Class of 2022 Graduation Speakers
Class of 2022 Graduation Speakers
William Bussey, Faculty Speaker
Parents and Guardians, colleagues, and especially the Class of 2022, it’s an honor to be chosen as this year’s graduation speaker. Before I begin, I’d like the graduating class to stand and give some love and appreciation to the parents and guardians and relatives who made today possible.
I hope all of you sitting in front of me drank that in because sometime in the not-too-distant future they’ll be blaming you for everything that goes wrong.
It’s 1961. I’m five years old and oblivious to what I’m about to share. My oldest brother Bob is a senior in high school and has his sights set on attending Wesleyan. My father grew up in New Bedford, and I suspect as a kid he yearned to go to Brown. That didn’t happen. My brother made it clear that Wesleyan was his first choice, but my father insisted that Brown was where Bob needed to set his sights. Dad quickly set up an interview at Brown. When my father and brother pulled onto campus, my father left my brother out in front of the Admissions Office and went to park the car. As he was making his way up the stairs, my father ran into my brother coming down the stairs. Confused, he asked whether the office was closed for lunch. My brother said no, that he had already met with someone, and that it went really well. My brother added that he spoke with a man who asked him, “Why do you wish to attend Brown?” And my brother replied, ‘I don’t want to go to Brown. I want to go to Wesleyan… And then the man said, “Well, I guess we don’t have anything else to discuss.” And my brother replied, “No, I guess not.” And that was that. The ride back home was a quiet one, as were the two weeks that followed. But my brother’s brave moment sent a notice to my mother and father that he was not going to lead a life in which the primary purpose, however well-intentioned, was to please my parents. And to their credit, my parents eventually came to accept the cards they had been dealt. And this moment allowed my sister and my other brother and me the freedom to make important decisions regarding our future without feeling that we were disappointing or disrespecting our parents. We got a shot to be ourselves. It was quite a gift.
I can summarize my college highlights in three brief moments.
In college, I initially trudged from class to class, I was doing the work but not really engaged. At the end of the first semester, my expository writing professor told the class that he was going to read us our final grades out loud. He was a brutal grader. I braced myself. When he got to me, he said, “A-“ He saw that I was stunned. He paused for a couple seconds. And then he said something a teacher hadn’t said to me in years: “I think you’ve got something.”
About a year later, I decided to get my check-up at the college infirmary. It was the usual drill until the doctor added a new wrinkle. He said, “Now, I’m going to check your prostrate.” I had no idea where my prostrate was located. I quickly decided somewhere in my throat and opened my mouth halfway. He stared at me, raised his eyebrows, and then looked down. As he pulled on a rubber glove, I realized that I had it all backwards. I asked, “Do you have to do this?” He glared at me and replied, “Do you think I want to?” I will spare you the surreal conversation that followed, but when I later told my friends they hit the floor in hysterics. One of them joked that I should write it all down. So, I did and discovered the unbridled joy that can come with writing. And when the opportunity presented itself, I handed this vignette over to my creative writing teacher who got a kick out of it. A week later I spotted the paper sitting on my advisor’s desk. It was making the rounds. Something told me that I had found my people.
In my final year I took a couple of classes with the Head of the English Department, the brilliant Dr. Nancy McKnight. Her class was my last class, and after everyone had left, I hung back and we talked for a while. And then out of nowhere, she asked: “Have you ever considered going into teaching?” I smiled and started to shake my head no, but she beat me to it. “Nah, guys like you always go into business.” And in that moment, she placed both a blessing and a crucial question on the table: The blessing was obvious: She believed that I could be a decent teacher and probably a happy one, too. But the words “guys like you” posed the more important question: And that was, What kind of guy would I turn out to be?
