Once again, Mother Nature brought splendor to a spectacular event
View the Commencement Ceremony photo album. Scroll down to watch a recording of the event and read the full speeches of All-School Presidents Christopher Mudry ’23 and Richardine Mamam Nbiba ’23 and Commencement Speaker Lily Rabe '00.
By Catherine Calamé and Darryl Gangloff
It was a beautiful day for the 131st Commencement Ceremony at The Hotchkiss School on June 2. The sun was shining bright, the air was warm, and a light breeze was blowing off Lake Wononscopomuc. Family and friends gathered to witness this momentous occasion, and the atmosphere was charged with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Feeling grateful for all the hard work that had brought them to this point, the seniors donned their +1 attire, ready to take their first steps into the world beyond Hotchkiss.
Following the procession from Katherine M. Elfers Hall, Head of School Craig Bradley addressed the crowd as 163 graduating seniors took their seats on Harris House Lawn, a few rows from their proud families, faculty, and staff.
“As I think about your final moments here as students, I think of the many ways in which your class, the great Class of 2023, has made a lasting impression on the School,” began Bradley. “Of course there are quantifiable, documented accomplishments: academic achievements, athletic achievements, trophies and awards won, and extensive service provided to many worthy causes. There are also the friendships you have formed, the moments you have cheered the achievements of others, and the times you have lent a helping hand. All of this is true. Yet if there is one thing above all for which I will credit the Class of 2023 in years to come, it is the leadership role you have played in bringing joy back to Hotchkiss.”
Bradley explained the challenges brought on by COVID when the class was younger, and how they have uniquely reinvigorated the joyful heartbeat of Hotchkiss. “The truth is that coming out of the pandemic, we needed a complete reset and reengagement to school life: attending classes in person, dining together, competing in interscholastic games, debate tournaments, live musical performances, theater, Chapel talks, and countless other aspects that are integral to our life together at Hotchkiss,” said Bradley, noting the practice to conclude All-School meetings with the statement “seniors lead.”
“We ask that seniors lead, and you have. You have led with heart and with laughter and with joy. You have led with humor, playfulness, respect and compassion,” Bradley said. “Senior spring is a special time in any year. But this year stands out thanks to all you have done to bring joy and love and fun back to this community. For that, we will be enduringly grateful.”
Student Leaders Share Their Fondness for Hotchkiss
All-School Presidents Christopher Mudry ’23 and Richardine Mamam Nbiba ’23 started their remarks with a round of applause for the Class of 2023 and special thanks to three faculty members.
They thanked Bradley for his “spontaneous” Head of School Holidays, his “warm presence in the community, and for taking the time to share your knowledge with us,” Richie said. Chris acknowledged Dean of Student Life and Instructor in History Andrew D’Ambrosio “for keeping us on track.” The pair had a special message for Maggie Crain, dean of the Class of 2023. “You spent the last few years caring for us, nurturing us, and being a resource for us. You’ve been a teacher, a role model, and a mother to all of us. Thank you,” Richie said.
“Most importantly, thank you to all 163 of you,” Chris said, addressing his fellow seniors. “Richie and I began this year with an eagerness to serve the community, and your spirit, passion, and presence has made it all worth it.” Richie continued: “Most of all, thank you for your creativity. Our class carries with it a spirit of self-expression that we’ve used to lead the School with excitement.”
They commended the Class of 2023 for showing up to games, Black Box productions, music recitals, All-School meetings, and more. “You showed up for each other and for yourselves,” Chris said. “It is in this creativity and good vibrations that we found joy in all sorts of places.”
At Hotchkiss, you learn “the power of words,” Chris continued. “You learn that words have the ability to influence people, and you learn how to use them as a tool.” Richie noted that “you learn from the people all around you as you listen to them use words to create community.” They gave many examples, including when Crain says, “You’re all too good not to be great.”
“She’s right,” Chris said. “We are all too good not to be great.” The duo then explained the importance of sharing memories through stories to “transport us back to our most meaningful moments.” They said the class will return for reunions and reminisce about the great times they had, like their senior prank, which involved “interpretive chair sculptures,” student deejays, and a painted Suburban on the main steps.
“We are a class that brings joy and sometimes pushes the boundaries, but that’s OK. Right now we’re teenagers, and no one here is going to let us fall without picking us back up. At most, they’ll just confiscate our water guns,” Richie said with a smile.
