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High School Connections Blog by Head of High School Steve Soden

2017 Commencement Address

I’ve been thinking about ways to describe the class of 2017, and I must admit that I have been experiencing some frustration with the process, as the word that keeps coming to mind is “small.” As we all know, and as you can see before you, this is a class of 16 students. They are, of course, the last single section class that MCDS will have. Thus, it is perhaps inevitable that they will be defined, at least in part, by their smallness.

My frustration, you see, comes from the fact that “small” often has a negative connotation. This is especially true in a school. Schools are, by definition, engaged in the work of helping students grow. We want students to have big, enlightened minds. We ask them to engage in athletics so they can grow physically, and we then build facilities dedicated to that specific purpose. We encourage them to find and develop their passions so they can follow big dreams. Based on much of what we do and say, to define someone or some group as small could be interpreted as failure.

Small can also imply that this class has a homogenous set of interests. To be honest, I find that frustrating as well, and it is most certainly not an appropriate way to categorize the students who sit in front of you today. Spend one day with the class of 2017, and you will see an extraordinarily diverse set of interests, passions, and motivations. In fact, I would argue that perhaps because of its size, the class of 2017 has been able to be themselves. What impresses me most about this class is how each member of it has retained his or her individuality, and they have defended that individuality fervently. This is a small class. We need not shy away from that fact, because perhaps due to their size, and not in spite of it, they have been able to be fuller versions of themselves.

Sitting on the stage today are 16 unique individuals with unique minds and unique passions. In the fall, they will be heading to destinations across the country–quite literally from Maine to California. They will be studying the humanities, the arts, and the sciences. They are prepared for all they will encounter. At the end of the day, what do we want a high school experience to provide? Look on the stage. THIS is what we want a high school experience to provide.

Like all students, though, the members of the class of 2017 have had to grow into themselves; it has not happened overnight. This is why I think it is important not to shy away from smallness, and but instead to embrace it as a necessary and wonderful component of who we all are and all become.

As parents, we often marvel at how much our children have grown. Though my children are still small, I have already found myself in awe of their growth and, at times, have lamented the fact that they have grown so much, so fast. And really, it is easy to look back with rose colored glasses. As any parent can attest, we quickly forget the diaper changes, late night feedings, and car seats that require an inch-thick user’s manual. Instead, we remember the innocence, captured so nicely in our photos and our memories, and we dwell on the pride we have as we see all that they have done and how much they have grown. These are the things that matter.

Thus, as I look at the class of 2017, my mind inevitably goes to their parents, and I wonder what they are thinking right now. I’m guessing that they are not thinking about the history paper that got turned in late or the time their son or daughter got a C on the science test. As someone whose children are still small, I have a tough time imagining myself in their chairs nine years from now when my oldest daughter walks across the stage, but my guess is that I will be thinking about her first steps, the first time she kicked a soccer ball, and the feeling I had when I saw her for the first time. And I will try desperately not to cry, and I will almost certainly fail.

But, the time will pass, and our kids will grow. As the group of students on stage right now are testament to, it is inevitable.

The inevitability of this growth may be more overt at MCDS than most places, perhaps no more so than when thinking about what the class of 2017 will leave behind when they depart. MCDS most certainly is growing, and has been for the entirety of these students’ lives. Much like when a child grows, the growth of the school has not happened overnight. When the first graduating class walked across this stage 11 years ago, the class of 2017 was just wrapping up first grade. Just think about all that has happened in those 11 years! And now, as I mentioned at the start of my talk, this class that sits before you will be the last single section class at MCDS. This is, in short, amazing.

The class of 2017 and MCDS as a whole have grown up together. This growth has been steady, and again, it has been inevitable. I view the inevitability of our growth as a school as being a reflection of our success, specifically the success of the students who sit before you. The class of 2017 is small, much as the school was when they entered it, and much as the high school was when they chose to join it. The school continued to evolve, as did they. And now the class of 2017 sits before you, ready to make the most of all of the wonderful experiences that await them. They are a product of all they have done as individuals and as a group, much like MCDS is a product of what all members of the community have done, both as individuals and as a group. The class of 2017, much like the school as a whole, is a testament to the fact that growth is possible specifically because of all the incredible things that happen when we are small.

Let me put it this way: going forward, our graduating classes will be bigger, but they will be bigger precisely because the success of the class of 2017 has allowed them to be. The students who sit before you paved the way, and others have followed.

In a few short months, our graduates will begin the next chapter in their lives. At the same time, our high school will begin the next chapter in its progression. We are all going on to bigger things; it is what we signed up for, it is inevitable, and it is good. I think we are all excited. But looking back on what the class of 2017 has accomplished and the mark they have left on their school, I would be hard pressed to define those bigger things as better.

Thank you, and good luck to the class of 2017.

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