Class of 2020: Onward To Writing Your Own Headlines

Brendan Largay, Head of School
Post Date: June 12th, 2020
Brendan Largay

Happy summer everyone! Nice to have made it through what will be the most remarkable stretch in school history. For many of us, the work continues as we plan for fall, but for everyone else, it is my sincerest hope that this summer brings rest, reflection, and an abundance of joy.

Below are my remarks to the amazing Class of 2020 delivered at their graduation ceremony this morning:

Class of 2020, I don’t know how much of the news you are watching or reading these days. If the answer is none, first of all, congratulations. I wonder if there is room beneath that rock for someone like me. If you have not been reading the news, don’t sweat it. I’ve got you covered. In short, it has offered a few repeated headlines that we are all supposed to internalize in this pandemic-infused celebration. And, excuse me if I offer a bit of guidance on how you might interpret them.

Headline #1: “It wasn’t supposed to be this way for our graduates.”

In graduation week, this headline has been out there quite a bit. I’m sure you know this. Feel this. How could you not? But I would love to take a moment and think a bit more critically about this suggestion. I am not here to underestimate just how unusual a global pandemic is. It is so unusual that we will hopefully never experience it again. It has been 102 years since the last pandemic swept the nation, and may it be another 102 until the next one.

By way of offering a bit of wisdom as you walk across Belmont Day’s virtual stage, I have some news to share. There really isn’t a way that “it is supposed to be.” At no point in human history have things been changing so quickly. This spring cast the speed of change into a brighter and starker light, but it has always been there. As I look into a group of thirteen- and fourteen-year-old students, I am reminded that the iPhone was invented right around when you were born. Alexa, the voice of Amazon that brought artificial intelligence into our homes, and your lives, emerged in the fall of your third grade year. I dare say, there are countless moments when the notion that “it wasn’t supposed to be this way” stood in the way of innovation. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be this way, but in the eyes, hands, and minds of a powerful group like yours, maybe that’s precisely the way it needed to be to unlock the power of the Class of 2020. You are innovators, critical thinkers, entrepreneurs, communicators, and visionaries.  The headline may read that it wasn’t supposed to be this way, but I like to imagine that you all can see opportunity while everyone else runs for cover.

Another headline that I can’t escape is the “think of all you’ve lost” headline.

It is everywhere and we are inundated with it. This can be a tough one to navigate past, but again, I am here for you.

You see, a headline like this one is rooted in a fixed mindset. Like the first headline, the “think of all you’ve lost” headline may prevent us from seeing the possibility of the future. What is perhaps even more corrosive about the thinking of all you have lost is that it actively tries to take something away from you. What you have lost? Let’s not reduce ten years of gains into three months, shall we? You are so much more than three months of Zoom calls. For some of you, BDS has been home for ten years. Don’t let three disquieting months change that. Yes, you will carry this period of time like a badge of honor as you grow up, but so, too, should you carry the entirety of your BDS education. Three months of Zoom cannot take away your years growing up in these hallways with these incredible teachers. It should not take away any of those culminating experiences that mark another year’s growth or maturity…trips through the woods, poems in your pocket, hundred day celebrations, reading for seeds, state fairs, greek festivals, water bucket challenges, Farm School and Freedom Night, the Mods trials and, of course, Capstone. It also shouldn’t take away the countless moments in between with friends and teachers. The pasta Mondays, the inception of several brand new athletic teams like volleyball and wrestling, the Field Day magic, or the cross-graded love. No, you are not reduced to three months. You are countless years and memories. Don’t let someone else establish your narrative! Don’t think of all you’ve lost. Remember all you’ve gained and cherish it.

Another headline...and the last I’ll speak of today because this is the one we should be reading: it regards the violence of racism amidst a time of disorienting isolation.  It is a time when many in our country and our world are left to feel alone either because they have been hemmed in by the virus or because they have been hemmed in by our nation’s inability to reconcile with its history and the toxicity of racism that continues today.

This is a headline I know you have been paying attention to, and it is one that I hope you continue to pay attention to. Because this one is yours to help rewrite. With the help of Ms. Caruso, Dr. Hoyt, and all of the middle school humanities teachers, I was reminded recently that for all of the primary sources we have taught to our students over the years, this is the first time we should give pause to realize that, in fact, you are primary sources. Years from now it will be you that students are learning about and studying. How did you endure the pandemic? How did you respond when the world made clear its injustices? Class of 2020, this headline is yours to rewrite as agents of positive change. As students who honor differences with excellence and respect. As young people empowered to make meaningful contributions to a more equitable and just world. This headline is yours to rewrite, and I have every confidence that you have already begun doing so and that there is nothing that will prevent you from continuing to do so long after today. As someone who will likely read whatever history book awaits me in 20 years about the 2020 pandemic of the coronavirus and the pervasive disease of racism and injustice, I will not be surprised to read your names as some of the key players in creating a healthier, stronger, more inclusive and equitable world.

Take these three headlines at once and you get this: There is a risk in supposing things are supposed to be a ‘particular way.’ The world is changing too quickly to be one way. You have the agility to take whatever the world throws your way in stride. Don’t reduce a life well-lived to a three-month anomaly. At a time that is dominated by soundbites and 280 character tweets, the world will try to force you away from the longview…take it anyway. You get a great perspective and there is much to cherish. And the world needs you. We are faced with a systemic and deeply rooted historical injustice that will require you for all your skill, passion, understanding, empathy, problem-solving, and relentless spirit to change it. You’ve got this, 2020. We believe in you.

Congratulations on your graduation today, and know that we cannot wait to welcome you back when we can gather in person. Until then, know that Belmont Day School is with you wherever you are, and we know that soon enough, the headlines will be yours to make.

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