What type of class is the Class of 2023? “We are a class that has done so much good in simply being ourselves. We leaned into uplifting each other and proved that it is cool to care about the people around you,” Chris said. “We are a class that finds kindness in each other and chooses to be the best version of ourselves.” Richie said. “That is the magic of Hotchkiss. Life here is full of endless support.”
While graduation can be considered “the start of the rest of your life,” the All-School presidents don’t want the Class of 2023 to forget the parts of themselves that began at Hotchkiss. “Each and every one of us brought to this community something unique. A part of ourselves that has touched the people around us, whether we know it or not,” Chris emphasized. “So as this all ends, and you think about where life will take you next,” Richie said, “think about where you are beginning.”
From Broadway to Hollywood and Beyond, Lily Rabe ’00 Returns to Hotchkiss
Bradley introduced keynote speaker Lily Rabe ’00 as a highly acclaimed and versatile actress in television, film, and theater. (Read more about her career.) During her time at Hotchkiss, Rabe was recognized by her teachers as a student with unflagging commitment, tenacity, and passion. “Clearly, she carried these qualities with her after leaving Lakeville,” Bradley said.
Rabe recounted a charming story about a years-long attempt to host her as Commencement speaker by one of her favorite teachers, Keith Moon P’13,’16, the E. Carleton Granbery Teaching Chair, instructor in English, history, and Russian literature, and Lufkin Prize recipient.
“I struggled at Hotchkiss, I didn’t always love it,” she admitted, discovering at age 40 that Hotchkiss is a much larger part of her life than she realized, and it was time to come back. “My time at Hotchkiss was not uncomplicated. I struggled, and I would get overwhelmed,” she said, adding that over time, she understood it was “a love story in reverse.”
“This is an ongoing love story that I’m still in with Hotchkiss. It started out rocky but has only gotten sweeter,” she said, emphasizing it was even more sweet after meeting students over the past few days. She was impressed by these Bearcats. “I was astounded by your self-possession, your clarity, your wit, your integrity, your lack of self-deprecation, of apology, of false humility, your confidence and ability to say exactly what you think and what you want. You took my breath away. You are extraordinary.”
She advised students to hold Hotchkiss close and to listen to the voice inside of them all. “The most special thing about [Hotchkiss] is that those around you, this community—even if you're someone who feels on the outside of it … this community will follow you,” she said. “This community does not leave you today. In fact, you may, like me, find you only grow to love this community and this place more.”
Rabe had additional words of advice for the class of 2023. ‘‘Listen to the voice that you already have; the instincts that you already have; the ferocity that you have about the way that things should be; and what you do and do not want—what you feel is and is not right. Don’t wait for someone else, someone more capable or smarter to solve the problems we are facing today as a society because there is no one smarter or more capable than you,” she said. “Don’t wait for permission from anyone to use that voice. But more than anything, don't wait for permission from yourself.”
“You have everything you need, I promise you, and you have your voice,” Rabe continued. “You will say the wrong thing, you will fail, you will experience tremendous loss, embarrassment, sadness, heartbreak, and disappointment. It’s all going to happen, so what a relief. You cannot protect yourself from any of it with waiting or with silence. The world is so crazy, but it really is so beautiful. It’s so surprising. Your heart will surprise you and expand again and again. You will never stop falling in love with things, with people, with places, and I can tell you from experience that I wasn't sure if I would like it here, and now I know that I love it.”
Rabe said that Hotchkiss prepares students to pursue their goals in life. She said the person who first taught her Shakespeare is Charlie Frankenbach, The Russel Murray Bigelow Teaching Chair, Lufkin Prize recipient, head of the English department, and instructor in English. “He is the greatest teacher I have ever had in my academic life,” she said. And now she’s an acclaimed Shakespearean actor with Broadway credits including The Merchant of Venice, for which she received Tony, Drama Desk and Drama League nominations, As You Like It, and Much Ado About Nothing.
“I love you Mr Frankenbach. I love you Mr. Moon. Thank you for letting me speak on this stage today. Class of 2023, I love you, too,” she concluded. “Use your voices. Be as loud as you possibly can. Start now. It’s time.”
