A beloved tradition at Waterford, Class XII parents are honored at the final Parent Association Meeting of the year . The involvement of parents is essential to the growth and success of their students at Waterford. At this final PA meeting, a Class XII parent is invited to speak, and this year, Ginny Vierra, parent of Isaiah ’16 and Jake ’19, spoke of lessons learned and the meaning of Waterford.
Good Morning, it is nice to be here with you today. I am Ginny Vierra, mother of Jake, a graduating senior, and Isaiah, who graduated from Waterford in 2016 and is now a Junior at Columbia University in New York. I am also the spouse of the Associate Head of School, Brandon Bennett, and a practicing Pediatrician at Hillcrest Pediatrics.
Now I have to start my story with a bit of a disclaimer. When Brandon and I got married, we divided the list of life chores, and public speaking was happily placed in his basket. I prefer to talk to parents one-on-one, usually in an exam room sitting on a stool with rollers, but here I am today standing in front of you. So the question is WHY?
Well, recently after a busy day of clinic helping parents deal with their worries about their children, I found myself talking to one of my young pediatric partners about a worry of her own. She asked me whether she should consider Waterford for her child who is just two years old. She, like myself, is the product of a diverse public high school and was wondering about the value of a Waterford education. Was Waterford worth it? And would it be right for her child? As we spoke, I found myself strongly encouraging her to consider Waterford as a worthwhile investment in her child. I reflected on my own worries as a parent, and on how much Waterford has helped me deal with those worries, as it has shaped the lives of my children: their character and their outlook on the world.
Now as luck would have it, immediately following this conversation, I received Chris Ross’s invitation to speak today as a “graduating Waterford Parent” and I realized that despite my general avoidance of public speaking I would be honored to talk about my family’s Waterford journey and a few of the lessons I have learned along the way.
Isaiah’s educational experience began in Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo reservation where I was working for the Indian Health Services and Brandon was home taking care of Isaiah and doing some writing and web development. There were not a lot of options for preschool, so we signed Isaiah up for the only one in town which happened to be in a church basement across the highway. The advantages of the school included: 1) It was the only option and 2) it was run by well meaning people with a goal of giving local kids an early start. The main disadvantage was the classroom itself was a basement which was dark and not all that appealing. So we signed him up and I thought all was well until Brandon went out of town and my mother flew in to help. She returned from her first day of taking Isaiah to school and told me Isaiah did not want to go into the classroom. “He says his dad just lets him stay outside on the playground equipment on some days.” And it turns out this was true. Both Isaiah and Brandon had determined that on “some days” it was better to sit outside and look at those vast blue New Mexico skies than to go into a dark basement classroom.
So the FIRST LESSON LEARNED: Physical Plant matters.
The next year we returned to Salt Lake and bought “The old Bennett house” which was the home of Brandon’s grandfather, Harold, who had lived in the Harvard/Yale home for more than 70 years. And the home came with “an old Bennett” as Brandon’s dad, John, would live there with us. It is a beautiful house and I knew we were making a commitment to staying for decades to come, which is why when Brandon looked for a job and was given several offers and decided to take the position at Waterford, which is a 20-30 minute drive from the house, rather than at the school which is quite literally a block away, I thought he was crazy, knowing that it would entail years of commuting. Brandon was certain and explained that Waterford was the far better place. After interviewing and spending time at both schools he knew that the mission of Waterford and the people associated with Waterford made it the place where he wanted to be, work, contribute, and educate our children.
SECOND LESSON LEARNED: The Mission and community at Waterford are worth the drive!
So after Brandon’s first year at Waterford, Isaiah and Jake joined him in his commute, Isaiah starting in Kindergarten and Jake, just a little guy barely reaching to Brandon’s knee, in Nursery 3. It is humbling how quickly the years have gone by. We all have talismans of Waterford in our homes: 2 painted snake sticks, 2 flying fish, 2 ceramic acorns, 2 insect collections, 2 bird projects, a cello, a stand up bass and a dove named Bird, from Mrs. Perkins’ classroom. In addition, we all have annual events which are mile markers for each year. The orchestra concerts, the band concerts, the choral concerts, the plays, the crew regattas, and for us the weekend with the racquetball team at the Marv Jensen Recreation Center in South Jordan.
