Commencement 2017

…I see my friends here before me, and I feel a deep sense of gratitude as I am flooded with memories of the times we’ve shared.  Although my personal recollections are probably a little different from yours, one thing is for sure:  We’re all very lucky to have had such transformative relationships with our teachers, and to have benefited from such invaluable opportunities to learn.  This, indeed, is St. Luke’s.   

                         – Luke Martocchio, St. Luke’s Salutatorian 2017, Attending Harvard

 

In his impeccable address, Salutatorian Luke Martocchio captured the spirit of Commencement—a time to reflect and enjoy a flood of memories—before the next journey and new memories begin.

I referenced Luke’s “stratospheric GPA” and “the quality of his intellect” when introducing him. But as we listened to him celebrate his teachers—from Mrs. Olsen in fifth grade through a host of Middle and Upper School faculty—we knew Luke’s greatest asset is his huge heart.

Awe-inspiring “intellectual prowess and acumen” describe Valedictorian Grace Zaro. As I cautioned the Commencement audience: “Do not be fooled by her casual demeanor.  This is a scholar who combines innate brilliance with both discipline and a fiercely intense focus.  In high school this has brought her to valedictory heights.  At Stanford and beyond, the sky seems the limit.”

Gracie gave a provocative address. She used “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” protagonist Randle Patrick McMurphy to demonstrate humor is not a cop out:  “When a situation is hard or frustrating, it is the little one-liner, the ability to self deprecate, that makes the fight easier. Humor is not a cop out, it is an advanced defense mechanism. Think about it: it is free, it is legal, it is harmless. It is your opponent’s worst nightmare.”

Class of 2017

Each year, I marvel at the skills of our young speakers and the intense emotional impact of this day. When will I become desensitized? Never, I suspect. It’s an honor to send these wonderful people out into the world. And a beautiful sorrow to bid them farewell. Below is from my Commencement farewell:

“Whatever you achieve in your lives, remember to seek out communities like this one.  Places that offer you connection, the feeling of rootedness, and the timeless values that St. Luke’s has.  We live in a time of constant change, of uncertainty about what the future will hold for us…or ask of us…and of relentless questioning of what many of us considered timeless truths for most of our lives.

As any great skipper will tell you, your moorings matter.  Without that safe harbor, that tether to something stable and comforting, that thing to which you can cling when storms seem otherwise overwhelming – without that, moving forward feels scarier and more difficult.

Soon – at college and throughout your life – you will face tough choices, in new communities and in unfamiliar cultures.  You might encounter a fraternity brother or sorority sister who wants you to drink yourself into oblivion, to prove…who-knows-what.  Maybe it will be a roommate – or a boss – who seems to lack a sense of honor.  Whatever the circumstance…remember us.  Remember St. Luke’s, and all the people who love you.  Remember that here you have constructed a strong moral compass…within yourself.  It’s there.  Use it.  Whenever you feel untethered, remember St. Luke’s.”

Enjoy this Commencement 2017 Photo Gallery (we’ll keep adding photos so check back).

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

When Possibilities Bloom

I know what Emily Dickinson meant when she wrote her poem entitled “I dwell in Possibility.”

I am right there with her: every morning when I arrive on the Hilltop and see the faces of teachers and students with dreams and plans; every evening when I leave and hear the echo of things tried and goals met.

I feel it at the start of the year when the sense of possibility is everywhere, and I feel it even more now, as I see those possibilities turn into accomplishments.

Upper School Academic Awards

Upper School Academic Awards

When we recognize the academic, leadership and character accomplishments in our Upper School Awards Assembly and Middle School Day of Celebration, we dwell in possibility and inspire others to work hard and value the St. Luke’s culture of excellence, good character, and kindness.

When we practice good sportsmanship, not only do we dwell in possibility, but also we triumph on the courts and on the fields as our teams become champions in varsity Softball, Golf, Girls Tennis, Girls Soccer and Boys and Girls Basketball.

When we focus on communication and language, we dwell in possibility and celebrate stunning performances in our World Language Department—where our French students took 1st place at the Olympics for World Languages and attained national recognition for their excellent performances on the 2016 National Spanish Examination, National French Contest and National Latin Exam.

At the beginning of the year, those who saw potential in debate and in the Social Justice Leadership Summit transformed that belief into big wins for the debating teams and the largest Summit ever.

Finding da Vinci Challenge

Finding da Vinci Challenge

When our students identified themselves as potential problem solvers, Middle Schoolers rose to the Finding da Vinci challenge, and 9th graders workshopped action plans for issues as big as poverty and gender identity—then acted on those plans for the culmination of J-Term.