For the Class of 2022, it’s been an exhausting journey for you and this nation. In a recent keynote address, Columnist Eugene Robinson stated something that most of us can agree with: “It’s hard to look around and wonder whether our nation is going forward or are we going backward?” No matter what your political leanings, when the richest nation in the world must depend on Switzerland for baby formula, it’s clear that something is wrong. Fear, resentment and indifference from all sides have eroded our nation’s infrastructure. And I’m not just talking about baby formula. Yet, I have confidence that the members of this class will stand up for what is right, to confront injustice. Your kindness is your legacy. You took care of each other and the faculty during emotionally and physically challenging stretches too numerous to mention. Chad Palumbo’s optimism and strength inspired us all, as did your unbridled support for him every step of the way. When we reached out to either Alec Hill or Austin Jacobson or Isabel Fitzgerald to fill an assembly slot, they always came through. Both Khalid Abdule and Sally Tabakh, who founded our Muslim Affinity group, helped the school discuss race and religion on a level that we’ve never had before. Since her junior year, Zoe Umeh has volunteered on a crisis helpline giving hope for people struggling with suicidal ideation. And Mrs. McDonald recently told me that Minh Mai’s commitment to service inspired her to volunteer at the Dedham Food Pantry. The only question that still lingers is what if Peter Del Col did not get into Haverford. And if you are talking bout folks coming through in the clutch, the Class of 2022 shocked everyone with four ISL titles this spring. Impressive, although not quite as impressive as Chrissy Cadigan attending six proms in the last six weeks. That’s got to be a record. Banner worthy! My understanding is that the only existential question left for this class to grapple with is “What if Peter Del Col didn’t go to Haverford?”
About two months ago, I was in the Stop and Shop mulling over the kitty litter. And then it dawned on me that I didn’t own a cat. And I thought, maybe it’s time to move on.
I met my lovely and patient wife Nan at Nobles, and our daughters Kate and Sarah graduated from here. I am forever grateful that Dick Baker hired me in 1987 and that both Bob Henderson and Cathy Hall kept me around. I could have never pulled it off in those early years without Dick, Tim Carey, Doug and Erika Guy and so many others as the years rolled forward. This school saved my life and gave me a world far beyond anything that I could have ever imagined. I’m far from perfect but I’m a much better guy for having been here, in our little town, with the kindest, hardest working, and most talented people that I could ever hope to know. I can’t thank you all enough. I will miss you all terribly. I love you. Good luck. And goodbye.
Tulasi Vithiananthan ’22, Student Speaker
“20 Seconds of Courage”
Good Morning. It is such an honor to speak with all of you today. Welcome to graduation. I want to offer a special welcome to my mom, dad and sister and brother. I am here today because of you…thank you for all your support through all these years.
As many of you know, I love films…movies, actually. I watch them alone, with family, but also with friends. And I like all kinds, from rom-com to drama to animation. One of my all-time favorites, however, is We Bought a Zoo.
The Academy celebrates great acting, storylines, and dialogue… but if I’m being honest, We Bought a Zoo doesn’t have any of that. And yet, it is so important to me. Towards the end, there is a singular moment that is so powerfully evocative that it allows the film to stand out from others. This singular moment serves as a guiding lesson for me that I use every day.
In this scene, Matt Damon, the father, is talking to his son, a young kid who is afraid to speak his mind and take daunting risks outside of his comfort zone. He tells him, “sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
Please think about that for a few seconds. “All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
Okay…. Now, I need you to join me in my time machine. We’re back to freshman year in Shattuck 125 on a Friday afternoon. I’m terrified. It’s my turn to give an opening statement for one of Mr. Bryant’s HHC class debates. As I stand up in front of the room, I realize how afraid I am of people. Yes, people–all of you. My arms and legs shake so much I almost fall over… And forget about points off for “ums” or “likes,” Mr. Bryant had to take points off for me shaking too much. Where was “no shaking allowed” stated in the rubric, Mr. Bryant? But in the end… I did it….after the 20 seconds of courage it took for me to stand before everyone that day, I began to realize that there’s much more to this than just my fear.
I could hear my voice for the first time and I had done pretty well… I realized that if I could overcome my fear and constant anxious shaking, I could contribute something to the community.
