Congratulations, Class of 2017, and welcome to the Beaver alumni community!
Before you embark on your next adventure, we wanted to share a few highlights from the final weeks of senior year.
A few days back a science video popped up on my Facebook page. One of those cool Hi-def simulated, imagistic montages that takes you on a journey through space. It was entitled Laniakea.
Laniakea in Hawaiian means Immeasurable Heaven. Turns out some really cool astronomer people got together and mapped out the way galaxies travel. Some of them get pulled into a place called The Great Attractor. Some of them move away from The Great Attractor into other places that have not been given names. Our galaxy has a name, it is called The Milky Way. It lives in a super cluster of galaxies that the science folks named Laniakea. Laniakea is a mass of crazy, beautiful energy that is some long, illuminated tether awash with light and speed and darkness and dust and cannot, you see, be measured. It’s magnificence is only matched by an impossibility of brain power to ‘get it’, like you might, let’s say, get a grape or a toad or your hand.
I will admit. I tried. To ‘get it’, that is, the immensity of space. I tried really hard. I put my head out the window and looked up but up went too far and I freaked out.
You see, the scope of ‘out there’ is beyond, I believe, what the imagination can summon. We’ve all tried. We’ve all been there – at the beach on a cloudless night looking up at a gazillion stars, or, perhaps, trying to imagine where space might end. Can’t do it. It’s too much.
If you are like me, and are an amateur mathematician, and you sit down and do the math you might come to the conclusion that the “x” of space which is equal to infinity, or something close to that, means that all of this equals nothing. I mean, in the scope of things, our zero sum nature is irrelevance times irrelevance divided by irrelevance squared that equals nada. If you think about it, it’s kind of perfect and beautiful all at once. Here’s why.
A few days ago, I watched the Laniakea video and tried to get my mind around this idea of nothingness, of what that might look like, feel like, be, and it was hard. It was hard because earlier in the day I had listened to Prince sing “Adore” followed by a Chopin Nocturne followed by a little quiet thing by Brian Eno called “An Ending (Ascent)”. Then, I went and got a bagel and called my wife and watched the trees move back and forth in the wind. When that was finished I held a cup of cold tea and came into my classroom. And you all were there, here, the way you have been for years. We sat together and talked about John Lennon and Aimee Bender and Toni Morrison and DJ Khaled and Beyonce and Haruki Murakami and the collected letters of Rainer Marie Rilke and watched a Louis CK video and read a poem by Danez Smith and another by Natalie Diaz and Juan Felipe Herrera and made words. We did that. You did that. You made words out of words to make other words that when you strung them together sounded a lot like Laniakea. An immeasurable heaven of sound and space. You made these words with each other and by yourselves and took nothingness to task, kicked it in its butt, ran circles, and Mobius strips of the human experience around it. Your words, you see, looked that nothingness in the face and expressed everything-ness. I mean, an everything that the human heart and mind can be and imagine. Everything in all of its roundness and fullness and wholeness. An immeasurable heaven of all that is and was and will be. It amazed me as you constantly amaze me, as you amaze each other and your loved ones and all the people you will meet when you venture out of this moment into the beautiful endlessness that is your life.
And I thought, this is how nothingness is beautiful, because it is everything and you make it beautiful in the endlessness that is your life. You are here with your parents and friends, sitting together, eating and drinking and later, the night air will rub against your cheeks and you might register the coolness of it or maybe not. You might just get into your cars and drive down these streets with the windows down. When you get home you’ll go to your room and get ready for bed and it will be quiet, thank god, that deep quiet–you know it–which feels like the outside of a song singing inside of itself towards your solitude. It’s what space tries to teach us every day. That we have two things that are of most grave importance—to tussle with the expanse and to make it our own.
I think this is what lives inside of each and every one of you. The collaboration between those two forces which make you feel empty and fill you up at the same time. It is your mind and heart taking you on some interstellar journey that is all love and earth and jerk chicken and John Coltrane and Nike Dunks, graffiti and Zurich, Al Green and gardening.
