2019 Waterford Commencement, Awards & Senior Address
Congratulations Waterford Class of 2019! We are incredibly proud of all you have accomplished during your time at Waterford and can't wait to see your journey as you pursue lives of meaning and purpose.
SENIOR ADDRESS BY RIVER KNIGHT ’19:
I kicked a math teacher in the head. I was in sixth grade, so luckily my feet were small. Mrs. Woller had told me to get down off of her desk and I refused to listen. And as I reached to dislodge one of those replaceable ceiling tiles, I fell. And I kicked a math teacher in the head. A nice one too.
Now, I’ve grown up quite a bit since sixth grade. I’ve made it a point to avoid kicking math teachers and that’s a good thing. If I met sixth grade me now or saw him mounting that desk, my words would most likely be far less kind than Mrs. Woller’s. I am an evolution and indeed an improvement from that scrawny, small footed, clutz. I have changed.
But what hasn’t changed is Waterford. Waterford was and is the constant that defined most of our lives up to this point. As all of us grew in height, knowledge, and maturity, those red brick walls were patient. They gave us room to experiment with who we wanted to be and what we wanted to pursue. Our memories of this period will not be one fluid arc, but a series of snapshots like the one I’ve just shared with you all. And although the person in the snapshot may take vastly different forms, the background of those snapshots for however many years has been Waterford.
It’s frightening to imagine a different background to our snapshots. This school has held us for so long, through so many different periods of our lives. And the same goes for this community. It’s a rare experience to know the name of every single person in your grade, but that’s been our gift. Some of us have known each other since nursery, some for two years that have felt like an eternity. Every day, we pass each other in the hallway and though we may not always greet each other, there is comfort in the familiarity of the faces that we pass.
I hadn’t started thinking deeply about this group of people until we took our senior retreat. Sitting in a circle across from all of you struck a chord in me. As a group we all collectively shared our snapshots of life at Waterford. We talked about our old crushes and teachers and friendships. We laughed. We teared up. We loved each other. In those moments, hearing all of your stories about this place, I realized how lucky I am to be a member of the class of 2019, to have grown up with all of you as the constants in my life. If Waterford has been our second home, you all have been my extended family. And I truly love us as the unit that we are: diverse, talented, and beautiful.
But now we’ve reached a new phase of our lives. It brings to mind the Trees of Life we played with in Mr. Bromley’s ninth grade bio class. Waterford is the roots that we all share. Waterford is our common ancestor. And until now we’ve been comfortable sipping our lives from those roots. And here we are branching off. All of us. This is where the real evolution begins. As much as we felt the changes in our lives thus far, this is undeniably the big moment. Bigger than getting our licenses (or not if you’re Bella). Bigger than our growth spurts (i’m looking at Jake). And even bigger than our failed relationships (don’t worry I won’t go there).
That’s what makes this moment right now, as I speak, so exhilarating, so frightening, and so necessary. Who knows which way all of our branches will lead? We’ll each follow our evolutionary pathways to new homes, to different parts of the country. This group of human beings that incubated for so long in the same space, from this moment will begin to flourish in an entirely new capacity. We’ll all branch off into our new passions. We’ll leave Abravanel Hall, eat our brunch, and take on the unknown.
This spring, I put up a box in the senior lounge. Excuse me, the senior corner. I asked you all to fill it with descriptions of the things you’ll miss. I couldn’t quite articulate what exactly made our time here so special, and so I turned to you. The responses are striking. Each contain yet another snapshot, a polaroid-window into our time at this place. Some are simple. One said, “I’ll miss the trees in the springtime.” Another, “I’ll miss the only school I’ve ever known.” And even just “I’ll miss laying down in the quad.” Perhaps these little things are the most important. More than any one story or anecdote, it’s these simplistic snapshots that carry the most legitimate representation of our time here. That’s the beauty of memory I think. It’s allows our subconscious to romanticize and eternalize even the most mundane things. We might remember the warmth we felt on our face that first warm April day, but we might not remember the sunburn that followed.
Some of you wrote names in the box. Particular human beings that you’ll miss running into in the hallway. “Casey O’Malley, our fearless dean” appeared more than once. So did “Mr. Douglas’s giggle.” And even “Skylar” got a couple of honorable mentions.
The last major category of note can be best articulated by one in particular: “I’ll miss being in a place I’ve been in for what feels like my whole life; being able to see my childhood before my eyes.” Isn’t that what we all have been feeling? Though the brick walls are nice, it’s the life we’ve brought to them that makes this so bittersweet. It’s the promposals in the parking lot. It’s the spike ball games on the quad. It’s the races to lunch in lower school. It’s the middle school first kisses. It’s getting kicked out of the library and it’s going back in the next day. A school isn’t a school without its students.
