Class VIII Closes Out Their Middle School Years
On Tuesday, May 24, 83 members of Waterford’s Class of 2026 celebrated the culmination of their time as Middle School students with the tradition of their Closing Assembly. This Assembly includes talks from Head of School Andrew Menke, two student representatives—Henry M. and Dalloway S., and a message from their Upper School Dean Erica Cooper. Read their talks below, as well as see pictures from receiving their Class VIII caps.
Head of School Remarks, Andrew Menke
It is a great pleasure to be with you at this last Middle School Assembly of the 2021-22 school year. And yes, an odd school year it has been—easing of COVID protocols to start the year, the Omicron surge, then a reinstitution of masks and distancing and zooming, and the peculiar way that we have learned together over the last 2-plus years.
And now we end this roller coaster ride; happily together in the Concert Hall. Class VIII, ready to take the significant step into Upper School next fall, and all of you to the next exciting grade level ahead. I am so very proud of all of you for your hard work and commitment to intellectual growth. Your dedication to your studies has been impressive.
I was going to talk for a minute about the recent Middle School dance; about how much I appreciated watching all of you so thoroughly enjoy time in each other's company. While it seems a lifetime ago that you gathered in the Lower School outdoor play areas and in the gym for the themed glow dance. I very much appreciated the seemingly liberated-letting-go sense of being fully present in joyful moments.
But I’d rather talk about something this morning much more profoundly simple, yet nearly always exponentially more difficult to practice and sustain over time, and that is kindness.
You may remember that last year, 2020-21, our school theme was caring. In the midst of COVID, it made sense to lean into our communal effort to support one another to get through a difficult time. We all practiced patience, empathy and support, and together persevered through a challenging school year. And this year, animated by our 40th anniversary, we celebrated excellence in all the ways that we engage in the breadth of the liberal arts here at Waterford.
And I wonder, and sometimes worry, even during this uplifting moment of the school year when we’ve almost reached the exciting finish line about how we translate excellence into the treatment of others in our community? I think I comfortably speak for all of my colleagues that there in nothing, I mean nothing, more important than treating classmates, every single classmate, no matter their grade, gender, sexual orientation, faith, any difference, with care and kindness.
Waterford’s definition of excellence is in part defined by our appreciation and embrace of difference, as it strengthens our community and the experience we each have here. It creates the richness of perspective that deepens our understanding in every subject area. And respectful relationships between students and with teachers are the foundation upon which transformational learning occurs.
I think being kind is at once effortless and effortful. If you treat others, as the axiom goes, always the way you wish to be treated then you are practicing excellent kindness. This ideally should be reflexive—a habit that takes little or no thought. And yet critical to treating others well, especially those who are different from us, is self-awareness and self-regulation. These are cultivated, interpersonal skills that take effort. They take slowing down; even intentionally counting to ten in your head before you act. And at times, kindness takes courage to do what is right, rather than popular or expedient. This is not easy in our insta, snap, twitter world, but easy is not what we aspire to here at Waterford. We strive for excellence and kindness extended to all to reach this ideal.
My experience and sense of each of you is that you are very kind to one another, and yet at times, there is strain. As we navigate the last seven days of the year, and transition into the summer, I ask that you keep kindness and our core value of caring top of mind.
This time of year, there are so many amazing academic, athletic and artistic accomplishments. Bravo! You have had an amazing year full of growth and contribution. And remember that for me there is no higher praise, no more prestigious award or celebrated accomplishment, than to be kind to each other.
Congratulations on a great year!
Class VIII Student Remarks - Henry M. - Graduation Speech
Hey, I’m Henry M. and I am very happy to talk to you guys today about our middle school experience. I've gone to Waterford since Nursery 4, so I've almost gone through the whole Waterford Experience. Next year is high school, which will be a blast, but let's not forget how much fun we had in middle school.
Not all of us have gone through middle school as a whole at Waterford, but for those of you who have, let me remind you of all the cool things we were able to do.
In sixth grade humanities, we learned about the American westward expansion. And that topic covered the Transcontinental Railroad. The Transcontinental was completed in Promontory, Utah, at a site which is now known as the Golden Spike National Monument. After our first few finals, the sixth grade was able to take a field trip up to the monument. That was pretty cool, but the best part was a surprise stop at a NASA testing facility in Northern Utah.
We were only there for around 20 minutes, but everyone was just climbing on these big bombshells and things. Later in the year, we took another field trip to the Leonardo Museum to see the Pompeii Exhibit. I thought it was cool seeing all of these recovered artifacts and other objects from the time.
After the field trip was spring break, but when we all came back from the break, we couldn’t go to school. We thought we would only have to do online school for two weeks, but that two weeks turned into a month, three months, and almost an entire year of a hybrid learning schedule.
COVID-19 messed with our Middle School experience. We weren't able to have social activities or socialize in general. But this year, for the first time since 2020, we were able to have dances again. We had three fantastic dances this year.
Last week, we had an amazing International Festival as well as the spring barbeque. We had some unique classes this year, like outdoor, photo, and clay, just to name a few. This year we read some of the best books we got to read in middle schools like Lord of the Flies and the Life of Pi.
Some people got lucky and were able to do the bird project this year, while others got to do experiments on fruit flies or do the egg drop. Lunch was always fun, whether you talked with your friends, played games like nine square or did homework.