Since then, I have found my voice and challenged myself to talk about things that matter—my heritage, passions, leadership, and random Halloween costumes—and each and every time I stand on stage… I still think about those 20 seconds.
So you may be wondering, why is Tulasi using this moment to talk about how brave she is? Although I am proud and relieved to have found my voice in this community, my point is not to talk about how brave I am, but to share with you what I have learned about this community each and every time I found the 20 seconds of courage.
So what have I learned? I’ve learned that every time someone takes risks in this community, they’re going to be showered with love and support from everyone here.
If it weren’t for my advisor, Ms. Steim, I would not have taken on the challenge of 20 seconds of courage every time I take a leap of faith. She was there when I was anxious most days and there to express her pride when I took each risk, big or small. She was there for me at each assembly, every crew race, and dance show because she, like many faculty here, wanted to be there. But most importantly, she encouraged me to take all of these risks that eventually shaped my confidence and willingness to grow as a person today. And for that, I’m thankful.
If it weren’t for the amazing faculty all together—Mr. Sheeran, Mr. Nickerson, Ms. Lee, and Mr. Bryant, just to name a few—I wouldn’t have been able to discover my fullest potential as a person for they have encouraged me to try, find, and believe in myself as I use courage in my everyday life here at Nobles.
What else have I learned? My classmates and friends are there for me, too. In addition to our teachers, I want to thank my classmates for laughing, crying, and loving every time I tried something new, and always supporting me as I evolved as a person over the years. I remember being amazed by how kind everyone was when I first started Nobles, and not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate how lucky I am to be a part of the most compassionate group I know.
If you don’t believe me, ask others. Over the past couple of years I have seen the same kindness and support I that I experienced there for Danielle when she has educated us about her Jewish identity with Kehilla, for Lucy when she has reminded us that it’s okay to grow and even better to take a break, for Rhodes when he has showcased his amazing voice for large audiences since freshman year, for Alanna when she spoke this week about her transition between schools and journey through life, and for Alejandra, who has agreed to go on stage with me every time I wanted to do something crazy.
This community has been there for all of us when we were most vulnerable. And that is something that you won’t find easily anywhere else. So thank you.
In some ways, I want to thank my younger self for finding those “20 seconds” moments. But more than that, I want to thank so many of you for the ways you embraced me when I did. So in my final 20 seconds, I urge you to think about what Matt Damon’s nugget of wisdom could open up for you at this amazing place. I hope you take the risk of allowing people to get to know you, as you will be amazed by how our community wants to take the time to know you, care for you, and uplift you throughout your time at Nobles. I’m not sure what my next 20 seconds of courage will look like or when it will be, but I do know that tonight, I’ll be rewatching We Bought a Zoo and thinking about all of you here today.
Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2022.
Brendan McNamara ’22, Student Speaker
“More Than We Thought”
Good morning, Nobles, and a welcome to all the families and friends in the audience. I’d like to thank my parents and family for the continued love and support along this journey, and to my sister Maeve and my brother Colin. I love you and appreciate you for making it here on this special day.
So I guess this is where the road ends. I arrived at Nobles my sophomore year after spending a couple years at Arlington High School. I was unsure if I made the right decision to leave my hometown. I was leaving home and going to a whole new place. When I got to Nobles, I didn’t fully embrace my place in the community. I kept telling myself to just accept that I didn’t fit in here and so I resisted feeling much pride in Nobles. I told myself that I just needed to take advantage of what Nobles could help me with, rather than looking at how I could help Nobles. I remember when I was encouraged by a former faculty member and basketball coach and dear friend and mentor of mine, Adam Cluff, to apply to this school. Sure, he recruited me for basketball, but well beyond that, he always believed I was a Nobles kid—someone who could be a leader in the community and make valuable connections with classmates and faculty members, and seize the myriad opportunities this school provides. He saw what I could bring to the school, not just what I could gain. He saw more to the Nobles experience than I could see. I had this ignorant view of what I thought prep school was, and boy, was I wrong! This narrow way of thinking led me to shy away from integrating into this place because I didn’t want it to change me. It surely did change me, because sooner than later, I realized Nobles was more than I thought. More than we thought.
