When I returned home that night, still smiling, I reflected on the experience. My academic career at Ellis culminated in studying for an AP test, seated amongst close friends at the dining table of my teacher, as we all talked openly about or personal and political opinions in a foreign language! In no environment besides Ellis could I imagine the scene I painted coming together as naturally as it did.
For me, that evening solidified my belief that teachers here have stretched the role of educator far beyond its traditional parameters. In addition to taking an interest in our academic learning, I have witnessed my teachers time and time again go out of their way to learn with us, laugh with us, council us, and care for us. Their willingness to be themselves around us, quirky and rough around the edges, has allowed us to be fully ourselves in class, in the halls, and beyond the walls of Ellis.
While Mr. Gaddess is responsible, on paper, for teaching his students Spanish, I have come to realize that he, and all the other teachers in the ellis community have subtly and patiently taught us a multitude of more abstract languages. Ms. Citron taught the third graders lucky enough to have her the language of kindness, teaching by example the benefits of being compassionate towards others. Mr. Delphia taught some of my classmates the language of goofiness, further instilling in them the confidence to tap into their profoundly unique senses of humor, something nobody in the audience can deny my peers possess. Mrs. Hazlett taught my classmates and myself the language of accountability, demonstrating plainly how you always get out what you put in. In more recent years, Mr. Malmstrom has taught us the language of questioning, always demanding that we look beyond the immediate answer to discover what props it up. The Sturdevants have taught us the language of exploration, showing us that in art one finds many lenses through which to view the world. At every step of the way, from the bug jungle gym to this stage, every teacher has taught us the language of acceptance, encouraging us to simply be who we are, not who we think we should be.
So I must thank the teachers for their commitment to us. They’ve created a pretty remarkable product: my beloved class. It’s impossible to sum the character of my class with any amount of time, let alone a few minutes, so please forgive me for not attempting to do so. There are moments I’ve experienced with my classmates that I will never be able to articulate, and for that I am forever grateful. So please, bear with me, as I try to convey the blissful feeling that washes over me as I glance at my 36 peers sitting beside me. Allow me to expose you to a little bit of their magic.
A day at Ellis:
The senior lounge. There is no telling what scene you’ll find as you open its doors. Some days we’re all quiet, lights off, desperately trying to emulate the environment of our bedrooms. Other days we’re wide awake, discussing the news, telling elaborate jokes, or seeking reassurance about not having completed some assignment. Whatever its state, the senior lounge is the first place that encounters the Class of 2018. The lounge’s best kept secret, I must say, is on the doors leading to its patio.
There exists the “rejection wall”, universities scribbled on the glass with names and frowny faces attached. I was taken aback by how willing my peers were to share their rejection, especially as a college deny can knock you down a peg with surprising strength. My classmates’ enthusiasm about the rejection wall reaffirmed to me the fact we, as a group of thirty seven, have moved far beyond niceties and pleasant smiles. We are just as willing to cry with each other as we are to laugh. We strive to lift each other up, not knock each other down. We are not competitive, but instead compassionate.
Snack. A fundamental part of the Ellisian experience. I think often of those precious 20 minutes and all the different ways I’ve spent them. As much of the landscape of those snacks has changed over the years, one thing that has stayed constant are the great conversations I’ve shared in those fleeting minutes. Each one of my classmates is a microcosm of interests, beliefs and experiences, each with a character so distinct it’s almost palpable. It’s nearly impossible to wander into the lounge and not learn.
And, if one has the patience to dive deeper, beyond the incredible facts, observations and conclusions my classmates produce, I’m confident they will learn immensely important life lessons. They will learn how to speak their minds unapologetically, as my classmates do. They will learn how to explore ardently, as my classmates do. And, they will learn how to exist unabashedly, as my classmates do, and there is no better lesson to be learned than that one.
Algebra, Photography, Physics, Survey of Art, European History. My classmates do it all. I think what is more impressive than the array of classes my peers take is the fact that that each one approaches their learning differently. The result of this are classrooms teaming with personality. Over the years, I have seen my classmates find their voices in different arenas. Through wonderfully composed essays, critiques and jokes, my peers have lit up classrooms again and again. In doing so they have sculpted a learning environment that is as consistently unpredictable as it is strong, and for that we deserve to thank each other.
I’ve been so impressed by my classmates’ ability to band together to create tremendous displays for color wars and senior prank day. I was admittedly nervous about these events, as my measure of super high energy is an excited double thumbs up, but my classmates blew me away. Armed with scissors and creative ideas, I witnesses my peers make incredible displays with enthusiasm and diligence. What impressed me the most was what they came up with for prank day. The decorations in teachers rooms were not mean spirited or lackluster, but rather very personal and funny. Everyone came together in the breezeway for a dance party during snack. The day displayed the best of my class: We’re high energy (most of us), fun, thoughtful, and while we all have our own friends groups, ultimately astonishing inclusive. Kudos. You’ve made me really proud.
Tomorrow, 7:45 a.m.
I hope that every single one of you is in bed at that time tomorrow, getting some well deserved rest. But as soon as you step foot on the ground, you do so as an Ellis graduate. Please do not think that every subsequent step you take will be one farther away from this school. Some part of each of you will forever exist within these walls in the form of memories created, friendships made, and lessons learned. Ellis hasn’t taught you everything you need to know, but it has taught you how to find the avenues to the answers and the opportunities you will seek. It’s teachers have gifted you many languages that will be at your disposal for the rest of your lives.
As I look over at all of you, I can’t begin to guess where you’ll be in 5, 10, or 30 years, and that’s wonderful. What I do know is that you’ll each be in a place wholly different from your peers. Charting new territories. Discovering new things. Becoming new people. But among all the uncertainty...there is, and forever will be a truth that we all share: Ellis has imprinted on us as much as we have imprinted on it and each other. No matter how far we travel in distance, no matter how much we grow as people, we are in some incredibly special and indescribable way bound by what the School has taught us, and what we have taught each other.