The following speech was delivered Tuesday, June 2, 2015 at the Hillbrook Class of 2015 Graduation Ceremony.
Good morning students, faculty, parents, grandparents, and friends and welcome to the Hillbrook Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2015. I want to extend a special welcome this morning to our guests on stage with me, including Los Gatos Mayor Marcia Jensen, Chair of the Board of Trustees Chuck Hammers, Head of Middle School Christina Pak, and Ally Weinstock, graduate from the Class of 2011. Most importantly, it is my honor to welcome the soon to be graduated members of the Class of 2015.
Today marks a significant transition for the dynamic young men and women seated beside me on the stage. Members of the Class of 2015 have been here for varying lengths of time. Four arrived during the Middle School years, six between 1st and 4th grade, 15 of them in Kindergarten, and 11 of them in JK, all the way back in September 2006. All together, they have experienced 295 years of Hillbrook education. Whether they have been here one year or ten, they have from all indications experienced it fully.
In the classroom, they have proven themselves as writers, problem solvers, and creative thinkers. Hearing teachers last night at the Recognition Ceremony talk about these students, I was struck by the joy and the engagement they brought to life in the classroom. They described students who were willing and able to wrestle with complex issues connected to social justice and literature. They talked about students with an incredible range of interests and passions, from costume design to video production, from literary criticism to taxidermy. They described emerging mathematicians, finding and sharing elegant solutions to complex problems with their peers and teachers. As one teacher shared with me, “When I think of the Class of 2015, I see a group of artists, activists, inventors and tinkerers — really smart people who ask the big questions about who has power in society and why.”
This class has talent outside of the classroom as well. They have dazzled us through the years on the stage, from their early days in performances like the Lower School Spring Concert and the 3rd grade Greek Play to more recent performances like the exceptional production of Peter Pan, where, at one memorable moment, they had all of us entranced as over half the 8th grade class pounded the ground with sticks in unison. Everyone cheered when the final drum stick was caught at the end of scene. They are also an athletic class, starring in a broad range of sports both here on campus and off-campus, including volleyball, football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, golf, squash, gymnastics, and diving. In fact, members of this class hold the records for career high in points in basketball and, as of yesterday, the fastest boys mile time (5:30 second). They even put up a pretty good fight against the faculty and staff in both the basketball and softball games, although at least for now, our height and size made up for aging legs and creaking joints. Of course, we lost to the 8th grade girls volleyball team, a testament to both their superior skill and expertise on the court.
This class, both as individuals and as a group, has time and again shown a willingness to reach beyond themselves to make a difference both here on campus and beyond. They spearheaded the creek restoration project back in 5th grade, provided leadership throughout the past four years in our 1-to-1 iPad program as iPad doctors, and have participated in multiple service projects, including most recently during Spring Break, when several of them traveled to a small village in Nicaragua to help lay the foundation for a new school. A number of them served as founding members and leaders of HERO, a group that advocates for the LGBT+ community and other groups that face discrimination. The group strives to create a safe space on campus where students are recognized as individuals and welcomed to be “all of who they are”. Just this past Spring, the group drafted and approved its first mission statement, ensuring that this valued student organization will continue to thrive long after these students have graduated. And, of course, a group of these students have been the driving force behind the building of the newest addition to the Village of Friendly Relations, the Hillbrook History House, a structure that will sit at the base of the hill and ensure that our school’s history and values continue to be taught and understood by both current and future generations of Hillbrook students.
But lists of activities and accomplishments only hint at the thoughtful, reflective, and remarkably insightful nature of this class. Typically, I look for inspiration for my graduation remarks in a book or essay, or perhaps I look toward a major event or change that is happening around the world. This year, however, I realized that all of the inspiration I needed came from right here on our campus, from the extraordinary set of 8th grade reflection speeches members of the Class of 2015 have delivered at Flag during the last two months. If you have not had a chance to see these speeches, I encourage you to check them out in their entirety on the website. One student shared how the core values had inspired him, after years of reticence and resistance, to learn his mother’s native language, Hindi, and in the process gave him a new appreciation and understanding for his mother’s culture and traditions. Several students spoke about siblings – both younger and older – who had made them better people through love, playful experiences, and stirring examples of perseverance. Another student recounted the joy she felt each day when she was greeted at school by our first graders, as she realized the opportunity to give back to younger children in the same way that others had supported her during her years of school. We heard about spiders in the toilet, first jokes, overseas adventures, lost elections, and critical life lessons learned on athletic courts, in gyms, and on fields. One student shared how she learned to cope with her fear of public speaking, in a speech that she delivered beautifully and that provided a true testament to her ability to live Hillbrook’s core value – “take risks”.
There were some great lines – “I’m ready to leave Hillbrook,” one student announced in early May, and then followed up by sharing how he would keep the friendships and relationships with him even as he ventured beyond Hillbrook’s walls. “I was whittling in class – what could go wrong here?” asked another, as he recounted injury after injury that he experienced at Hillbrook and the kindness of the community that his injury-prone nature inadvertently revealed. Another shared, “You could say at times I was a bit too curious, and a little too risky, throughout it all I thought I was being my best,” and he went on to explain that because of Hillbrook’s environment he was able to take risks and, as he put it, “try again…and again and sometimes yet again.”
Rewatching these speeches, I’m inspired by these students. They are funny, thoughtful, confident, open, wise, and often disarmingly vulnerable in ways that are both beautifully authentic and powerful. Ultimately, I’m struck by how this class is already living out our school’s vision – to inspire students to achieve their dreams and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world.
So, Class of 2015, as you prepare to venture outside of Hillbrook’s campus to high schools around the South Bay and beyond, I ask you to keep finding ways to make things better, both at your schools and in the greater community. Keep looking to inspire those around you, as you find ways to improve the world in ways both big and small. Never lose sight of the lessons we have taught you here – be kind, be curious, take risks, and be your best, and return often to share with us the ways in which you continue to strive to make the world a better place.