When Covid-19 sent us into a long hiatus in March of 2020, a sense of urgency came over me and Coach Cluff’s words about me being a Nobles kid came full circle. There was so much more to this Nobles experience that I hadn’t explored, and so much more for me to give to this place. By the time we returned to school for junior year, I was ebullient and eager to maximize the remaining two years at Nobles regardless of the continued challenges we collectively and individually faced.
Our Class of 2022 has taken a hit from Covid-19. It has forced us to be adaptable. The uncertainty reminded us how much the little things matter—the in person connections we make with our classmates and faculty, both in the classroom and on the fields and courts and all the other daily moments that make Nobles, Nobles. That was all stripped from us. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t realize what we have until it’s gone. In many cases, it’s permanently gone—like losing a loved one or missing out on an important experience. It can leave us wondering if we really gave the best version of ourselves to those people and to those moments when we had them. And whatever the answer is, you have to live with it and there is no going back. But our Class of 2022 had a unique experience in that way. In the middle of our high school journey, we were all forced to take a step back and do some introspection on what being at Nobles meant to us, a powerful perspective shift. We hoped the storm would eventually end and we’d get to return to campus on a more regular basis, but for a while all we could do was reminisce. Suddenly, being a student at Nobles meant more to me than I thought, because being away from this place made me love it more.
Nobles is an experience filled with exploration, connection and opportunity.
I found more in Nobles by immersing myself in the full experience of being a student here. I built lasting connections with faculty such as Mr. Baker, Ms. Batty, Mr. Becker, Señora Richard and countless others. I found more to Nobles by choosing to go on a Civil Rights EXCEL Trip this March with three juniors and three sophomores— a week I describe at the most transformative of my life. I found more to Nobles by choosing the courses that sparked my curiosity and eagerness to be edified and challenged.
I found more to Nobles by coming in early to work out before eating breakfast (man, those tater tots were so good) and staying here late for dinner…the full Nobles day. I found more to Nobles by eradicating the ignorant preconceptions I had about people, and instead giving myself a chance to make connections with a wide range of individuals in this community. Every day I have loved coming to school because this isn’t just any high school. This place is different. Some may even call it more than different. What has made me love Nobles may differ from others, but that is precisely why this place is so special.
There is no one way to make this experience lasting. It’s been three years and I don’t quite know if I ever did fully “fit in” here, but I do know I love Nobles and I feel immense pride in representing this community. You don’t need to fit in here in order to love it and make it yours. Be authentic, be curious and be adaptable.
My classmates and I didn’t sign up to do Zoom for over a year, but we navigated this adversity and took advantage of all the remaining time we’ve had fully in person. We’ve made our senior year a fulfilling and enjoyable one.
So for the students returning to this school for the coming years, I encourage you to look for more within your Nobles experience, because if you’re willing to explore and be curious, you’ll find more in yourself and more in this community, and that is truly what lies within Nobles. And to my classmates, as we all go our separate ways, we will always be bonded by our unorthodox, yet unforgettable time here. I hope we’ve all learned to appreciate what we have when we have it and look for more in all our opportunities and experiences. I’m lucky to have been on this road with you. I’m going to miss my classmates and I’m certainly going to miss this place. Thank you for everything, Nobles.
Dr. Catherine J. Hall, Head of School
Head of School Remarks
It is such a thrill to welcome you all back under our Nobles tent today, the first Nobles graduation many of our students have ever witnessed in person. It is a wonderful day to rejoin our full community to celebrate our graduates together, and for our younger students to witness and anticipate what lies ahead.