Lily Rabe’s Top 20 Tips for Graduates
- Chase those things that thrill you and capture your attention
- Read poetry you don’t like, and read poetry you do like
- Ask questions
- Hold your parents’ hands
- Hold your siblings’ hands
- Tell people you love that you love them, even if they don’t say it back
- Make eye contact
- Put your phones down
- Drive electric cars
- Be political
- Vote every chance you get
- Read The New Yorker
- Go see plays
- Go see Shakespeare
- Go to therapy
- Do karaoke
- If you have children, teach them kindness and curiosity; if you don’t have children, teach the ones you know kindness and curiosity
Closing with Fair Hotchkiss
As the ceremony ended, the graduates looked out into the sea of faces with a mix of excitement and nostalgia, knowing that their time at Hotchkiss had come to an end, but also feeling grateful for the memories and experiences that they would carry with them for the rest of their lives. The School joined together to sing Fair Hotchkiss.
Fair Hotchkiss, hear our song of praise,
Through joyful and endearing days
We’ll cherish all the mem’ries dear
That cluster round our sojourn here.
Fair Hotchkiss! Tho’ we come and go,
While o’er thy wall our ivies grow,
We still shall love, shall love thee and be true
To dear, to dear old Hotchkiss and the blue.
C: Good morning! Friends, families, faculty, staff, let’s give it up for the Class of 2023.
R: Thank you for joining us on this special day to celebrate our commencement!
C: For those of you who don’t know us my name is Chris.
R: And I am Richie.
C: And we’ve had the pleasure of being this year’s All-School presidents. Before we dive in, we would like to give some thanks.
R: Mr. Bradley, thank you for keeping us all on our toes with this year's spontaneous head holiday announcements, for your warm presence in the community, and for taking the time to share your wisdom with us.
C: Mr. D’Ambrosio, thank you for keeping us on track, and for being a resource to us while also navigating your new position.
R: Mrs. Crain you have spent the last few years caring for us, nurturing us and lecturing us on some occasions.
C:Though you were tasked with simply being our class dean you have been so much more than that.
R: You’ve been a teacher, a role model and a mother to all of us. Thank you.
C: And most importantly thank you to all 163 of you. Richie and I began this year with an eagerness to serve the community. And your spirit, passion and presence has made it all worth it.
R: But most of all thank you for your creativity. Our class carries with it a spirit of self expression that we’ve used to lead the school with excitement. In our first address to the school we echoed the words of Mr. Frankenbach, and implored you all to show up. And you did, you showed up to games, black boxes, music recitals, all school meetings…. Sometimes even in festive attire, like wedding gowns!
C: Whether it was trying to peer pressure Mr. Bradley into a holiday or going to senior talent show, you showed up for each other and for yourselves. It is in this creativity and good vibrations that we’ve found joy in all sorts of places.
R: When you first come to Hotchkiss everyone says if there's one thing you’ll get out of this place it's the ability to write. Though this is definitely true, we think it's more than that.
C: Yes, at Hotchkiss you learn how to write a killer paper, but you also learn the power of words. You learn that words have the ability to influence people and you learn how to use them as a tool. Check this out: “Richie is going to Harvard, I will be going to the far more prestigious Harvard of Hartford-Trinity College.”
R: You learn from the people all around you as you listen to them create community in words.
C: Like when Mr. Frankenbach says “show up.”
R: When Ms. Gardiner says “ share the glitter.”
C: When Eli says, “Good Night, Love You.”
R: When DK says “I love you this much.”
C: When anyone says “Dana” and the crowd responds.
R: When all of the librarians say the nicest things ever.
C: When Mr. Fornshell says, “What are you yaking about.”
R: When Mr. Reed starts his emails with “how now.”
C: and when Coach Smith signs off his emails, “be true.”
R: When Mr. D’Ambrosio says anything sarcastic.
C: When Mr. Bradley says, “L'année est presque terminée” or anything in French.
R: When Ms. Hermoso laughs, which is essentially 1,000 words.
C: When Mr. Miller says, “ It's okay to not be okay.”
R: When Mr. Moon says “please meet someone new and have a real conversation.”
C: When Coops cries, because she just cares so much about each and every one of us.
R: When Ms. Henderson says exactly what we we’re all thinking.
C: When Officer Chris Wilkerson says, “Hey you, get off the golf course.”
R: When Mr. Hazelton says something heinous and follows it up with “just don’t get me fired.”
C: When Mr. Fall, says “Bonjour, la vie est belle?”
R: When Lydia from the Campus Store says “I hope your having a great day” and somehow knows all of our names.
C: When Mr. Brashears says, “Thank you, now, get out!"
R: And when Mrs. Crain says “ You’re all too good not to be great.”
