sting pong (welts and all); a group of boys – pale from lack of sun exposure – playing Magic or Super Smash Brothers in the corner; a deep and meaningful conversation about Anthropologie dresses (or reproductive healthcare rights) 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 of 2012 sets up and subverts expectations. Our soccer players write comedy sketches, our mathematicians make films, our student body president leads a double life as Voldemort. Our birdwatchers write short stories, our photographers ride horses, and our lacrosse players fight breast cancer. Not a single 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 we don’t make our decisions to avoid failure. Classes and activities were picked up (and sometimes dropped) on whims. Sometimes we excelled, sometimes we nearly got expelled, sometimes it was just worth the experience of trying it, but here at 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 a group decision, chaos ensued, because in reality our grade doesn’t have a singular 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 people who speak up. We’ve been called fractured and splintered at times – like when we failed entirely to choose a senior class theme or when we nearly missed getting senior sweatshirts and electing alumni representatives – but we also had brief moments of absolute unity, because when push comes to shove, we are more than just a group of people randomly thrown together through education. We are unified as teammates, classmates and friends. And each one of us has, at one point or another, had a crush on either Parker Dolbin or Kasandra Rasmussen.
Our prime moment of unity came in choosing our senior gift, when we made our decision unanimously and instantly, insisting we didn’t want or need any more time to consider other options. For our senior gift we’ve created a scholarship in the name of Linda Kitchen. Every single one of us contributed money (the second class to do so in Waterford history) and with help from our parents we recently hit $22,000, with plans for the scholarship to be sustained in the future. We made this our senior gift because we felt that it was a way to thank Linda Kitchen for the impact she made on each of our lives.
And though she’s special, Linda Kitchen certainly isn’t the only person who we would like to thank. Thank you to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, neighbors, friends – all who have played a role in helping us get here today. We appreciate the sacrifices you have made to get us to where we are, the fights you have fought for us, and the love with which you have taught us.
Thank you to the administrators and teachers of Waterford. We relied on you as constant forces of goodness in our lives, and as role models for people we’d like to become. Thank you for believing in us, making sure we knew it, and pushing us until we too, believed in ourselves.
Additionally, each one of us graduating today especially thanks someone – often many someones – who has gone out of his or her way to individually take care of us, teach us, put us on the right path, do what was best for us far beyond what was required. To the deans, coaches and teachers who personally made immeasurable differences in our individual lives through their actions big and small we offer a deeply felt and most sincere thank you.
Finally, the class of 2012 would like to extend a special thank you to Mr. Alexander for being our exceptional dean for the past four years. Thank you for being our teacher, friend, ally, and for knowing what was best for us far better than we did. Thank you for the life advice – we promise not to buy health insurance or houses – and thank you for joking with us while insisting we serve our detentions. Above all, thank you for seeing beyond policy and procedures to look out for us. Mr. Alexander, we love you, we’ll miss you, and you are so invited to come to college with each one of us.
Really, we love this place. We are so grateful to have grown up here. It isn’t all that us easy for us to be leaving. Paul Valery wrote “a poem is never finished only abandoned.” Valery rightly recognizes that you can beat a poem like a dead horse unless you’re willing to put it to rest and understand that better poems are waiting to be written. And that is really how today seems to us, because even though it feels like we’re finished here, the things we’ll be losing and abandoning weigh heavily on our shoulders. Yet we believe we’ll do just fine because as we move on we’ll carry with us the values this community has instilled in us: the understanding that intelligence is not rolling your eyes and saying something snarky; the grace to be humble in both excellence and failure; the wisdom that it’s most important to be good.
And while this school has played a very large role in our lives, we as a class have also shaped each other. We teach one another – whether with a much-needed slap upside the head, a hug in the hallway, or the passion with which interests are pursued. We may know too much about each other, but we are friends that can be relied on for whatever’s needed – we have one another’s backs. We have been a part of each other’s lives for two, five, fifteen years. Some of us have lived our entire lives at Waterford. Some of us are absolutely dying to get out of this town. But there’s nowhere else we would rather be graduating from, and we are so proud to be leaving together, with all 55 seniors that came onto campus in September graduating today, walking across this stage and onto the next.
My very favorite Mary Oliver poem ends “tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” And I can’t really tell you what anyone in my class with do. Catherine is most likely to marry the governor of Maine and it’s all too likely that Richard will invent the next Velcro and make a bazillion dollars, and if we get our way, Kathy will become a tattoo artist, who knows where we’ll end up. We’re 18. Some days we hardly know our right foot from our left. But I know that the ending spot, wherever it ends up being, will be good. I am absolutely sure of this because the 54 people behind me are a group of unusually high-caliber human beings who have character far greater than most graduating seniors. In fact, I think that character is our class’s defining characteristic.
As seniors, the tone we set for the upper school this year was something to truly be proud of. Applying to colleges, we were there for each other through every admissions letter – cheering for the acceptances, angry for the rejections – and never were there any bad feelings when someone else got into our dream school. We set the example that we were a team and college acceptances could not change that. And this year there were no issues with inappropriate dress-up-day attire. In fact, on Halloween, probably the most iffy was Clark as psycho mantis. And anyone who knows Clark can recognize the beautiful humor in that.
Laughter was ever-present (perhaps too ever-present) in our classes. A member of the class of 2012 is as likely to get a 5 in AP US History as to quote the entire Mean Girls screenplay. And whether it was the endless water fights on senior trip, our riveting game of assassin, or our senior service day spent helping out with Lower School Field Day, our class’s character is shown in our perpetual willingness to have fun.
We made our senior year, without question, the best one. At times it felt like finishing out a prison sentence, at times it felt like our final time before we had to walk the plank, and even though I still can’t tell you if today is a happy day or a sad day, I can tell you that I 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 I will dearly miss. But I think things will be okay because I believe Carl Sandburg when he wrote “poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes,” and I know 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 want to be. Exciting paths. Challenging paths. Unknown paths. And while we’re sad to see that this especially wonderful Waterford path has run it’s course, we’re thrilled by what we find at the end: our future, which asks us that same question it has asked those who came before and will ask those who come after:
Have you enjoyed your poetry?
And the Waterford class of 2012 can answer with absolute certainty yes.