Read head of school Andrew Menke's opening remarks for the 34th Waterford School Commencement Ceremony. Please watch the full recording of Commencement 2021 below.
Good evening. It is my pleasure to welcome you, the Class of 2021, and your parents and special guests and all those family members, friends, and faculty and staff watching through live-stream to our 2021 Commencement Ceremony. I am so very excited to be back together again in this hallowed location on the quad to celebrate you, the class of 2021 on our spectacular campus.
And wow, what an amazingly beautiful evening. I hope this space brings back for all of you, Class of 2021, a flood of wonderful memories. And beyond this quad to the entire magnificent campus—the site of your transformational Waterford experience, where you have grown up and into the human beings of significance you are today—ready for college and to take on the world. We are so very proud of you!
"You have exhibited immense resilience, courage and fortitude over the course of your senior year. You have modeled our core values—certainly integrity, responsibility, and curiosity, and in this unusual year, perhaps most importantly, excellence. Despite all the obstacles, you have strived to be your very best each day, you have lived a growth mindset, and worked exceptionally hard. And finally, caring—you have sacrificed for the greater good and put the well-being of our community ahead of your own needs. I know this has been a difficult year, but your determined strength—a hallmark of your time at Waterford—is an inspiration to us all and will carry you far."
It is impossible to fully capture the magnitude of the last 16 months, and the 2020-21 school year; Class of 2021, your senior year. It was, to use an oft and overused adjective, unprecedented. It was uncertain, unequaled, unrivaled, unmatched, unparalleled… And, it was extraordinary in its capacity to reveal the best in each of you who you’ve become individually, and as a class.
You are most certainly accomplished scholars, skilled artists, and gifted athletes. Your college path and year-end awards affirm this without question. You are true liberal arts learners! But more importantly, you are principled human beings who have learned to care deeply for each other and this community. There is no doubt that your journey ahead will be full of immense opportunities for growth and contribution, and this is vital.
Never forget the monumental challenge of this year animated by one of our core values that will serve you well for the remainder of your lives… caring.
One of the wonderful silver linings of this year has been the illustration of caring that you demonstrated each day in our community—you health-screened, wore masks, learned from home, sometimes quarantined, and mostly, stayed physically distant from one another. This was NOT EASY, it flies in the face of all human psychology.
But you cared enough to make sacrifices during your senior year, so that our community could learn, so that we could be together for the entire year, so that we could return this spring to so many of the activities that we love, and so that we could be here tonight. You have heard us say often—Waterford helps you to do hard things, You have done a very hard thing this year, and we are truly inspired.
I hope the strength and resolve of this year will be one of the keepings that will hold you in good stead next year, and in all the years to come.
Our founding philosophy speaks of the “nobility of the well-lived life”, the notion that our education positions us to serve others and to care for others—an ethic you have so tangibly demonstrated this year. We are truly fortunate to have walked these paths with you here at Waterford. It has been a most extraordinary journey, and we are all better for it.
We will miss you, and the world needs you—all of you!
Congratulations on this special day!
Each year, the senior class chooses a classmate to give a senior address at Commencement ceremony. This year, Parker Anderson gave the senior address, read it here:
It is an honor to be standing here in front of you all. It has been my dream to speak to my class about a subject I deeply care about since I was in eighth grade. So let’s hope my voice doesn’t crack while I’m talking and destroy that dream. I have been a student at Waterford since I was three years old. I have known some of you since we were small children. And regardless of if I have watched you grow from a child or if I have only known you in your high school years I have been able to observe a consistent pattern that is present in all of the students here. You have all become exceptionally talented, intelligent, and determined adults. It does not matter to me if your abilities have been recognized by this institution or not. To me, you have all proven yourselves as capable people who can work with a level of determination unmatched by most, and you all deserve love and support for your hard work. I am not interested in talking to you guys about how to become more knowledgeable or how to work harder, because you all have proven to me that you can do those things better than most people your age can. I want to plant ideas in your guys’ heads about what you are going to do with your existences in this new stage of your lives. Because whether you’re ready or not, this is it. You all have the rest of your lives ahead of you, and that raises the question as to how you should live them. And while drinking chocolate milk and playing Fortnite in your basement all day might sound like a satisfying life plan, I guarantee you there is not a single parent in this audience that wants you to live your life that way.
However, despite the fact that the word of your parents is important and valuable, it is time for you all to start thinking about what you believe would bring you the most fulfillment in your life independently of what others think it might be for you. For the last 6 months I have been trying to come up with an answer to the question “What does it mean to live a well lived life?” And after six months of thinking and pondering in an independent study with Dr. Bennett and Mr. Douglas I can confidently say...I have no idea. Even though I can not give you a formula to follow that is guaranteed to make every single one of you feel like you are living a fulfilling life, I can give you some pieces of knowledge that I have learned and discovered over my life that have helped me find a path to success, fulfillment, and joy.