The possibility of practice blossomed into virtuoso performances in this week’s musical concerts and two recent plays: This is a Test and Avenue Q. Earlier this month, eight St. Luke’s students were invited to the selective Connecticut Music Educators Association All State Choirs.  Just days ago, St. Luke’s theatre students received 18 Halo Award nominations—Connecticut’s high school equivalent of the Tony Awards.

18 Students in Connecticut Art Education Association Youth Art Celebration

18 Students in Connecticut Art Education Association Youth Art Celebration

Emily Dickinson wrote poetry all her life, but it was not until after her death that 40 volumes—1800 poems—were discovered, rocketing her into the pantheon of American poets. She described “the possible” as a “slow fuse lit by the imagination.”

On June 3rd, when we gather for Commencement—the ultimate St Luke’s celebration of what’s possible for each and every one of us—we will feel that glow.

 

Commencement 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 11.53.52 AMI still have a warm buzz from Friday’s Commencement Exercises. I don’t fully understand how something I’ve experienced so many times can remain so incredibly moving and, for lack of a more accurate word, special. But there it is. As I looked at our graduates’ faces, their parents beaming just beyond them, I was filled with the joy of the moment.

Below I’ve shared the section of my remarks in which I celebrate seniors with personal “snapshots.”  Each year, as our class size grows, the challenge of capturing those snapshots grows proportionately—as does the deep satisfaction that we’ve delivered on our promise to know and love our students.

Please enjoy this tribute to the Class of 2015 and take a look through our Commencement 2015 photo gallery.

Good morning St. Luke’s.  Good morning faculty and staff, parents, families, friends, and, most especially, the Class of 2015 – good morning and welcome to the School’s 86th Commencement Exercises.

Today, we feel this room and our hearts overflowing with powerful emotions. We feel great joy in your accomplishments, and in the new journeys that await you. At the same time, we’re sad that our time together has come to an end.  We feel sorrow – a beautiful sorrow that stems from the love and relationships that have grown during your time on the Hilltop.

So many in this room have left their mark on this class. I’d like to take a moment to say “thank you” to some of the people who have made it possible for you to be here.

To the parents of the Class of 2015:  By entrusting your children’s education to our care, you have paid St. Luke’s the highest compliment.  And you have supported the School in countless ways: as ambassadors; by volunteering for school activities; and by giving generously. Your remarkable passion and loyalty have strengthened this great school.  I hope your service, as true service does, has deepened your own St. Luke’s experience, and that the memories and impact of a St. Luke’s education will continue to enrich your lives as you and your children remain part of our extended family. Thank you.

To the Parents Association:  Guided by President Karen Newman and a dedicated executive board, you have led by example, volunteering for class and service activities, raising money, raising the bar, and – most important – building community and inspiring more families to join the fun, including at both the State of the School in October and the Spring Gathering bowling extravaganza in April. Thank you.

To the Board of Trustees: All of you have given your time, your care, your wisdom and your resources to St. Luke’s, keeping our mission and core values at the center of all we do, leading the School with devotion unsurpassed, confidence high, and purpose clear. Thank you.

To the St. Luke’s faculty:  I have the humbling privilege of serving this great school, and these great students, with you.  Your wisdom, your care, and your willingness to go above and beyond the call of professional duty have – in ways large and small – brought these students to where they sit now, poised to leave us but prepared for what’s ahead…because of you.  You have inspired them, cajoled them, corrected them, shepherded them, and  – most important – believed in them so much that they couldn’t help but give you their best effort and grow up in the process.  When the student body roars for Mr. Griffa at the yearbook dedication, or gives Mr. Anglin a “standing O” after last week’s scintillating and moving Meditation, we see and feel the most precious rewards that teachers experience, rewards not quantifiable but expressed in the gratitude of current and former students.

Each of you makes all the difference, and you have my deepest thanks.

And, of course, to the Class of 2015:  As I tell every graduating class at Commencement: savor this day, and these last moments together with your classmates, your teachers, and your families.  We know you will return to campus, as alumni, to see the teachers you loved and to attend reunions and Homecoming, but you will never gather together like this again, the entire class of 2015, along with your teachers and families.  

We have great hopes and dreams for you.  But today, we celebrate you – who you are today and the journey through St. Luke’s that has brought you to this day.  Each of you has given us faith in your ability to lead, in your ability to make a difference in our world, and in your readiness to see difficult tasks through.  Here on the hilltop, you leave behind a legacy of growth and accomplishment, marked by more than your share of brilliance and the countless memories of St. Luke’s that you’ll cherish in the years to come.