The musical concerts were incredible this year, and the middle school did a great job on the play this year. This year, I was able to be in the Middle School student government, which was a great experience. I was able to help plan the dances and so much more. Middle School may be ending, but we have so much to look forward to in high school. Thank you.
Class VIII Student Remarks - Dalloway S. - A Pep-Talk for High School
Hello everyone! So I had a very hard time writing this speech because I didn’t know how to make it not cringy but then I listened to Taylor Swift’s speech at NYU and once again followed her wise words and “Embrace[d] the Cringe.” Middle School has been interesting and we’ve had a lot thrown at us. Even with all the good things that came with Middle School, I’m excited for a fresh start, a chance to practice all I’ve learned, an opportunity to leave past mistakes behind, and to make new ones. And this is true if you’re staying at Waterford or not.
This talk is supposed to be about what we’re excited for in High School, so I should probably talk about some things that are exciting. You might be excited for the specifics of High School such as dances with actual tickets and venues, different classes where you can explore more interests, or being able to call the new 8th graders small and cute and act like that was so long ago. Or you might be excited for the time of life and all it brings. Raise your hand if you’re excited to drive. I know I am even though I’m an August birthday and will literally be the last to get my license. Maybe you are excited to move to a new division in sports, and I know this is way in the future, but maybe you’re excited to vote.
I know that there is a negative to contrast all the positives I just mentioned, I’m not just a big optimist. But my biggest hope is that we don’t get tunnel vision, or some might say, get too “stressed out.” From what I’ve observed about high school I’ve noticed that we sometimes get so caught up in what we didn’t do, what’s coming up, what’s on our to-do list, what we need to do to get a good grade, that sometimes we forget to look back, and see that actually we’ve done some pretty amazing and hard things. It’s amazing that we are learning genetics in 8th grade. It’s amazing that we know how to easily put together professional looking slide-shows (it’s served me very well). It is amazing that we work so hard, that we ingest so much knowledge everyday, and it is my hope that we never forget that.
It’s true, you’ll get a bad grade in High School, you’ll feel overwhelmed, you might end up crying in the bathroom, and as monstrous as it sounds, you might even do horribly on the SAT. Who cares! That does not determine your future. You know what you’re also doing in high school? Adding on to that long list of things you did do, the things you absolutely slayed! All I can say is get excited! Have fun, make mistakes, live life big, take high school by the reins and tell it who’s boss, and maybe even channel your inner Dalloway. I am proud of all of you and I believe that you can all succeed, and that doesn’t mean getting a perfect score on the SAT. Thank you.
Rising Class IX Dean and English Teacher - Erica Cooper
Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Ms. Cooper. I teach Class VIII, IX, and XI English, and next year, I’ll be the Class IX Dean. I’ve been asked to speak to you today about my Waterford experience.
You may not know this, but I was also a Waterford student. I sat where you are sitting now, I wore the same uniform you’re wearing, only hoodies and athletic wear were not allowed (even on game day, not even if we begged), and I had some of the same teachers you will. Dr. Bennett, Mrs. Woller, Mr. Harris and Mr. Watkins. I started as a Waterford student in ninth grade, and what stood out to me most about the school was that I was surrounded by people who loved learning, just like me.
Growing up, I loved being a student. I still do as an adult. As a kid, during summer breaks, I created my own homework. I wrote book reports for fun and crafted my own long division problems (though I always made sure to end on an even number so there was never a remainder). So when I came to Waterford, I was with other students and teachers who were excited to learn, who were proud and passionate, who challenged me to be curious, to question and to explore. This love of learning is one of many reasons I came back to Waterford to teach. Today as a teacher, like I was all those years ago as a student, I am surrounded by people who love to learn, and love to teach as much as I do. Although I’ll never truly know all of the ways my time at Waterford has had an impact on my life, I know that so much of who I am today is because I was a Waterford student.
For starters, I met my best friend Lauren Kimball in an Environmental science class my senior year. I love literature because in ninth grade I read The Chosen for summer reading. I ran a marathon and do Crossfit because I started running in high school to stay in shape for basketball and kept going after the season ended. I wear my hair naturally instead of straight because I took Spanish here at Waterford, l learned about the wonders of Spain from Mr. Biscupovich, did a study abroad in college, broke my travel hair dryer, and stopped straightening my hair altogether.
Now before I get carried away, this speech is not meant to tell you that your Waterford years are the most important of your life, or that every choice you make during your time here will stay with you forever. I’m not saying that who you are during your time at Waterford is who you will always be. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be here, on this stage, talking to you. Just ask some of those teachers I listed.
As a student, I was too afraid to speak in class, let alone in an assembly. Even if I had something to add to a discussion or had a question, trust me, you would never know it. Even after graduating from Waterford, I still struggle with math, and you’ll never catch me singing in a choir again. This speech is not to say that your Waterford experience is everything.
Instead, I want to remind you that your experience at Waterford is everything you make it. You are surrounded by people and opportunities that can make a difference in your life. So join the team even if you’ve never played before. Read your summer reading book. Read every book you are assigned in English class. You never know if it might become a favorite. Learn a new language so you can travel the world and get a new hair do. And don’t forget to keep making new friends, you never know which ones will stay with you.