Celebrating the Class of 2015…the Graduation ceremony

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There are so many wonderful things to be said about the Graduation Celebration held on Tuesday, June 9 in honor of the Class of 2015. To celebrate, we are sharing the spoken words of Honorary Speakers Mike Thomas, Director of Athletics and Performing Arts teacher, Jillian Honorof.  Photos were graciously taken by Westside School Art teacher, Candace O’Leary, Yearbook Design Team instructor Jessica E. Butler, and former Middle School faculty member Mark Hespenheide. Congratulations and best wishes to our eighth grade class, the second Westside School history.

Try to be good to everyone. This isn’t easy to do, and most of us can’t fully pull it off, but it is extremely important that we try. Try to understand what makes people who they are. Build relationships. This takes sustained effort, but is eventually very rewarding. Some of our students either don’t know the names of the students in classes below them, or pretend not to. We were discussing knowing who people are in P.E. recently, and Blake, who was the only eighth grader in his class this semester, rattled off everyone’s name, and named about five things that distinguished each person. This not only makes you friends, and teaches you about and hopefully allows you to empathize with people, it is also a really useful life skill going forward.

When I look at this class as a whole, there is one thing I believe to be true for all of you. It is why you have all moved me so deeply, and why I relate to many of you well. You are going to be entering a stage in your lives where everyone is going to tell you about you. Teachers are going to tell you about who you are in their classes. Parents are going to tell you who they think you are, usually, and without meaning to, referencing your younger years. Your friend are not only going to tell you who you are, but who they think you should be. Your significant others, which hopefully you will have much later in your high school years  . . . or college, will tell you who you are in their eyes, and what they need you to be for them. With all these competing views, it can be hard to discern what the truth of you is. There will be times you will sit there and think “who the heck am I?” And here is the advice I want to give:

You want honesty and truth, but you need to want, and expect, these things from yourself. No one can know you better than you know yourself. People are going to tell you who you are, and if you think it is not true, then trash it. Do not make it true. No one can tell you you are a good person or you are a horrible one, that is all you. Do not base your self off of other’s picture, look at yourself and see what you see, and if you don’t like it, then change it.

Be fearless. Challenge yourself. The potential consequences you fear and that hold you back from trying will be entirely forgotten in time. You will hopefully remember successes, but you will definitely remember trying. Don’t be afraid to be great. Don’t concern yourself with other people’s real or perceived jealousies. Be your best self and let people think what they think. Likewise, don’t worry about what other people are doing. Time spent being jealous is more than a waste of time, it is harmful to your emotional health. If you know what you want, chase it relentlessly. If you’re searching, search. If you need to drift for a bit, drift. Just never be afraid to act.

Ok, now some love – You hear the term “special class” a lot, but it couldn’t be more true with you. We had a faculty meeting after the spring trips, and Don was talking about what a joy it was to spend a few days with you, and to fully appreciate how far you’ve come in his time at Westside School. I didn’t know you when you were fifth grade students, so I missed the first two years of that growth, but I completely agree with how impressive the class of 2015 is.

I was blown away when I first saw Lauren perform and sing. She commands the stage. Her voice is powerful and in charge. By the way, I never had Lauren in P.E., but we mastered the hallway interaction.

Anthony is as strong as they come. He’s physically strong (he can do 110 push ups and 20 real pull ups) but he also is super mentally strong, and watching him continue to pursue a climbing route until he successfully climbs it is awe-inspiring.

Ella is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. Every time you see Ella, she says hi to you as if she hasn’t seen you in months. Ella spread joy wherever she went at Westside School.

It’s hard to be entirely sincere all the time when you teach middle school. Luke won’t let you get away with anything less though. He sees through artifice, and isn’t afraid to hold you accountable for it, or at least try to. Luke is also as tough as they come. Two of the most thrilling races I’ve seen have been Luke’s best 400 race last year and Luke’s only 400 race this year, when he broke a minute, and won the team championship race. Toughness.

Emilio is a great friend to many at Westside School. He is equally comfortable talking to fifth grade students, adults, and everyone in between. Whenever you see someone leaving an interaction with Emilio, that person is happier than before.

Blake. There’s much that can be said. He’s probably said it.

Blake doesn’t really have an off filter, but over time, you realize that’s perfect for him. People should be true to themselves, and Blake is truly a gifted conversationalist. There have been countless times I’ve found myself laughing at something he said against my better judgement. Blake, your personality will be missed.

The first interactions I can remember with  Kayla were in cross-country practice last year. We run intervals sometimes, and I was running with the older girls. Each time before starting, Kayla would start asking me questions. Do you have any piercings? Tattoos? How many pets do you have? 0, 2, 1. Originally I answered each question and thought, “that’s nice that she is interested,” but I quickly realized she was just stalling. This has been the pattern with Kayla, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, oh, I can, and by the way I’ll do great at it.

Andres is universally loved at Westside School. He is sweet, compassionate, sincere, and humble. He is also an amazing soccer player, and the best distance runner Westside School Middle School has had in its four year existence.

Aisha has so many gifts. She is a transcendent athlete. Word is she’s a good dancer. She is a great friend. She is an astute judge of character. She recognizes and celebrates greatness in others. She is looked up to by many of our younger students, and she always handles it with grace. There are so many people who will be really tough to lose, and Aisha is right at the top of the list.

So finally, you are heading off to high school.

High school, and beyond, is an amazing fun, hard, and exciting time of your life. Enjoy it, but also try and find yourself, who you are, what you stand for.

You often hear or see in movies or TV shows that high school (and middle school for that matter) is a time of struggle and turmoil and you just have to survive it before things get better. Don’t believe it. High school is great. Go be your best selves and have a great time. I love you guys.