Last spring, even before you had elected Noah your president, I heard from most of you that – more than anything – you wanted your senior class to be known for its school spirit.  In those lunch meetings you had with me, you told me time and again that you took as your model the St. Luke’s Class of 2012 which, when you were 9th graders, awed you with its seemingly endless energy and supportive enthusiasm – daily in school and also at games, concerts, dances, and all manner of special events.  You were determined to emulate, if not exceed the example set by that class.

Well – mission accomplished and job well done.  You began, again before you became seniors, by making Noah your president.  Unlike our national politicians who so often make campaign promises they fail to keep, Noah kept his promises, always leading from the front, always leading with authentic passion.  With his unerring sense of what you needed from him, he generated followers by force of his example.  And so I will always remember the spirit of the Class of 2015.  You demonstrated your spirit in countless ways, as individuals expressing your talents, creativity and beliefs, and in groups small and large cheering on your classmates, supporting each other through highs and lows, and challenging us when you objected to our decisions.

It’s true:  You didn’t always agree with us.  And yet you never became unglued as a result of our differences.  If anything, your shared opinions united you, made you stronger as a class, and helped develop in you a “stick with it” persistence that I hope you will carry with you to college, career and family.  By your example, you also reminded me of Thomas Jefferson, who said “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”  Of course our third president and the author of the Declaration of Independence referred to a country and a democracy – not a school.  But principled, loyal criticism can help any community learn and improve, and you have given us that.

You showed us your spirit as a class and as individuals, from Khush and Monika’s loving kindness and searing intelligence, to Lauren’s grit and determination, to Eloise’s mature brilliance and brave meditation, to Annabel and Jessy’s involvement in everything from soccer to producing a memorable yearbook, to TJ’s fearlessness and big heart in standing up for the underdog, to EJ’s love of speedy boats and cars, to Emily front and center on saxophone with the Blues and Jazz Bands, to Celia returning to the stage as a Delta Nu girl in Legally Blond, to Grace – determined and caring enough to lead a successful prom, to Tyler and Will – dazzling, entertaining and informative as the voices of WSLX sports, to Elizabeth and Marissa – caring and committed enough to organize and lead two years of Inspirica Walk-A-Thons, to Ryan – thankful enough to lead the Veterans Club’s letters of appreciation to our grandparent vets, to Tyler – he of booming voice and sprawling ice dives after his many hockey goals, and to Kevin – confident enough to wear basketball shorts, high black socks, and tan bucks…all at once.

And who knew that Clay (multi-sport captain, Honor Council member, and Be Kind recipient) could be so funny, as we learned at the poetry reading in his essay about his name?  Or that Tess (class vice president and actress extraordinaire) could choreograph so brilliantly, as she did for Legally Blond?  Or that Emma would become such a versatile singer, to say nothing of making the All State Choir?  Or that Kyle and Jack would sing with the Acafellas, fresh off the diamond and still clad in their baseball uniforms, for an adoring audience at Convent of the Sacred Heart?  Or that Jasper volunteered on weekends in Harlem, where he coaches a youth baseball team?  Or that Briggs would find such a powerful voice in the stage spotlight after shining the spotlight for so long?  Or that Christian and Morgan would give St. Luke’s a second chance? (We’re so glad you did.)  Or that Clay, less certain about the School a few years ago, would go all in – taking his opportunity like a Texas Hold ‘Em poker player – and find himself not only a winner but also at the center of the St. Luke’s heartbeat?  Or that Casey (Student Council Treasurer, Concert Band and cross country, basketball and math teams), would run a half marathon?

Publicly you gave us many lasting memories, including David, who capped a sterling band career with a mesmerizing performance on the glockenspiel at the spring band concert.  And Christian, who showed such talent on the musical theater stage in 9th and 12th grade that we only wish you had been able to do more.  And Jake, blazing fast and thrilling to watch on the soccer field, belying his mild-mannered off-the-field demeanor.  And Nick, who this spring triggered the most impressive high school double play I’ve ever seen – even more scintillating because he did it against Brunswick in a tense extra-inning game.  And Avery, stalwart at first base and as a leader, who helped inspire the softball team to a Western New England tournament championship.  And JB, talented, soft-spoken, and a living example of how to lead both by deed on the field and by example when injuries kept him off of it.  And Jane, whose wise comments and superb questions wowed everyone at the Scholars Symposium practice session, even though she was not an official presenter.  And the multi-talented Abby, who in just two years at St. Luke’s brought sparkling new energy as a volleyball player, singer, actress and flutist.  Also in just two years with us, Connor sparkled everywhere he appeared, which included the investment club, the hockey rink, and all things science and engineering including AP Physics C, Java Programming, and an independent study in Mapping Technology and Quadcopter Design.

