July 13, 2021
Students, parents, and faculty all gathered under a tent on Pickert Field for the first time since before the pandemic for an in-person graduation for the class of ‘21. Commencement normally takes place on Akin Common, but this year, a tent on Pickert Field served as the location for many end-of-year events. Although fewer faculty members were allowed to attend due to COVID-regulated capacities than in regular years, students were able to remain unmasked and bring their families to celebrate with them.
Unlike past years, two speakers addressed the class of ‘21 at commencement: Mr. Clark, math teacher, and Mr. Variano, Associate Head of School for Operations and COVID-19 Response Coordinator. Both Mr. Clark and Mr. Variano are retiring this year after working at Hackley for 41 years. Additional speakers included this year’s class valedictorian, Lily Napach, and salutatorian Kiriann Fitzpatrick. Lily spoke about the importance of storytelling in her speech, while Kiriann gave advice on gratitude and curiosity.
Thank you Mr. Wirtz for the kind introduction.
Hi everyone! I just wanted to put it out there that I am really nervous, but I will take Coach Karpinski’s words about nerves, I think they just mean I care. So here it goes.
When our classes ended almost a month ago and we all went on our separate ways to embark on our senior projects, I spent 3 weeks filming an interview with my 97-year-old great-grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Sitting at her kitchen table, we spent hours discussing her experience in the war. We held hands, and our eyes welled with tears as she talked about all that she lost as she went from the Lodz Ghetto to various concentration camps. She sat tall as she told her tale of survival, recounting how she literally ran with bullet and shrapnel wounds in her legs as she was liberated. I sat there proud of the strong, brave, and resilient woman in front of me, and I felt connected to her. In telling me her story, she transformed an isolated individual memory into something we now shared.
While the interview was valuable to me personally, I didn’t know what to do with my footage to make it into a senior project. However, during the course of our conversations, my great-grandmother kept asking me — what will you do with the interview? Who will see it? How many will watch?, clearly pressing me to share her story. Being a shy and private person, I was a little confused as to why she would want me to share her personal details with so many people. However, as she continued to explain the importance of spreading the lessons from her journey, I thought about how valuable what I learned was. I learned the dangers when a community does not stand up against hate. I learned how to be resilient, brave, and strong when presented with challenges. And I realized by telling her story, much as sharing a bit about her today, I can help us all learn to be courageous, to care, to advocate, and to speak up against hate.
So, with the help of my great-grandmother, I came away with two takeaways about storytelling: the first: retelling stories is a way to amplify the lessons that can be learned from them. And second: I realized that as a member of a generation that will likely be the last living link to Holocaust survivors, I have an obligation to share her story. More generally, it is important to recognize when we occupy a unique position to tell a certain story.
I began to write this speech around the time I was finishing up my senior project. I struggled a lot. It was really hard for me to think of something to say when I felt that each member of our class had an anecdote or lesson that would offer just as much wisdom. With the insights I learned from my senior project in mind, I began to think about my speech today as a chance to be a storyteller for our grade. We’ve experienced some pretty amazing moments as a senior class, and I think as a speaker today, I have a unique opportunity to amplify the impact these stories had on me by sharing them with all of you.
The first story I want to tell is one that highlights the kindness that lives within the Hackley community. One of our classmate’s dedication and concern has left such an indelible mark on me, and I am sure all of us, and I hope its impact can be amplified by recounting it today. During midterm exams last year, our grade was overwhelmed and stressed. We poured over books, stayed up way too late making study guides, and devoted ourselves to work for two straight weeks. Personally, I found the exam time to be not only exhausting but isolating, a time where I didn’t feel particularly connected to the Hackley community. In the midst of the stress, our class president organized an effort to make goody bags for each junior. Receiving a goody bag personalized with my favorite snacks and a handwritten encouraging note put a smile on my face and pulled me back into the community I’d felt distanced from. This person’s actions reminded me that at Hackley, students care about each other’s well-being. Her selflessness and thoughtfulness made me think a lot about how a small act of kindness can have a tremendous impact, especially in connecting a community when individuals feel isolated. Little did we know how important that connection would become. Since that day, I have tried my best to take a step back during times that are stressful for me and check in on others. While the council’s goody bags may have made 100 of us smile that day, using this platform to tell this story, I hope to amplify its impact and encourage us all to do small acts of kindness.