You know what I mean? I think you do.
I think you know that every day, every day is everything, and you all embrace it with a kind of beauty that is ‘gettable.’ The expanse of everything–expanding out from the center of your life intertwined with the people right next to you and very far away from you who you will meet someday soon. You, all of you, are those galaxies spinning towards The Great Attractor of So Much. Because it has to be that attainable. And because you are everything that is good in the world; and because it’s all so big and it should be. The bigness in you that is you. It’s your everyday–the little things, which are immeasurable and heavenly. The way you talk and love, share and weep, shake and invent, move together, most certainly, and move alone, most certainly even more. See, you are it, that super cluster at the end of the long tether of incredible energy and power and light—Laniakea, Immeasurable Heaven, everything. This is what you are, everything.
Good afternoon, everyone! My name is Sydney Brown, and I would like to welcome you all to the 93rd Commencement at Beaver Country Day School.
First things first, I would like to congratulate the Class of 2017! Though we may have joked about it (and some of our family members may have doubted us), we really did make it, so kudos to you all.
To give you all some background on myself, I am a lifer here at Beaver, but more than that, I like to joke that I actually live at Beaver. My mom, Lisa Brown, is the head of the English Department, my older brother, Nat, graduated in 2015, and my younger brother, Will, is a member of the class of 2019. Mr. Hutton visited my mom in the hospital the day after I was born, faculty members like Lesley Colognesi changed my diapers when I was little, and I used to hide out under the tables in various classrooms during school vacation days. Now, I eat two out of three meals a day here and I babysit the children of more Beaver teachers than is normal.
In my last seven years, I’ve played soccer, ice hockey, and lacrosse, and even had a brief stint on the girls middle school B basketball team (I was 4’10 and didn’t know how to do a layup; there’s a reason why I only lasted one season). I’ve co-led the Women and Gender Issues Club, and served on Student Council…and if that wasn’t enough, in the summer, I work as a counselor at Beaver Camp, where I try to corral sweaty children into cooperating with me.
Here at Beaver, it’s safe to say that we don’t have a typical “mold” of a student, something I believe the school takes pride in. There is such a variety in the student body here; we are a school of writers, robot programmers, fashion designers, synchronized skaters, Instagram doodlers, and more.
At times, this range of interests can be difficult to work around. This past winter in Student Council, we spent many hours planning an event for the whole upper school in an attempt to get students to bond more cohesively. Our original idea was to propose an afternoon filled with an array of activities, in the hopes that each student would enjoy at least one option.
The first element we organized was a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. We quickly realized that a significant portion of the student body wouldn’t be pumped about playing basketball, so we got creative and added an artistic feature – a gingerbread decorating competition. However, we thought that many of our more engineering-oriented students might not want to do either, so we added a design challenge centered around building with Legos. After some last minute discussions, Student Council regrouped and planned a Spikeball element as well, so that anybody intimidated by the basketball players could enjoy an athletic event as well. And all that explains the very puzzled look I received from faculty when an Amazon Prime shipment arrived at the school, in my name, for 6 spikeball nets, 30 pounds of Legos, 25 tubs of vanilla frosting, and 48 gingerbread houses.
And right now, if you’re a parent and you’re just now hearing that we ditched an afternoon of classes for gingerbread decorating, you might be wondering what you’re doing. However, I can assure you that it’s these kinds of events that create the community we hold here at Beaver. I have never seen students (and Upper School head Kader Adjout) take gingerbread decorating more seriously. When I announced the first and second place winners – which, for the record, were judged and determined by faculty members, I was just the one reporting – I have never felt so much indignation from students who felt that their beautiful creation had been snubbed of points. The rest of the competitions were just as heated that afternoon, leading me back to my point: while the complexity in the student body at Beaver can be a logistical nightmare, it really is a blessing in disguise. It is a unique gift to be treasured.
This is a place where students will stay in the dining hall long after scarfing down their chicken tenders, just because they are deep in discussion. It is a place where students learn to argue and debate just because they care about the topic. As I look around at the Class of 2017, I see an array of talents, secret interests, and experiences.