Two years ago, the Class of 2020 missed this experience under our tent. While we did what we could to make graduation special, it is not lost on any of us just how much the Class of 2020 missed that spring. I also know there are many members of the Class of 2020 here today to celebrate siblings and friends graduating. I would like to ask all members of the Class of 2020 present today to stand to allow us to honor you under our Nobles tent today.
As I thought about what I wanted to say to you today, I found it much easier to name what I do not want to say.
The last two years have been a story of what we can’t control, of a growing list of crises imposed upon us, of ways in which the actions of others at a local, national, and global level have created major strain, hurt, and worry. This has led many to seek leadership and answers anywhere they can.
I remember during one of my town halls early on in the pandemic, amidst a flurry of questions about our new schedule and Covid policies, a parent asked me what I knew about the timeline for the development of a Covid vaccine. Now, I do have a doctorate and all, but I am not that kind of doctor, even if I do play one on TV, and it is safe to say I was a bit out of my lane in answering the question! I was struck in that moment just how eager everyone is for an answer, a solution, a certainty about what feels so uncertain and so uncontrollable. We are looking to people we trust to set the stage and pave the way, yet the stage is inherently tentative and the way ahead quite uncertain.
I know you have been inundated with talks about how “unprecedented” these times are, how resilient you have become, and how much hope is resting upon your shoulders to lead us out of this chapter in our history. I am certainly not looking to dismiss the seriousness of those talks, and know how much real emotion sits behind them.
What I have come to realize about those talks, however, the ones I will not give today, is that they are rooted in what you cannot change, what you cannot control. They are bogged down in the assumption that the world is happening to you, and that your actions are in opposition to those very negative forces.
The clarity I found in what I want to say to you today is that I want to challenge you to take on what you can control and what you can choose to change, heading forth from this tent as Nobles graduates filled not with fear and anger about what is outside your control but with optimism and joy for what you can do to make a difference. I believe there are four things you can choose to do, four things that are as simple on the surface as they are complex in practice.
First, please choose to be yourself.
That may be among the most obvious of statements, yet I also know it is increasingly difficult to do. It feels very high stakes to put yourself out there, to risk saying something others disagree with or that opens you up to public scrutiny or, even worse, ridicule. Social media and the impersonal way adolescents—and many adults!—communicate only exacerbate the problem.
I know you are well aware of those times when you are not being your true self, when you are not speaking up to say what you think or want to ask, when you are just going along to get along or not be judged. You know when you are too reticent to take a risk in front of your peers.
I feel like I have really let you down as your head of school in that I have not incorporated Bruce Springsteen more often in my remarks recently, and for that I deeply apologize and will try to redeem myself at least a little now. In his song Better Days, Bruce writes, “It is a sad man my friend who’s living in his own skin and can’t stand the company.” As Springsteen so poetically names, you know when you don’t like the person you are pretending to be.
Another great poet, e.e. cummings wrote, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” I hope you find that courage to simply be you, not just some of the time, not just when it is safe, not just when nobody is watching, but all of the time. I am certain it will make all the difference in how you feel about yourself, your life path, and your impact on the world.
Second, please choose to be kind.
Not only is our world today woefully lacking in kindness, it is riddled with anger and hate. While we may not be able to control the actions of others, we can control how we treat others. As the 14th Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
You are presented hundreds of times each day with opportunities to be kind. First, do you recognize those moments? Do you know the impact of your few words of gratitude for the cashier, of holding the door open for someone behind you, of asking a friend who is sitting alone to join you for lunch, of standing up for someone being mistreated while everyone else is laughing?
Second, when you do recognize these opportunities for kindness, do you take them?
It can often feel daunting to size up how much need there is in the world, and too easy to discount the impact of our individual act of kindness. One of my favorite parables is that of the starfish, and of the boy walking on a beach filled with starfish that were washed ashore. The boy walks alongside a man. The boy picks up one starfish and throws it back into the ocean, leading the man to ask him why he bothers when he can’t make a difference. The boy replies, “It made a difference to that one.” Do not discount the impact of kindness, both small acts of throwing back the one starfish and big acts of standing up for those being marginalized.