I also want to tell you all a little bit about another time where we built connections as a grade after much isolation, this year’s Coffeehouse. The warmth, risk-taking, and resilience displayed at our spring coffeehouse this year showed me a lot about dissolving barriers that difficult circumstances may place. For those of you who don’t know, Coffeehouse is one of the most beloved Hackley traditions. In typical years, Upper School students pack together tightly in the PAC to be wowed by the musical talents of our classmates. At the end of last spring, as I watched the first Zoom Coffeehouse, I was surprised at how much I missed the in-person connection this event provided. We were all excited this spring when we were told that the final Coffeehouse of our Hackley years would be in person, albeit outside and modified for Covid safety protocols. To say that it was amazing would be an understatement. Although distanced and masked, the hosts welcomed us with warmth and humor, which made all the seeming walls of anticipation and nerves in the community fall away. Many first-time performers bravely took the stage, including a sibling duo with hidden talents. We even had a member of the senior class serenade us with a modified version of the Hackley alma mater. Performers were not weakened by separation but rather took advantage of what they had now to take risks and put themselves out there, dismantling any barrier of awkwardness that the new type of coffeehouse may have presented. The night ended with all of the seniors singing to old songs, arms around each other, relishing in a moment of connectedness that we had not felt in a long time. As a grade, we joined together as we realized that because of the challenges we experienced being seniors in a global pandemic, we could be closer than any class before and conquer anything as leaders of the school together. We were warm, brave, and resilient that night, overcoming the barrier of time and distance apart to forge a more meaningful grade-wide connection.
The list goes on because, as I learned from my great-grandmother, stories are just memories that we can share. A friend regularly bakes for me every time I have a bad day. She has taught me the importance of outwardly showing people you care about them. I have two teachers who have spent the year encouraging me to be more confident. They’ve taught how meaningful it is to have people that believe in your abilities. I created a book club with three friends who share a love of reading. The fact that book club meetings are the highlight of my calendar has proved that surrounding myself with people who share interests can be inspiring. Having a teacher who excitedly shares his passion for research sparked my own love of exploration of scientific answers. Being part of a team that supports the middle school students as they develop their skills has highlighted the value of being a mentor. After advocating for me initially, my advisor has taught me how to do so for myself and has shown me why we must always have someone in our corner. And the teacher who has been willing to help with college essays and speech writing after the school day ends has shown me how going an extra mile can make such a big difference to the person on the receiving end. A common thread in these stories is surrounding yourself with people who will lift you up, who share your passions, who care about you – I encourage us all to not only to embody the traits that helped me in the above stories but to surround ourselves with people who will make us feel connected by doing these things.
I know for years to come I will continue to tell my Hackley stories, and hopefully shape others with the valuable lessons I have learned. I know how much my future actions, large and small, will be defined by the experiences these stories encapsulate. And to you my classmates, while we have shared many of these stories together, I encourage you to retell your own. But not only that, I hope you remember the small acts of kindness, the resilience, the support, and the advocacy as you create your own stories worth telling. And lastly, let’s all remember the strength is not only in telling the stories but also in being a good listener. Listen actively and with an open mind as others share their lives with you.
Before I conclude, I just wanted to thank Mr. Wirtz and the administrative team for keeping us safe and happy in school this crazy year. We know we are so fortunate. Thank you to Mr. King for teaching us the importance of gratitude and personally, thank you for your many book recommendations. Ms Crepeau, thank you for being the best dean we could have asked for. We appreciate all you have done for us. Thank you to our teachers. We know you always go above and beyond, but particularly, we know this year could not have been easy. Your smiling eyes and encouraging words got us through a tough time. You have instilled a lifelong love of learning in each one of us that will inspire us to do great things in the world. To B+G, FLIK, advancement, the HPA, board of trustees, and everyone else who makes Hackley run smoothly, thank you. To our families and friends, we recognize the sacrifice, support, and love you show to us each day that has made us who we are. Thank you. And while I have the microphone, Mom, Dad, Mason, and Charlie — thank you for being my best friends, my role models, and the people who I can tell anything to.
Class of 2021, thank you for being you. We’ve created a story of kindness, support, resilience, and strength. We’ve all persevered through this global pandemic. I know we can do anything. Congratulations.
Thank you Mr.Wirtz, Mr.King, Mr.Cohen, Mr.Bileca, Mr.Variano, assorted guests, friends and families, soon to be graduates, and all others who could be here to support us or are watching from home. And most importantly Congratulations Class of 2021. I feel I must begin with an acknowledgment of our achievement of becoming graduates. Throughout this year, we have demonstrated flexibility, strength, and most importantly perseverance. And as I look out at our class I see so many incredibly accomplished people. I see artists who are capable of creating things that are unimaginable to me, athletes with admirable work ethic and endurance, people who have worked to better our community, whether that be as community council members, service leaders, or simply as students. And most importantly, I see those among us who have truly embodied a character colored by kindness, generosity, and integrity which the rest of us should strive to equal. But before we get too caught up in celebration, I want to recognize the challenges that we have faced along the way to this moment.