C: Because she's right we are too good not to be great.
R: In these words we carry memories, feelings. They are powerful. They are the reason that in every senior letter, we write to fruition the bittersweet stories of our love and loss. We capture ourselves for a moment on paper. In every heartfelt goodbye we carve our words permanently into each other's memories.
C: These words will be like screenshots of our lives, transporting us back to our most meaningful moments. From the moments where we watched in awe of each other's passion, vulnerability and talent, to those where we got a little carried away in having fun. We remember these moments and keep them alive in our spoken tradition telling stories about all the great times we had.
R: Like our senior prank. Someday we'll be at our 50th reunion and laugh at how we might have gone slightly overboard with a questionable flier or two, and a toilet in the main hallway.
C: We’ll enjoy memories of Owen, Harry and MacCoy DJing in the dining hall, the interpretive chair sculptures around our main building or the painted suburban on main steps.
R: And after it all, we’ll remember when Mrs. Crain said that she was “lowkey impressed” by the pranks. So it's safe to say it was a success.
C: We’ll reminisce on Senior Assassin and how it felt to be chased down main hallway with a trash bag over your head. And its aftermath when water guns were promptly banned in main and taken away from Cristobal.
R: We are a class that brings joy and sometimes pushes the boundaries, but that’s okay… right now we’re teenagers… and no one here is going to let us fall when we stumble. At most they'll just confiscate our water guns away.
C: We are a class that has done so much good in simply being ourselves - we leaned into uplifting each other and proved that it is cool to care about the people around you.
R: We are a class that finds kindness in each other and chooses to be the best version of ourselves. We have worked hard to set this tone whether it's through random acts of kindness, bringing change to mind or showing that we are one love.
C: We have worked hard to support each other and to be supported.
R: And that is the magic of Hotchkiss. Life here is full of endless support. And sometimes you will need someone to give you an extra push.
C: Like when your English teacher emails you saying “The radio silence from you regarding your Teagle continues, and my concerns are growing substantially.” It is in those stickier moments that you realize just how much everyone here wants you to be your best.
R: Graduating high school is often described as the start of the rest of your life. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps we do leave Lakeville and find that the world opens up around us and embraces us in a way we could never have imagined.
C: But we’d hate for us to forget the parts of ourselves that began here, the parts of ourselves that began with each other.
R: Though it might be hard to remember now, most of us came into Hotchkiss as awkward kids just trying to figure out who we are. We all came here at different stages in life but united in our shared goal to make this experience unforgettable.
C: In moments when Sydney’s laugh made any joke funnier.
R: When anything Boris said just automatically sounded smarter.
C: When you could easily spot Arop in the center of any mosh pit.
R:When Solbee single handedly started an anti bike theft movement.
C:When Jaidyn or Jamil released a new song on Spotify.
R: When JWATT was JWATT.
C: Each and everyone of us brought to this community something unique, a part of ourselves that has touched the people around us whether we know it or not.
R: So as this all ends and you think about where life will take you next. Think about where you are beginning.
C: Where will you begin?
I will begin watching pink stained skies melting into blues
Over the view of the Wononscopomuc lake
Like the clouds, we confide in each other the secrets of sunshine
As the clocks approach night and the chapel bells ring
We find we have little left to lose and little left to do
Except run from the fear of running out of time and
of Monday mornings math homework due
Do I too begin with snack bar runs on full stomachs
because the journey is more fun taken in pairs of two
And what makes more a friend then taking the tale old trip with you
to search for sweet treats and sweet smiles
in all the sweet people we have yet to meet
But watch with wandering eyes walking down main hallway
wondering who it is we might see
So might I begin with sleepless Saturdays
Stowed away in twin sized beds
Bodies make homes in dorm rooms
Holding on to 1-day weekends
And wish away tomorrow, not to come so soon
Fair Hotchkiss this is the heart of your tune
It is in the far away befores, we hold to heart your endearing days
Still with ways to go
So go and begin with senior springing while the sun still sets before six
And setting 6 AM alarms while the hands of the clock touch 2
Because mornings in the dining hall are certainly made
for doing all the things you said you would do yesterday
If only there had not been just enough sun and more than enough soul
To find solace in losing track of this little life
R: So might we begin with one another
With harping on our heartbreaks
and finding heroes in the people that we attempt to love
That is only so long as lakeville allows it, so long as we promise to try
to hold on as tight as hands might hold and
just for a second Never Let Me Go
and if it so happens that we cannot escape goodbyes
at least let me know to where you will leave
So that even if we find that I cannot be there with you wherever you are going
I can still say, it is from you that I begin
C: Where will you begin?