The 2nd week of February for the past 7 years has been a ritual for us — attending the annual high school state racquetball tournament at “the Marv.” Both of my children played racquetball during their time at Waterford, despite the ribbing and teasing from their squash playing cousins and uncles. The Bennett family is a committed squash family. This state racquetball tournament is typical — with individual players advancing as they win and the team gathering collective points along the way. Over the years the tournament had become one of my favorite Waterford events. Because it is too far to drive back and forth, we would go and watch the play for most of the weekend. When our kids were younger, we watched them and their teammates, admiring the older, skilled players. And as they became those players it was fun to watch the younger kids develop their talents and watch the camaraderie of the kids cheering each other on and participating as a team. This year, Jake, now 6 foot 5, a friendly, quiet, happy-go-lucky sort of kid, was playing number one singles and mixed doubles, with his partner, Carson S. ’19. Early in the season, Coach Dolbin told me, he thought Jake and the team could potentially do very well at state this year. Jake and Carson started the early rounds playing as they had played through the season, with lots of banter and laughter, and they seemed to get stronger in each game. As the play progressed it turned out that Jake’s singles match would be played after the doubles match, which worked out well, because he had never been a big fan of warming up — which meant he often warmed up during the 1st game, giving up many points and games in the process. As Jake worked his way through the draw, we began to see more fight in him than ever before. In the quarter final game he started pumping his fist with important points. On the doubles side, Jake and Carson made it to the final match, and won. Then, in the singles final, Jake played a very tough match against the previous year champion. Jake won the first game, lost the second game, and then came from behind in the 3rd game to win the match, helping the team clinch the Team State Championship. During that last nail biting game, with his teammates watching and cheering, as he fought his way back, his single arm pump went to a double arm pump, and I realized he had developed a new skill, a grit, a deeper strength, an ability to overcome.
So you may ask, Why am I telling this story? Well, aside from the fact that it is a lot of fun for me to relive those moments, I think it is a great example of the many parts of Waterford coming together to help our children become their best selves. One of my worries about Jake has been about his drive, that mysterious capacity to push through challenge that we know is so important. I credit Waterford with helping Jake tap into that part of his character.
THIRD and final LESSON LEARNED: This community of scholars, musicians, artists, and athletes come together to learn and play and compete and bring out the best in each other.
What I have come to love most about Waterford is all of it: the amazing liberal arts education, the music, the arts, the teachers, the friends, the community, all of which has helped us raise these two kind, compassionate young men who are students and philosophers and citizens. They are creative, funny, brave and ready to embrace the bigger world out there. Jake will follow his brother to New York next fall at Fordham University. He and all Waterford students leave the school with faculty and a posse of friends whom they get the privilege of associating with over a lifetime.
As a pediatrician who spends my days talking to parents and kids. I wish every child could have the Waterford experience. As a parent I know it has been essential in the formation of the character of my own family.
I feel like I would not be a Vierra-Bennett if I didn’t end with a bit of poetry. This is from Mary Oliver, a poet who wrote beautifully about nature and life. She passed away last January. I think as parents we all worry about “how our children will make it through”. The poem is called:
Things take the time they take. Don’t
How many roads did St. Augustine follow
Before he became St. Augustine?
Of course parents do worry. I see it in my practice every day. So perhaps the message we should take from the poem, and that I have learned from my time at Waterford, is that by giving our children the chance to develop the skills and confidence to take many roads, we can let our worries go, trusting that our children will find their way, taking the time that discovery takes. After writing and giving this talk, what I might add to the pitch I gave to my pediatric partner about the value of Waterford is how grateful I am to have been able to have my kids spend the 15 years in an environment that, if not actually expecting them to become St. Augustine, certainly asks them to search after their individual roads to meaning and purpose—and to trust that, in their own good time, they will get there.
Thank you for letting me be with you today and for being such a lovely community of parents. Though I’m a graduating parent, I’m still deeply invested in the Waterford world, and have no plans to leave. I have God-children, patients, and friends still attending, and Brandon is still here. We are all still learning not to worry and searching for the right roads.
May 19, 2021
September 19, 2019
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