I also hope you add intentional filters to not just what you say but what you write. If the text or social media post were printed on your t-shirt for all to see, would you still think it is kind? Would you be proud of what you wrote? Your words, both spoken and written, are enduring in their impact on others and the communities in which you live. Choose those words well, with great intentionality and with deep kindness. You will always feel good about doing the next right and kind thing, even if you have skipped a thousand opportunities beforehand. You can always choose kindness.
Kindness also has a unique way of building community, of deepening relationships. It has a power that extends so far beyond one person’s individual actions, and is contagious in its influence on others. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, spoke last week at Harvard’s graduation where she said, “There are some things in this life that make the world feel small and connected. Let kindness be one of them.”
Third, please choose to be hopeful.
There are plenty of rational reasons to justify throwing in the towel on hope and giving way to the negativity and skepticism that surrounds us. All you need to do is glance at any newspaper’s front page, and hope is not what comes to mind!
But this, too, is actually a choice, something well within your control. Despite the hand we have currently been dealt, you can still choose to be hopeful, to believe in the goodness of others, and to be optimistic in what lies ahead.
I am not suggesting that you ignore what is happening in our world right now. Blissful ignorance and naivety are not what should be needed for hopefulness! What I am suggesting is that, despite that weighty backdrop—and actually because of it—you still choose hope. South African Bishop and theologian Desmund Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” How can you choose to find the light rather than sit in the darkness?
I will admit I am an optimistic person by nature, often seeking out ways to spin a bad situation into a positive solution. I am also a problem solver, eager to roll up my sleeves when the going gets tough to find a pathway through. While these are not bad traits for a head of school, particularly during a pandemic, I know it is not how everyone is wired.
My premise, however, is that everyone can choose hope and optimism, no matter how you are wired. It is not that you are suddenly believing what you can’t control can change, nor are you diminishing the significance of what is hurting or is dark. By choosing hopefulness, we are caring for ourselves, focusing on what can change and what we can do to make a difference. When we are hopeful, we turn our attention towards making our hopes a reality rather than explaining why they can’t happen.
The world needs more optimism—a lot of it. Hope and optimism are not a flaw, but are a gift, both to yourselves and to others around you.
Finally, please choose to laugh.
Laughter is an important ingredient in the secret sauce at Nobles, one I believe is critical to living a healthy and happy life. In fact, humor is part of our Nobles mission, something we ironically take pretty seriously!
Embedded in humor and laughter is actually a great deal of humility and vulnerability. Two Stanford professors, Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas, recently published a book about the importance of humor in both business and life. They said, “…humor at work is not really about being funny. It’s about being human and more connected to our colleagues.”
I grew up in a house that revered Lucille Ball, my mom’s favorite actress. I watched every episode of I Love Lucy multiple times by the time I was 10, a rite of passage in my family. Granted, there were only four channels then, with I Love Lucy seemingly on two of them at any one time, so it was not hard to do! Lucille Ball is, of course, known as one of our greatest comedians, but also a tremendous trailblazer in so many ways. Her comment on humor? “I’m not funny. What I am is brave.”
What does she mean? She means she takes risks, she exposes herself knowing that being vulnerable with others invites others to also be vulnerable with her, and that laughter—healthy laughter—comes from a place of belonging. Humor in schools is not about laughing at people, of course, it is laughing together, about not taking ourselves too seriously, about keeping perspective on the mess-ups we have, about valuing joy and fun in learning together.
The four things I am asking you to choose today all take great courage. Be brave enough to be yourself, to be kind, to be hopeful, to laugh.– even when it is hardest to do, even when you are hurting, even when nobody is watching. Yes, be informed about what is happening in the world around us. Yes, be angry about injustices. Yes, interrupt and fight against hate. And also…
Be brave enough to choose to be yourself, to be kind, to be hopeful, and to laugh.