R: It was our honor to serve as your all school presidents this year and we look forward to starting new beginnings together as Hotchkiss alumni.
C: Congratulations to the Class of 2023.
Thank you so much for that kind introduction, and for having me, a former day student, to speak to all of you here today on this momentous occasion. Hello, Hotchkiss graduating class of 2023. Hello, faculty, staff, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, loved ones. I am so honored to be here with all of you.
Keith Moon asked me about doing this a handful of years ago; it was a different world, a different time when he first asked: he emailed me that it was important and when could we talk and then he called and I answered the phone, which I rarely do, because who does anymore, and he told me what he was calling about. I listened, I processed, and l swiftly tried everything I could not to accept the invitation. My schedule was complicated, unknown, impossible, I had a young baby, I lived on the west coast, I hated to fly; my list was long. It was desperate. He listened quietly and patiently on the other end of the phone. “Oh! AND,” I said, “AND… I hate public speaking.” At this point he interjected “wait WHAT? But you’re an actress.” And I said, “I know, but that’s not me, I mean it is but it isn’t. Actors have writers, or at least we used to … Oh never mind we can talk about that later. But this, THIS, I mean it would REALLY have to be me, it’s a commencement speech for god’s sake at a school where I spent four years forming. I cannot do it. I just can’t.” Silence. “Alright,” he said, “I’ll keep trying.”
Then the next few years, well they were complicated, to say the least, no one was flying anywhere to do commencement speeches.
Time goes by, as it has a way of doing, the world changes, as it has a way of doing - but over these few years it changes a lot. And then sure enough, on November 27th of last year at 5:29 pm, DING! It was Moon. “Firing up this idea again,” he wrote, “any free time this week?” I looked through the texts recently to remind myself of the exchange, lots of blue ones from Moon. “How about this week?” No response. “This week any better?” No response. “This still your number?” No response. I was GHOSTING my high school professor, someone I loved, someone I revered, someone who had been my brother’s dorm faculty, I had S.A.T. tutored with his wife, Bridget, at their kitchen table, I knew his kids, he taught Russian lit, I love Russian lit, and I was GHOSTING him! Finally after a few weeks of this, of not responding, of blue incoming unanswered texts, of avoidance, not because I was busy, that was an easy excuse, but because of something deeper, a deeper terror, or worry maybe… I got yet another ding. Moon: “How about now. You free?” For whatever reason, I wrote back, “Yes.” It was the truth. I was, remarkably, completely available when he texted. No kids in my arms, I wasn’t at work. It was a rare quiet and solitary moment. The phone rang. I answered. “It’s time,” he said. Now, at this point I was still a terrible flyer, my schedule was still a kind of unpredictable chaos that I felt I had no control over, I still hated public speaking, and I had now not one but three babies. And on top of it! ON TOP OF IT, the thing I hadn’t said aloud years prior and didn’t say aloud then, but am saying aloud now to all 1100 of you is: “but MR. MOON I struggled at Hotchkiss, I didn’t always love it, or maybe I didn’t love it at all, I’m not who you’re looking for, I’m not who you think I am or want me to be - I will let you down, I will fail - …” As I am having these silent, screaming thoughts, Moon is patiently waiting on the other line. “It’s time,” he said again. Silence on my end now. “It’s time,” he said again. And, somehow, I knew he was right. I could hear all the excuses scrambling, fighting to be articulated, the panic, the FEAR, but there was something else there now. Something louder, clearer, stronger, something I’ve now realized at age 40, has always been there, even in Buehler, and Garland (which I gather has changed a bit since I was there), or hiding in the corner booth of the snack bar that I’m told is now called Snabe, or on the phone with Mr. Moon a few years previous when I adamantly said no thank you, it was there then too, this voice, but it had been overwhelmed by everything else, and it was now - simply - louder. And this time, the rest of the noise was quieter. And so this other thing, this voice, finally answered.
“Ok,” I said. “I’ll be there.”