In our time at Beaver, the Class of 2017 has survived several full-blown renovations, a Stanley Cup appearance, the implementation of the Beaver Instagram and Snapchat, and many, many schedule changes.
This is a class that has been changed by trips to Cuba, Belize, and China. We have expanded our views after listening to speakers at Upper School meeting. Some of us learned to code, and all of us learned how to joke about coding. We have played in band concerts, dunked in hoops like the one right above me, starred in musicals, hung out artwork in the hallways, and challenged the norms on free speech and censorship.
All these achievements – whether they are awards at Model United Nations conferences or just the fact that you got out of bed in time for class this spring – are impressive. We can reflect on the plethora of ways in which our lives have been changed by the teachers, students, and classes here (and we really do know how to properly reflect – we go to Beaver). However, as senior advisor Dave Liebowitz touched on during Senior Sendoff, growing up also comes in the little intangible moments. Yes, we can all hold our diplomas and smile for the photos, but oftentimes, the incremental ways in which we are shaped by the world can be just as valuable, like the time when you finally listened to your mom’s advice to slow down at a stop sign, or when you realized that you weren’t going to accomplish anything by wrestling with your brother.
So regardless of whether the big changes or the minute ones are on our minds right now, we are all sitting here, sweating in our caps and gowns, surrounded by family members and friends who might even be crying.
The changes are not done, though. The truth is that we have a long road ahead of us, filled with many more self-transformations.
Some of us are ready for the Great Big Future. We are eager to fill out housing forms, board airplanes, figure out what the heck a shower caddy is, pack up cars, enroll in freshman seminars, plan gap years, and take on the world next fall. Others of us are reluctant to sign up for classes and sleep in our beds for the last time. Some of us are downright terrified. It is scary, this whole unknown thing. For many of us, Beaver is comfortable – we can walk into the foyer and settle into ourselves, without fear of judgement. Next year holds new faces and new routines. Somewhere deep inside, we know that this lack of comfort will force us to grow and shift, but it is easier to push back and be afraid than to face the coming changes.
I’m not going to stand here and preach some vague, forgettable advice to the Class of 2017 because the truth is that I’m in the same place as you all. I’m scared to say goodbye to my family and to leave this place that is so comfortable and familiar. All I can say is this:
These next few months and years, really, will be filled with ups and downs, hellos and goodbyes. The outside world doesn’t look any more hopeful, what with headlines about the Syrian refugee crisis and turmoil in Washington breaking through on the daily. Things are looking pretty down for us millennials; apparently, we’re all addicted to Snapchat, none of us will be able to get a job out of college, and no one will be able to buy a house until we’re in our 80s because we’ll be crippled by student debt.
Throughout these next months and years, it is important to fall back upon the values and skills we’ve taken from Beaver. This is a also a place that encourages us to pay attention to the world around us; keep doing this. This is a place that encourages us to push one another and not take no for an answer; we have learned how to advocate for our own ideas and strived to be unique. No two Beaver students are alike and that is intentional. It will be these moments – moments that we can’t predict right now – when it will come in handy that we never had to fit a certain mold here. It will come in handy that we value uniqueness at Beaver – that we went to a school that pushed each and every one of us to be different. We’re going to have to rely on these skills if we ever want to get a job or buy a home before we’re retired! Over the course of the next year, but probably more so over the next decade, many of us will recognize how lucky we are to have attended a place like Beaver. Though we may not have enjoyed every calculus class, the essence of this place will stick with us long after today.
So whether we follow the path we are so sure we are destined for right now, or something totally different, we have earned something today from Beaver. It might not be tangible at the moment, but we will perhaps understand it farther down the road. And with that, I wish you all the best of luck.
Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2017!
Remember to stay in touch. Email Katie Shore at firstname.lastname@example.org with your updated email address so you’ll be in the loop on all BVR alumni events (Spoiler: there’s one coming up in late December – details to follow soon).