This year has been incredibly difficult, it has included loss and sacrifice, both within our community and for the world at large. It has been filled with moments that have made us angry or sad or even hopeless. And it is important to recognize and validate those feelings. It was upsetting to see my friend be quarantined five times throughout this year not due to irresponsible behavior but rather unfortunate circumstances. But I was comforted by the knowledge that because of our ability to have pool testing, this community was kept safe and that we had the privilege of receiving an in-person education that most didn’t and I remain grateful for that. It was upsetting for me as a musician to learn that it was not safe for students to perform in person for the first two coffeehouses of the year, events that many had looked forward to and had spent time dreaming about. But it made all of us more appreciative of the spring coffeehouse where we were able to hear live, in-person performances. And it spotlighted just how much work was being done behind the scenes in order to give us an enjoyable experience. And in one of my hardest moments of this year, it was upsetting to read through posts on the harassmentathackley Instagram account that brought attention to the pervasive issue of sexual misconduct, that some within our community were already far too aware of. While I allowed myself to be angry and sad over what I was reading, that anger pushed me to fight for change within the community. So for my senior project, I conducted research and ultimately wrote a report including recommendations for ways our school could better deal with the issue of sexual misconduct. And I was grateful for the cooperation and support I received from students, teachers, and administration throughout the process.
This year has been challenging. But we can all be proud of the fact that we have stepped up to face those challenges and I hope we have learned that when presented with the choice, whether to dwell on the inevitably difficult circumstances we will face or to be grateful for the positive things that remain, we will always choose the latter.
Included in the loss of this year is the story of a person that I believe encompassed so many aspirational traits and who deserves to be honored. During my sophomore and junior years of high school, I was a member of a youth orchestra that was lucky enough to have an incredibly dedicated conductor named Vincent Lionti. He was not only a phenomenally talented musician but also a compassionate and inspiring conductor. And for two years I quietly appreciated his brilliance from my seat in the oboe section. I had always wanted to learn more about him but was either too nervous to approach him or too caught up in my own life to take the time. And then one night at the end of rehearsal, as I was handing in the sheet music for my section, he stopped me to inquire about the origin of my name, asking if I had been named after the opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa. And I was touched by his genuine curiosity and interest in my life. In all, the interaction was only a few minutes. But as soon as I got to my car I enthusiastically called my mom to tell her about the first person to ever recognize who I was named after. This turned out to be our last rehearsal because we were soon shut down along with the rest of the world due to the pandemic. And then, a few weeks into quarantine an email informed me that Mr.Lionti had passed away due to complications of COVID-19.
I was overwhelmed with the wish that I had seized the opportunity to learn about his life as he had learned about mine that night. But more importantly, I was struck with immeasurable gratitude for the kindness he had shown me and my peers and for the way that he had made me feel. I realized how he had perfectly embodied uninhibited curiosity and kindness and that I hope I can one day impact people in the same way that he had impacted me. This experience and the others I’ve mentioned highlight the importance of one of the two traits I’d like to discuss today: gratitude.
I am honored to have the chance to extend a personal and collective thanks to the entirety of the Hackley community and to our friends and families for all of the ways in which our class has been supported through our journey here. Although things were certainly different, our ability to have a senior year in the way that we did was thanks to the diligent work and generosity of the administration, faculty, HPA, Board of trustees, custodial, Buildings and grounds and Flik staff, and the other countless people who put in time to make sure our senior year was as memorable as it could possibly be.
I want to take a moment to extend a personal thanks to two very special faculty members, my parents, for supporting me as well as many of my classmates through our time here, and being the very reason that I was fortunate enough to receive a Hackley education in the first place. 18 years and two days ago, on the day I was born, I was immediately brought to Hackley’s campus and became a part of the community which I was lucky enough to remain in for the entirety of my life. Since that moment I have been on the receiving end of the overwhelming charitability of so many here. I have struggled to capture the enormous amount of gratitude that I, as well as the rest of my class, owe this community for the education we have received. Whether 18 years or 2, I know that each of our journeys here have included our own unique stories of the people at this school who have uplifted us in moments of turmoil, offered help in times of need, or have simply been the type of people that we are better off for having known.
We have been afforded resources and opportunities here unimaginable to most people. These are gifts that we have been given, by our families and by this school, which we should never take for granted. I believe that the opportunities that we have been given come with a responsibility to effect positive change in the world. And that the best way to show our gratitude will be to do for others what has been done for us. And I have no doubt that each member of our class, as we are set on distinct and promising paths for our future, will find ways to do this. But I want to end by discussing a second trait that I hope can aid us in our endeavors: curiosity
We are about to head out into new environments with people whose experiences will be different from our own. And I would encourage us all to take the time to ask questions and demonstrate unabashed curiosity. Get to know people without ulterior motives, without thinking about networking or getting invited somewhere or even social comfort but only to learn and show genuine regard. Take advantage of the way that our lives will intersect with others. Listen to the voices of people whose perspectives and experiences are different from your own. And allow that to truly change the way that you think about the world. I believe that curiosity and gratitude will be the key to remaining lifelong learners, as we have already been encouraged to become throughout our education here.
And I am able to give this advice, not because I have always exemplified these traits, but rather because I have been fortunate enough to come across people like so many within this community and like Mr.Lionti who have.
So what I’ll leave you with is this, my ultimate hope for this class, and one that I know we are capable of achieving, is to all become people who will positively impact the lives of those around us, and who will truly capture one of Hackley’s mottos, which I’ve only recently begun to understand, go forth and spread beauty and light.