The thing is my time at Hotchkiss was not uncomplicated. It wasn’t easy. I was not, at any point of my four years as a day student, in my prime. I struggled; academically less, with the exception of math, which is a statistic I’m not proud to be a part of, and Physics, well you’ve heard how much I struggled and no I didn’t find it easy but yes I did win the mousetrap powered car race but I think that’s because my partner was skilled at Physics; and socially, I really did struggle, and athletically I really really did struggle - I was at one point nearly cut from THIRDS soccer - and walking down the hallway past the senior couches, which I gather are now called the senior quad, I really really really did struggle. Struggled to the point of having so much panic I would leave my body - leave my body so successfully I maybe never did walk by the senior quad because my soul was in outer space, looking down at my Prep then Lower Mid then Upper Mid body holding it’s breath and scurrying by. Yes, even my senior body. This particular body never sat in those couches, not once. Hotchkiss is an intimidating place. It’s beautiful, it’s impossible to get into, it’s a 10, it’s a knockout, it’s steeped in history and prestige; the grounds are unblemished, the buildings are architecturally robust, and there’s no way around feeling its specialness every corner you turn on campus. Every hallway you walk down. And so sometimes, more than sometimes, because I didn’t necessarily feel myself like a 10, like a knockout, like an athlete, like a star, unblemished or architecturally robust, I would get overwhelmed. And I would feel wildly ill-matched to my surroundings. Now this is not an uncommon adolescent phenomenon, feeling out of place, certainly, but I do think Hotchkiss is heightened and uncommon, in fact I KNOW it is uncommon. And I also know, Hotchkiss graduating class of 2023, that each of you is profoundly uncommon.
At this point, you may be wondering where I’m headed, you may be wondering why Moon was in such hot pursuit of me to get up here and speak to all of you, just like I was initially when he called, what does any of this have to do with the texts and the ghosting and the voice that finally said YES to being here. What does all of this have to do with anything - or more particularly and importantly - with you. You 163 seniors who are all about to head off to arguably the most exciting chapter of your lives, certainly one of them, attending colleges with an impressive geographical spread of California to Spain. Well, it’s because where I’m headed is a love story. A sort of love story in reverse. Between me and this place, and YOU. All 163 of you. In fact, the whole student body. All 596 of you. This is an ongoing love story I’m still in with Hotchkiss, that started out rocky but has only gotten sweeter; that’s peak so far was getting on a zoom with your school and class co-presidents and senior council members, Richie, Chris, Sydney, Eli, Harry and Mary, and then sitting with three astonishing HDA students two days ago, Richie (I’m so lucky I got to meet her twice), Upper-Mid Chris, and Lower-Mid Addie, and being so astounded by your self-possession, your clarity, your wit, your integrity, your LACK of self deprecation, of apology, of false humility, your confidence and ability to say exactly what you think and what you want, that you took my breath away. It’s EXTRAORDINARY. YOU ARE EXTRAORDINARY. Each and every one of you. And I only got to meet a few of you, but the thing is, what each of you - Richie, Chris, Sydney, Eli, Harry, Mary, upper-mid Chris and Lower-Mid Addie - had and what I know all of you HAVE - is that voice. And I know, because I have it too. And it’s taken me an incredibly long time for it to get loud enough that it’s louder than the excuses, and the fears, and the self-deprecation and self-sabotage, and that likely won’t be the case for you because from what I can tell, you are all in absolute full possession of your voices already - but for any of you who worry that you’re not - that your fears, your fear of failure, your fear of I’m not who you’re looking for or I will let you down - I promise you it wont be forever, because I see now that it - that voice - is the very thing that this knockout 10 of a place recognizes, that it nurtures and grows, that it recognized in me well before I could see it or hear it or use it properly for myself - but it was always there. It’s why you’re here. Specifically. And the most special thing about it is that those around you - this community - even if you’re someone who feels on the outside of it and you’re not on varsity - anything - let me remind you again I was nearly CUT FROM THIRDS SOCCER - this community will follow you. Mr. Moon will call you. Your friends who you’ve maybe stayed in intermittent touch with will travel to see you, to celebrate you, to listen to you SPEAK. This community does not leave you today. In fact, you may - like me - find you only grow to love this community and this place more - and it will always be there to help you locate and embolden that voice that says yes, that says, I know it’s time and I AM who you are looking for - and amplify it when it’s quiet.
