The graduates heard powerful and heartfelt words from Chris Bright, Jason Gregory, founding faculty member Pam Davis, Senior speaker Keira Stenson, and Kris Rone, head of Vistamar's Board of Trustees.
The circumstances under which these students persevered point to a strong future, said Chris Bright, Head of School, during his commencement speech to the graduates.
His commencement address is below.
Graduation 2022 - June 3, 2022
Chris Bright, Head of School
Welcome to all - Board, Teachers, Staff, Parents and especially the class of 2022!
What a pleasure it is to be together here today in the shadow of our school to celebrate you and to recognize you for an unimaginably amazing accomplishment - to graduate from high school during some of the most challenging and taxing days and years imaginable.
You’ve lived through a global pandemic, unprecedented political division, a national reckoning of racial injustice and systemic racism, global conflict, and on and on. It’s been a lot, and yet, through all of that, you’ve continued on, doing the things we’ve asked you to do, including an infinite number of ‘zoom’ classes, months of hybrid learning, cohorts, masks, testing, close contacts, and on and on. And now, finally, a glimpse of normal life is coming back, and here you are today, well prepared, ready, and looking toward whatever it is that’s coming next.
As you imagine what it’s going to feel like to walk across the stage here in a bit, I’d like you to take a moment to remember what it was like on your first day here at Vistamar… Now, a bit farther back to when you started middle school, and then before that, to your earliest memories of school, perhaps kindergarten? What do you remember? The smell of crayons? Felt tip markers? Elmer’s Glue? Nap time?
I’d like for you to also remember that the people who brought you into this world in the first place, those who helped raise you, taught you to ride a bike, how to tie your shoes, made your lunch, wiped your tears, celebrated your big successes, and loved you more than you will ever know. Know that they are cheering you on today like it was the first time they laid eyes on you when you were brand new, and hadn’t taken your first steps. Their attention is completely focused on you and the incredible potential that you’ve cultivated, and they are about as proud as anyone has a right to be.
And your teachers. Think back to the ones who changed the way you think, the ones who noticed you when you felt invisible, the ones who saw you help someone who needed it, the ones who challenged you to go beyond your comfort zone and helped you learn something new about yourself. That teacher you know you’ll never forget because they believed in you because of who you are. Those amazing individuals throughout your lives who have been there, supporting you, nurturing your interests, giving you opportunities to stretch beyond your reach and picking you up when you fell short. So many of them are here right now, looking right at you, proud of you and grateful for what you’ve taught them.
Your work, your tenacity, your heart and your belief that you can change things for the better have made you transcendent. You’ve proven that you can survive, thrive, and become the people you aspire to become, no matter what. And to be here today, looking back and also forward, you can truthfully say that your high school years were unlike any that came before.
Despite the fact that we experience the world through our eyes alone, we make meaning through our work and our relationships with others. We don’t grow up alone, we don’t parent alone, and we don’t teach alone. We find our people, we talk about our experience, we share our fears and our hopes with each other and we dream together about ways that we can make a difference and to give something back. And because we are connected to each other, we find ways to move through the hard things and find solutions together. We value those shared experiences that bond us together, both the really difficult and also the moments where joy overflows.
And today specifically, making it through high school, is a deeply joyful experience about to be shared by everyone you’re sitting next to right now. And what an amazing thing that is. Only 70 people in the world will have had the privilege of experiencing this moment in exactly the same way as you have. This is one of those ‘defining moments’. What that definition will be, however, is up to you and what you decide to do from here on out. The choices you’ll make aren’t all going to work out just like you think they will, and you’ll learn from that. Sometimes, the choices you make will turn out much better than you imagined, but good fortune sometimes shines briefly - so be prepared in case things change. And things will change, as you well know.
You were flexible and understanding when we went home in 2020, you showed up whether it was online or hybrid, and you’ve shown up this year as we’ve navigated the last vestiges of the pandemic. Your mornings to read were inspiring and uplifting, literate and lyrical, and your senior projects were beautiful expressions of what your lives can be like beyond our walls. And now your eyes are set elsewhere and you’re ready.
This is the end of the beginning.
An infinitesimally small, barely perceptible shift will occur the moment you take the diploma, shake my hand and then return to your seat. You will have crossed the rubicon and made it to the other side, ready to take on your life beyond ‘school’ and into your lives, ever more independent.
I asked you to reflect on your history earlier, and now I’d like you look toward your future. Where will you be when you’re 30? What will you be worried about, how you look back on your life up to that point? how will you imagine your future, who are the people from high school that you’ll be close to, what will your job be? How will you think about those pivotal moments in your life and how they led you forward? What will you regret, what will you have lost, what will you have built?
When I turned 30, I fully expected that I would have all of the markers of adulthood figured out, and that I would know most of what I needed to know to be successful and happy. In contrast to that, however, I realized, when I turned 30 that I absolutely did not have all of the answers. In fact, I had very few of the answers. It was humbling, but also liberating. It turns out that I didn’t have to know all the things, thankfully, but I did learn that being right-sized was a better way to move through the world.
GK Chesterton, a prolific early 20th century author, philosopher, art critic, and theologian wrote:
How much larger your life would be if [you] could become smaller in it. . . . You would begin to be interested in [others]. You would break out of this tiny . . . theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.
This captures exactly the feeling I hope you’ll experience as you become more comfortable in your own skin - being who you are, fighting for things that matter to you, and finding the humility and grace throughout all of it. The world is indeed a miraculous place when you look at it from the right vantage point, and sometimes, if you look at it in just the right way, you’ll see opportunities to really shift things for the better.
You’ll forget a lot of what will be said here today - and truthfully, when you move past your 30s, you’ll also forget a lot more than you’ll remember. But the important stuff tends to stick around - the things that matter not only to you, but in how you are connected to the world - your family, your friends, your passions and your work. Your values.
So as I conclude here, I have three bits of advice for you:
Read a lot. Don’t stop - read novels, historical fiction, biographies, poetry, short stories. Read the classics, read the thinkers who are challenging the status quo and who aren’t afraid to describe the world truthfully, honestly, and with a call to action. But read. It’ll keep your minds open and it will make you consider other voices and perspectives.
Write letters to your family, friends, former teachers! - make some record of how you see, what you think, and how you respond to the things that define your place in time - the events that shape us are also shaped by us, and you engagement with the world in this way will shape the way things change in response to those events. You will be astounded looking back at how you’ve changed over time and there’s nothing like getting a letter in the mailbox, especially in someone’s handwriting, to make you feel connected.
And finally, and most importantly, stay humble, but remember also that you are the only one of you that’s ever existed and will ever exist. Your essential uniqueness is the baseline reason we should all aim toward humility. We are all essentially the same, none of us more important or more valuable than any of the rest. But also remember that you matter enormously to your friends, your teachers, your parents and the greater world around you. We can’t do this without you.
The responsibility in front of you is massive, but I’m not one bit worried, because I know that you can do whatever you put your mind to - you’ve shown that again and again and again. We are all so proud of you.
Your time is now.
Congratulations to the class of 2022.