[On Saturday, May 20 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Memphis, St. George’s Independent School held its Baccalaureate Service for the Class of 2017. It was a lovely service highlighted by the speeches of two members of that class, Caroline Farrell, who is headed to Rhodes College in the Fall, and Bayard Anderson, who is headed to Sewanee: The University of the South. They were kind enough to give me permission to post them here.]
Mr. Peters, Reverend Mathes, teachers, faculty members, families, and my best friends sitting in front of me, this is it! We have been looking forward to this weekend our entire lives, and after years and years of graduation weekend being apart of the future, it is now a part of the present. This is happening. Right now. I think I speak for many of us in this room when I say I can’t believe how fast the time has passed. It seems like yesterday we were taking over the senior lounge for the first time. But, tomorrow is the big day.
St. George’s has been a part of our lives for many, many years. As I reflect on my time here, it’s crazy to think about how the school I will be graduating from tomorrow is the same place where I learned how to read and write, among other things. For example, If you were here in elementary school, I’m sure you still can still sing the “fifty nifty united states” song that Mrs. Colgate taught us. So much of my life, and many of your lives, have been spent at St. George’s. My friends in the class of 2017, we have literally grown up here. Throughout the years, St. George’s has taught us how to learn and how to love and care for one another. Despite all of our differences, we have an unbreakable bond because we respect and admire each other’s unique qualities.
For those who don’t know, each senior at St. George’s has to complete an SIS, or senior independent study project, of their choice in order to graduate. For mine, I made a video for our ten year class reunion. With this project, I decided to interview my classmates. One question I asked each person was, “How has St. George’s changed your life?” Now, I am the only person that knows everyone’s answer to this question, as I filmed it. But as the project went on, I was amazed to discover a nearly unanimous answer. Perhaps Grace Optican nailed the answer so many of us share when she said, “For the 15 years that I’ve been [at St. George’s], all of my life really, it’s taught me more about myself, and who I want to be, but then also the lifelong friendships from all lower school to high school.” Almost everyone explained that the relationships they have built and the friends they have made have been the most life changing. I’m sure we can all agree that it’s impossible to imagine being in any other class. The class of 2017 is our class. It is our year. To shift from being the class of 2017 to the class of 2021 is such a new concept to us. My biggest wish is as we all branch out and go our separate ways, that we find people that give us the same sense of community that we have found with each other at St. George’s. And as Mr. Peters would suggest, “if we find the strengths of the St. George’s community missing in the places we go in our lives, we should get to work building such a community ourselves.”
Two weeks ago, I was driving through campus headed home from track practice and I saw it. I saw the first foundations of the big white graduation tent. I knew this day was coming, I just wasn’t prepared. I’ve seen it go up year after year after year. However, this is our tent. Tomorrow, in that tent, each one of us will walk across the stage and receive our diploma from St. George’s. That one piece of paper, that small, thin piece of paper, represents everything that St. George’s has given us: the life lessons, the actual class lessons, the community, our forever friends, and a home. Tomorrow, in that tent, every member of the Class of 2017, will all be together in one place for the last time. Ever. Tomorrow, in that tent, we will say goodbye to our temporary home, St. George’s, at least for a little while. During the ceremony tomorrow, I think a tearless face would be extremely hard to find. We must remember, and I’ve had to learn this myself, that if we are sad about this time coming to an end, that just means we have had an extraordinary, life changing experience at St. George’s. I have no worries about the future of every single one of y’all sitting in front of me. I can’t wait to hear one of your names come up in a conversation, and I have the privilege of saying, “ I went to high school with them.” I know it will happen. Y’all are all going places that none of us can even imagine right now. We don’t know what the future holds, but I’m sure it’s a bright and brilliant one.
Hopefully, when we look back on our St. George’s experience, we can remember all of the good moments. Maybe it’s the state championship you won with your team because of all the hard work you put into your sport. Maybe it’s all of the dances that the school put on for us. Maybe it’s that moment when you finally finished your SIS and felt a wall of relief. Maybe it’s all the class trips we went on, like Heifer Ranch, Victory Ranch, Six Flags, or Camp Bear Track. Maybe it’s the moment you received your acceptance letter to your dream college. Maybe it was two Fridays ago, our last day of academic classes, and the senior lounge was turned into a game room. I’m positive that many of these good moments are the times outside of school that you spent with the friends you’ve made at this school. St. George’s will always be a part of our lives. And when we say goodbye tomorrow, we know that, just like the last line of the St. George’s hymn, “Oh, St. George’s, we won’t forget you.”
Mr. Peters, Reverend Mathes, faculty, family, friends, and classmates
It’s an honor to be speaking today but with that honor comes a great responsibility. I was told I had roughly 500 words for this speech. 500 words to either summarize 15 years here or pass on some valuable message. As a result, I have cut out all adjectives and jokes. I assure you, otherwise this would have been the funniest, most extraordinary speech in the history of St. George’s Independent School.
I actually have a confession. “In seventh grade I almost switched schools. Several of my friends were switching so I toured the new school, applied, and was accepted. I remember telling my parents after the tour that I did not like the hallways at the other school, which to them did not seem like a valid reason for choosing against this school, it was such a little thing. Fortunately, I chose to remain at St. George’s because of the people here and not a day goes by I’m not glad I did.
When I began reflecting on my experiences as a student here, I started to realize that it was the little things and the people that made all the difference. All of the big school events have been fun, but when I look back years from now I won’t remember them as well as I do the small things. I’ll remember playing in the Sisson’s front yard until our feet were stained with dirt and we’d all jump in the pool to wash off. I’ll remember Jonathan McNeill accidentally kicking a stroller at a home football game (the baby was fine). I’ll remember the bus rides and the team songs. I’ll remember almost cutting my hand off on the mean elementary school tetherball courts. And, I’ll always remember my beloved rolling backpack, Rubicon, who I had to use when I fractured my back in 8th grade. It’s the people that made these moments so special.
Mr. Peters has often said that schools are not buildings they are people. I could not agree more. As beautiful as our school is, with time, I will get used to new buildings and new spaces. I won’t miss the senior dining room as a space. I’ll miss the people who filled it. In my 15 years here, St. George’s has become home and I have grown extremely comfortable here. As it became time to make a college decision I remembered the words of Ms. Vasil, who was one of the most influential teachers in my time here but who moved to Washington D.C. last year. She told our class that she had grown too comfortable and it was time to make a change. Those words were in my mind when I chose to attend Sewanee. It was the uncomfortable choice, it was what St. George’s refers to as a healthy risk. I picked the road less travelled and my hope is, that it will make all the difference.
As I was leaving St. George’s late at night a few weeks ago, I happened to turn around and look back. The school was dimly light but it was just bright enough for me to make out several Frisbees scattered across the rooftops. I could not help but smile. I asked myself the same question I have been asking myself this entire year: where else? Where else?
I am not sure I’ll ever be able to answer that question. My experience at St. George’s has truly been one of a kind and I hate that our journey is coming to an end. But this isn’t goodbye, that’s tomorrow. I’ll leave you all with a challenge to appreciate the small things and to make new friends but hold onto the ones that have made your time here so special.