Now, you have a tremendous burden. In fact, you have burden after burden after burden, class of 2023. We are in trouble. The planet is in trouble, our children, your future children are in trouble. The climate crisis, gun control, social justice, artificial intelligence, reproductive rights, excuse me - women’s rights - excuse me - human rights - this is a hinge point we are in. A moment where everything that’s happening will change the course of everything to come, and while it’s always been the case, it really is such a profoundly high stakes moment in history. And I’m sorry. And it’s depressing and I don’t want to be depressing and you asked me not to talk much about Covid and I’m doing my best not to talk much about Covid but I cannot be silent about the state of the world and how vital the work you have already done and will do to protect your future, and the future of generations to come, is. And more than your future, your present moment. It’s not an abstraction anymore. You all know this. And my plea to you is to do whatever you can not to wait to listen to the voice you already have, the instincts you already have, the ferocity you have about how things should be - and what you do and do not want, what you feel is and is not right, don’t wait for someone else - someone more capable, or smarter, to solve the problems we are facing today as a society - because there is no one smarter or more capable than you. Don’t wait for permission from anyone to use that voice, but more than anything - don’t wait for permission from yourself.
Now, in terms of what to do with your life. When you leave here. Here are my thoughts. Many of you may know exactly what it is you want to do, many of you may not. Those of you who do, may change your mind, more than once; those of you who don’t, I promise that you will find it. And it is highly highly likely, that whatever it is you’re focused on, or whatever it is you end up focusing on, the foundation of that thing, was built during your time here.
The person who first taught me Shakespeare is Charlie Frankenbach. Mr. Frankenbach is the greatest teacher I’ve had in my academic life. All of it. And I went to a great college, I’ve loved a lot of teachers. He pushed me, he badgered me, as you heard mentioned, and I hope he would approve of the editing I’ve done of this speech, though perhaps I lack vigilance when trying to edit speaking about how much being his perpetual student has meant to me. My greatest love and frankly greatest success as an actress, has been doing Shakespeare. It has changed everything about my life for the better; I’ve learned immeasurably from doing it, because with every part I’ve played, every time I’ve read those words, and said them, it has widened my soul. And it continues to. I even fell in love with the father of my children doing Shakespeare; and our family and the four children we share are and will always be, my greatest accomplishment. It’s all because of Shakespeare. And I learned it in English class at Hotchkiss from Charlie Frankenbach. And he taught Shakespeare in the way I believe it should be taught. It was personal, and irreverent. It wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t slow. He was just showing me that Shakespeare could show me how to be a person, how to love the things and people that I love, and help me understand everything I already had. Mr. Frankenbach loved Shakespeare and showed me that I could too. It’s permission. He just gave me permission. And the permission he gave me has led me to the greatest continuous sources of joy I have in my work, and in my life.
So, graduating students, when you were in class and something nipped at your heart, and you found for even a moment, you weren’t thinking about checking your phone, you weren’t thinking about homework, or a crush, or college applications, or what you wanted to eat at Snabe; but you felt consumed and present and curious and a little closer to yourself than you did when class started, chase it. Chase it next year in college. Chase it in your life outside of school; and give yourself permission to do it in the way that feels closest to your - singular - soul. If you go to a museum and find yourself wanting to stare at one painting the entire time, do it, if you love the end of a book and want to read it fifty times to keep it from ending, do it, read poetry you don’t like, read poetry you do like, ask questions, hold your parents’ hands, hold your siblings’ hands, tell people you love that you love them - even if they don’t say it back, make eye contact, PUT YOUR PHONES DOWN, drive electric cars, seriously, recycle, BE POLITICAL, vote every chance you get, read the New Yorker, go see plays, go see Shakespeare, go to therapy, do karaoke, breathe, dance; if you have children, teach them kindness, and curiosity, learn everything you can from them, show them how you love the things that you love, and the people that you love; if you don’t have children, teach the ones you know kindness, and curiosity, and tell them to put their phones down. And to recycle, and to drive electric cars. You have everything you need. I promise you. And you have your voice. You will say the wrong thing, you will fail, you will experience tremendous loss and embarrassment, and sadness, and heartbreak and disappointment, it’s all going to happen, so what a relief! You cannot protect yourself from any of it with waiting, or with silence. This world is so crazy, but it really is so beautiful, it’s so surprising. Your heart will surprise you and expand, again and again, you will never stop falling in love with things, with people, with places; I can tell you from experience, because I wasn’t sure I liked it here and now I know that I love it. I love you, Mr. Frankenbach. I love you, Mr. Moon. Thank you for getting me to speak, in iambic pentameter, and on this stage, today. And class of 2023, I love you too. Use your voices, be as loud as you can possibly be, start now. It’s time.