Those memories that we have created, all of them, that’s what we see when we drive by on 94th. It’s our life in front of our eyes. Soon we’ll be the vulnerable alumni poking our heads into old classrooms, trying to recapture a bit of what it felt like to live our lives in those buildings.
Many of us will go on to colleges where new buildings will come to life with the memories we make in them, but how many of us will ever again go to a school where we know the name of every face that we pass? It’s a unique element of The Waterford experience and I don’t take it for granted.
I’ve been trying to savor it. I’ve been trying to notice the small things about Waterford that make me happy. But it’s not always easy to see the larger picture until you’re at a far enough distance from the subject. We’re never thinking about making memories when we’re making memories. They just get made. Something in our brain decides that we need a snapshot of a moment without us every making a conscious effort to lock it down.
I haven’t ever thought more about Waterford than I have recently. It’s ironic I think. I’ve had 15 years to savor something I couldn’t fully appreciate until these final months. One of my favorite things is talking about lower school, or middle school, or even freshman year with my classmates. I love realizing that someone else has a memory that I lost. And I love sharing the memories I have with others. And I love that moment when you and someone that time has distanced you from realize that you’re both looking into the same faded snapshot.
I want to share some of my favorite snapshots with you now. These are the moments that stuck, whether or not I was conscious of it at the time. I remember distinctly playing blob tag in lower school. I remember running in that giant herd of children, laughing til I couldn’t breathe, and screaming with what little air I had left the chorus of REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” It was one of those bizarre childhood moments of complete innocence and freedom.
Another snapshot: Mr. Wade screaming his Japanese words of good fortune to us on the final day of Interim. We were gathered together for the first time as high school students. We had just competed in our own campground edition of Iron Chef (at which I might add my group failed horribly), and after watching skits that ran the gamut from great to trash fire, Mr Wade climbed atop the table and screamed a good luck message that banged around each of our freshman skulls and propelled us all the way to Abravanel Hall.
And snapshot: sitting with some of my favorite human beings in the only school I’ve ever known, in the senior corner. We sat in a circle, some on stiff wooden chairs, some on the floor. It was an early spring day. The sun was shining through the window. The lower schoolers were waving and causing a scene just outside. We played Heads Up, and I tried to teach myself how to say goodbye. I still don’t think I’ve learned. But I’m trying really hard.
What all of those snapshots share is the serenity of simply being. This school and all of its familiarity allowed us to occupy this space and live completely in the moment. Not always, but often. I know already that I will look back throughout my life on my own personal gallery of snapshots and feel the warmth, love, and joy that fills every one of them. I hope all of us can dedicate ourselves to keeping our collections of Waterford moments alive.
Let’s think back one more time on the senior retreat. For many of us, I think that was the first time we really felt the end closing in. I didn’t think I could love any of you more than I did on that fall afternoon. I was wrong. This moment right now has proved me wrong. I love you all so much and “I’m having a hard time saying goodbye.”
And though so much of what’s to come is impossible to predict, I do know one thing for certain. I know that this period of our lives will be the foundation for something spectacular. We have been so blessed, all of us, with this caliber of education. We are knit together and dug deep into the ground. We are stronger for our Waterford experience.
And as an ending note, I have a sort of call to arms for the class of 2019. Let’s harness our strength and increase the good in the world at whatever scale. We have all had the privilege of a Waterford education. This freedom to learn and grow is a gift that very few people throughout human history have been given. I refuse to take that for granted.
I know the people in this room. From dancers, to engineers, to chemists, to actors, to singers, to politicians, to mathematicians, to athletes, we are a diverse group of thinkers and movers and shakers. Wherever we find ourselves, let’s create beauty in our lives and the lives around us. Let’s solve the small problems that overwhelm the big ones. The power of simple goodness, even at the smallest scale, cannot be overestimated.
And simple goodness is what brought us here. The goodness given to us by the maintenance crew, by each other, by our teachers, and by our families who in this moment are trying just as hard as us to let go. Thank you to every one of you. Thank you for sitting through our endless pre-test questions. Thank you for driving our lower and middle school bodies to school every morning. Thank you for giving us the gift of our education.
And thank you one last time, to the class of 2019. Thank you and goodbye.
Senior History Award: Jacob Howard
Senior Computer Science Award: Ben Newhall
Senior Athletics Award: Taylor Schmidt
Senior Music Award: Sophie Taylor
Senior Theater Award: Rain Tanner
Senior English Award: Katie Riley
Senior Visual Arts Award: Jacqueline Bruce
Senior Math Award: Daniel South
Senior World Languages Award: Amy Wade
Senior Dance Award: Charlotte Wang
Senior Science Award: Paige Anderson
CLASS XI BOOK AWARDS:
Lucas B. ’20
Emma S. ’20