Today is an exciting day for you. In just a matter of hours, you’ll begin taking pictures at home, at friends’ houses, and even at the high school in your newly-acquired caps and gowns before lining up to process down to the field. The ceremony will mark the final, though perhaps the first, time that every single one of you has been in the same place at the same time. You’ll listen to speeches about learning, leading, remembering, and growing, while waiting patiently for your name to be called. The entire event will seem like an eternity, the heat won’t help,...and yet suddenly you’ll wonder how the past four years passed so quickly.
Before you go, I had some thoughts to share with you as a group. After all, despite having the privilege to serve as one of your class sponsors this year, or in some cases, as your teacher in class for the past 180 school days, I won’t be delivering a speech tonight. Here’s what I might have said:
The Class of 2015 cast quite a long shadow after all their success last year, and I was quite curious as to how you would stack up against their legacy. Additionally, from a personal angle, almost all of you were new to me this year. Having never taught any of you in years past, aside from some homeroom stints, it was not immediately obvious if you would rise to the occasion as Seniors and take the lead.
But of course, the question was quickly put to rest. As a class, you continued the great things left behind by those before you, and expanded to make a legacy of your own. You expanded the Homecoming Week by launching Snacks for Saras and proved that a dance really could work in the atrium as you shattered attendance records. You launched countless charitable projects from Spike Out Arthritis, to Depression Awareness, to Lighting It Up Blue, while still finding time to Pink Out. The Drama Club launched a Theater Slam, the PowderPuff Game made a return, and the Special Olympics won the Inaugural Bocce Championship. The TEDx conference offered fresh, engaging, and powerful ideas. You survived the inaugural round of the newly-improved Senior Interviews, while the Music and Musical programs wracked up more awards. You supported each other through tragedy, and cheered each other through success. And of course there were the countless small moments that went on within and between your classes and classmates that never make the Purbalite or the Twitter-sphere.
As for athletics, The Highlander Huddle was as strong as its been in years as you shipped more t-shirts than a Penguins Gold-Out, launched the school year with #KickOff2015, and still didn’t stop until the Spring sports season wound down. Along the way, you were there for each other as the Volleyball team Rose Above, the Basketball team was #Family, and the Softball team as they continue to make a run at the Title. This was truly some of the best School Spirit Baldwin has seen in years. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy as you called yourself the class of No Limits.
But I’ll let you in on a secret...this year wasn’t perfect. No school year is. One thing that struck me about this particular class was an occasional reluctance to lead. It's not that you didn't excel in all of the various clubs, sports, activities, and events, but there was some discomfort in being role models for the underclassmen. Several of you mentioned "I wish we could be as cool as the Seniors were back when we were freshmen" (despite the fact that they all said the same thing about the Class of 2010). Often, many of you were more content to work behind the scenes, keep your heads down, and hope someone else would make the final decisions. One of you even commented to me once “I don’t like being in charge of people. It’s not...fun.” And yet even with this reticence to take the reigns, you still achieved truly memorable things. Doesn't it make you wonder what got left on the table?
But this isn't meant as a criticism...because actually, learning to lead is the whole point of being a Senior. Freshmen struggle to find themselves, Sophomores often forget the whole year, Juniors work to prepare for college but Seniors, like it or not, are the Leaders by default. It is a role they cannot help but fill, no matter how much they try to delegate. As Seniors this year, you were sometimes the Reluctant Leaders...but Leaders nonetheless. While many of you might have preferred to let things take care of themselves, time and again you were called upon to lead the school, and time and again you made it happen. If you look around, you've been the role models all along...and now you are all the stronger for it.
But as Edward Bloom asked in Big Fish or George III asked in Hamilton: "What Comes Next?" Because, sadly, as of today, you’re not leaders at all anymore. You’re back to the bottom of the food-chain. In fact, you will likely never have a moment in your life where you are accidentally in charge like you've been here; you have to work to make it happen now. Senior Year is a unique moment where you’re the outright top of the ladder; now it’s up to you if and when you reclaim that spot. Some of will quickly remedy this situation and take charge of your first semester of college. Others will take longer to find themselves but rise slowly over the years. Some will decide leadership is not for them at all and be content to sit and watch, and some will have great careers leading more than just clubs and peers, but towns, cities, and perhaps even a nation. It’s a choice only you can make.
Whether it was you realized it or not, you left a legacy here that will be long remembered. Now I dare you to better.
So as you walk across the field tonight, think about not only about the content you have learned, the life lessons you have absorbed, or the intangibles you have gathered, think about what it takes to get things done. Ask yourself if you want to live actively or passively. This is one of the most memorable nights of your life; live in such a way that it does not end up being the best.
I can't wait to see what comes next. To close, I'll leave with you the same words I greeted you with last June: