On June 24th family, faculty, and students gathered together at the Palm House in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens to celebrate the accomplishments of our Class of 2021. Our thirty-two graduates are now poised to continue their academic careers in top colleges and universities across the country.
During the ceremony, valedictorian Elizabeth C. and co-salutatorians Jacob H. and Joshua S. offered thoughtful reflections on their experience as a class and looked ahead to all that is in store for them. We wanted to share with our community since we were inspired by their words.
Class of 2021 Valedictorian Elizabeth C.
I’ve spent the past three months reading stories inspired by the Odyssey—wonderful reimaginings of Odysseus’s epic journey home filled with cyclopses, witches, cleverness, and instances of truly remarkable stupidity. So, I naturally found connections to our collective educational experience which was filled with the same tenacity, enterprise, and fortitude as Homer’s epic poem. Through our four-year journey, which has sometimes felt like Odysseus’s ten-year one, we’ve met our fair share of challenges. From an astronomical number of AP exams to the Great Abner’s Food Poisoning Epidemic of 2018, all the way to surviving both our Junior and Senior years in the midst of a global pandemic we’ve seen it all and, more importantly, survived it all. We did it as a class, and like Odysseus, with the help of numerous benevolent outside forces. Our teachers who guided us through the perilous straits towards success, our deans and administrators who delivered wisdom when we needed it most, and our families, without whose support, we could not even dream of embarking on this journey or innumerable ones to come. We’ve met both failure and triumph together—as a class, a school, and a community.
Some teachers have had the dubious honor of teaching us for years, others only for one, yet whatever the case each left us lasting memories. For instance, during the frenzied weeks of APs, Mr. Goldman serenaded us with his guitar and handed us mystical pens to write our tests with. In gloomier winter months, Ms. Das brought her adorable dog Leo, whether because we needed comfort or to learn the difference between classical and operant conditioning. For Wednesday vocabulary quizzes, Dr. Vincze wore his doctoral cap to bring a smile to our faces. Even in the midst of stressful college applications and lockdowns, Ms. Ruggles managed to rouse us into lively debates over Lahiri and Safran Foer's novels.
We had the blessing of being a part of a small school, one where we could shape our experience and that of future learners. Much of this graduating class began their own clubs, from Lifestyle to the Gender-Sexuality Alliance. We’ve been founding members of sports teams and honors societies alike, constructed traditions from the Thanksgiving Can Drive to WorldFest that will outlast our tenure on campus. And, many of my peers have dedicated their time to others, whether inside or outside of school, from Peer Tutoring BASIS Independent Brooklyn’s youngest to visiting the elderly. Wherever we found our passion, we dedicated our limited time with zeal. It’s the simultaneous compassion and drive that define our class. Now, though we each depart to separate schools we carry the same joy of learning, the same passion, and capability for success. Some will bring their passion for protecting the planet, others for law, for business, for literature, for architecture, for engineering, for history, all having blossomed in our building’s modular classrooms and all sure to inspire future change.
Co-Salutitorian Jacob H.
Good morning everyone! It is absolutely incredible being here in this beautiful space together, friends, family, and faculty, today.
It has been such a pleasure growing up with all of you. Looking back on our de-facto lunch study groups, French Settlers of Catan after APs, and clever Halloween costume gimmicks make me smile to this day. In many ways, I see our class as a second family - I know that we’ll stay connected with each other for years to come.
As a shout-out to AP Lang, I’d like to start with a quote from Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha: “One must find the source within one's own Self, one must possess it. Everything else was seeking.”
In our day to day life, it seems we are often seeking something - whether it be studying for better grades or applying for internships, it can feel as if there is always another mountain to climb, sometimes so much so that we forget why we are climbing in the first place. It’s in these moments when we might consider how things could be different, whether the choices we make align with what we truly want out of our lives. We may be seeking, but are we finding?
Define for yourself what is important to you! Not what society expects, or how you believe other people think you should be. Ask the question, why live this way rather than another? Must we all have the same definition of success?
Often, we convince ourselves that we can avoid uncertainty by accepting a path which we did not ourselves choose, which has been laid out for us. But the reality is that in doing so we are making a choice, and are still not free from the responsibility of deciding for ourselves how our lives should be. We are at the root of our own experience in this world.
So I encourage you to approach the unknown not with preconceived expectations, but with curiosity for what could be. Rather than fearing choice, consider the life that you want! The possibilities are indeed endless, but there is only one you. Find the source within yourself, and possess it.
Co-Salutatorian Joshua S.
Good morning students, families, and faculty,
Thank you all for being here to celebrate the Class of 2021 as we transition into the next phase of our lives. I’m gonna keep this short because I know I don’t love listening to long and rambling speeches.
I know it feels like someone says this every single day, but the last year has been difficult. The only recent memories I have from school are waking up a few minutes before zoom classes, begrudgingly doing assignments from home, and wondering when everything would get back to normal. Maybe in some previous life, years ago, I saw teachers in the school hallways or worked with friends on a physics assignment. Maybe then, I remember the class happily counting down in the last seconds of comps or APs, as I felt a sense of relief wash over me. But it all feels like a dream now.
And yet, I think this difficulty has uniquely prepared us for the future. I can’t speak to everyone’s individual hardship, but I know we all dealt with something; personally, I was lucky enough to only be inundated with pandemic fatigue and a weird amnesia when it came to talking to people. If we can move through this strange kind of adversity, the kind where no one really knows what they’re doing, I’m confident that we can take on whatever other screws are thrown into our lives.
We also know that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. For a while, I’m not sure I comprehended that the situation would eventually be resolved. On some level, I think I knew that there would be an end, but it seemed like an abstract concept, a distant future that might be attained someday. Well, we’re now entering that distant future. We’re returning to a sense of normalcy.
We can now recognize the true privilege it is to be able to gather together, celebrate our years in high school, and look ahead at the bright future in front of us.
All photography by Danny D.' 22, and you can see more of his work at Bit.ly/Dolancreative.
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