I recently asked our dean of students, Mr. Douglas, if he had any advice for me about my future. He told me that I should determine what success is for myself, how to measure that success, and what I need to do to acquire that success. Success does not have to mean the same thing to all of you. If success to one person is achieving a cumulative 4.0 GPA, and being able to eat 100 cheeseballs in under a minute to another, as long as both individuals know how to achieve their goals, and pursue them, then they are both finding fulfillment in their lives. I encourage all of you to take Mr. Douglas’s advice, and clearly define what you think success means to you. Your measurement of success is completely up to you to define. You do not have to set out to change the world in order to feel successful in your life. You should only pursue that if it is something that you realize you want to do yourself. If you ponder on your definition of success and come to the conclusion that you do want to change the world, then figure out what part of the world you want to change, in what way you want to change it, and how you are going to do that. Your definition of success does not have to remain rigid throughout your lives, either. As you change, so will your ideas of success and how to achieve it. There is nothing wrong with removing yourself from something or someone for the greater good of living a virtuous existence. It is up to you to find the threshold that lies between what feels like giving up and changing your strategy to live a well lived life.
I think that Waterford has encouraged us as students to believe that happiness and fulfillment are things that can be achieved through acquiring the fruits of successful work. This is a notion that is beneficial for one’s work ethic, and a solid work ethic is necessary in order to achieve goals. But on the underbelly of this idea is the principle that happiness is conditional. If you do not get an A you should not be happy. If you did not run a mile in under ten minutes you should not be happy. If you are struggling to go one day without those delicious double stuffed Oreos you should not be happy. You are stripping yourself of myriad opportunities to be happy if you make happiness a transaction. If you make your happiness depend on the result of a process, then you are setting yourself up to suffer if your ideal result does not become reality. Failure to achieve one’s goals today does not destroy the prospect of tomorrow. It is necessary to love and accept yourself even if you do not achieve your idea of success. You will always be able to return to the arena and fight to achieve your goals if you recognize that failure does not mean you should be ashamed of yourself nor does it mean you are not allowed to feel happy in other aspects of your life. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said that “We are meant to live in joy. This does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through.”
In all of our lives we have experienced storms. It is an inevitable part of life to experience the feeling of suffering. But experiencing suffering does not mean that you are not experiencing a well lived, successful life. Like the Archbishop said, storms are something to be passed through. All of the harshest storms you all have ever experienced in your high school years are behind you now. You have passed through them. You all have succeeded. As you enter the next stages of life, you will continue to experience storms. But hardship, even in its most pure and miserable forms, is not a permanent experience. This year, I have become familiar with what it feels like to lose people you care about immensely, and to be afraid of what the future might have in store. And there is nothing wrong with allowing yourself to experience emotions when you experience hardship, for it will not detract from your success in the grand scheme of your life. Allow yourself to experience sadness in the face of loss, for it is proof that you did truly care for and love what is no longer with you. And it is appropriate to feel fear in the face of uncertainty, for one can not be brave without first being afraid. If you can remind yourself in times of hardship that moments of suffering are not permanent, but storms to pass through, and opportunities to learn and grow, then you will be allowing yourself to find your way back to a state of peace.
This term in my AP Literature class I was asked to write an essay answering the question “Did you get what you wanted out of Waterford?” It did not take much time for me to realize that I absolutely did get what I wanted out of Waterford. But it was not because of the abilities that I have gained from this school, although I am grateful for them. It was not the achievements I had gained over the years of my academic pursuits, but I am thankful that I have experienced those achievements. It was the connections I have made over the years with peers and teachers that have made me thankful to have attended The Waterford School. It was the experiences that I have had with all of the students and many of the parents right here that have made me feel that I had a successful high school experience. Good grades have always felt good to me, but supportive and loving friends have always felt phenomenal. My connections with you all have given me a meaning to exist, and have brought me solace when I am passing through storms of my own. I am thankful for the class of 2021’s ability to be kind and compassionate. You all have influenced me to want to learn and grow, and I encourage all of you to continue to show love for those that you care about. Over the course of my time at this school you all have become important figures to me, and as a result I learned to love all of you. I can confidently say that this part of my life has been well lived because of my experiences with you all. To quote actress and content creator Abigail Thorn, “So sing the song of your life. Like a work of art. With balance and grace. Some forte and some pianissimo. Some solos, and some ensemble work. And probably some wrong notes. Especially if it’s me singing.” I am going to miss all of you greatly, but I am not worried for a second about any of you. I have unshakable faith that all of you will find out how you will live what you believe to be a well lived life. Good luck, and goodbye.