Chris and Jay impressed on and off campus, giving us scintillating performances in athletics while showing their character even more meaningfully – if less publicly – as, respectively, a member of Darien EMS Post 53 and a church youth servant on a Minnesota reservation.  Lexi did the same, supporting Kids Helping Kids at school and beyond, as did Liz, who sparkled on the softball field and as GSA leader in addition to serving as a statewide leader of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, as did Scotty, who grew as a scholar even as she pursued her interest in fashion with a job at a local boutique, as did Charlotte, whose clothing line – No Guts No Glory – reflected the character she exuded at St. Luke’s while gaining recognition by major television networks, as did Andrew, who, in addition to drinking a thermos of black coffee every day and learning quantum computational chemistry for his STEM Scholar Project, applied himself to the physics of flying as a pilot with more than 50 solo flying hours.

Speaking of off campus exploits, I want to recognize seven seniors who rowed crew, that relentlessly difficult sport that requires so much unseen dedication and toil, so much backbreaking practice relative to a few competitive minutes and little glory.  Peter, unwavering and intense in his commitment, Greg and Jenna who also found time to become STEM Scholars, Morgan, also a nationally recognized photographer, Perry, a superb and dedicated lightweight rower who also excelled in AP Biology, where his teacher called his thirst for scientific knowledge “as contagious as it was revered,” Phoebe, who also raced off campus for the ski team, and Andrew, who long ago began forging his own path and – in his spring Meditation – urged his fellow students to do the same.

Then there were the softer moments we saw in so many of you, for which you might not have been best known but which showed your heart.  Augie, known for Honor Council, acting prowess, Blues Band, bow ties, a capella singing and coffee houses, who, as a 10-year-old 5th grader, fell asleep on my shoulder for almost two hours on the bus ride to Gettysburg.  Alex, our tough lefty quarterback and diplomatic class rep who always had time to give a middle schooler a high five, and Ben, who made his mark on the diamond and gridiron but perhaps made his most lasting impact as a two-year middle school basketball coach, and Hayley, vigorous and dominant on the field hockey pitch yet so empathic toward others, not to mention protective of animals, and Josie, known for her writing and future screenwriting career, but we’ll never forget her joyful laughter that can be heard from miles away.

Speaking of writers, we expect to hear more from Sanchali, who wants to be a travel journalist but whose Global Scholars project on the Indian sex trade showed she also has options in either research or investigative journalism, and from Megan, whose passion for literature is exceeded only by what Mr. Bisson calls her “witty and natural phrasing” with which she “demonstrate(s) subtle understanding of complex texts,” and from Camille, who, according to Mrs. Doran, has “protean gifts” that include “an unsparing eye and nail sharp phrasing,” and from Maria, quite simply as fine a young poet as there is in the country, if not on the planet.

Talk about protean gifts, this class’s visual artists stack up with the best we’ve seen. Anna, whose passion for studio art and art history revealed itself in her pointilist, pop art, graphic novel style, and Fiona, whose fallen angel revealed the enormous creative aptitude that she also put on display in so many theatrical performances, and Grayson, whose breathtaking works revealed staggering talent and stunning perception.

Juliana bridged the visual and performing arts as a theater tech leader, able stage manager and stellar performer as an emergency understudy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As to performers, we got used to our trio of trumpeters – Greg, also an accomplished scientist and engineer, Ryan who also made his mark as a versatile actor, and Bennett, also a bass and acoustic guitar player, Blues Band star, and as professional a pit band player as we have ever had.  We also got used to Hannah’s voice and stage presence, neither of which ever missed a coffee house, to Brian’s melodic voice and ability to own the stage, much as he owned the goal mouth in leading the hockey team to an FAA championship, to Alex’s angelic voice that made him a prolific a capella soloist, to Sally Rose, as fine a character actress as ever graced our stages (and every bit as fine a person), and of course to Malcolm – (PAUSE) if “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players,” then he was the very best of us.

These tiny snapshots of each of you tell only a small fraction of your class’s story.  But as I re-read them in future years they will recall for me your spirit and legacy.  For now, they remind me of another enduring truth about our school, namely that at St. Luke’s each individual has great value.  At St. Luke’s, each student is known, and each student is needed.  Each of you has been encouraged – in some cases prodded – to do your best, and ultimately recognized and celebrated for reaching a little – or a lot – higher than you thought you could.  And each of you has been needed for the distinctive personal qualities you have brought to the School.  At St. Luke’s, each of you has mattered in ways that will not be duplicated in college, or for that matter in any community that does not value the individual with the passion and understanding that we do.  The faculty and I have loved watching you contribute, prosper, and grow up before our eyes here on the Hilltop.  We will also miss you terribly.  These Commencement exercises are a celebration of you.

 

 

Commencement 2013

Today, this room and our hearts are filled — overflowing — with a mix of powerful emotions. We feel joyful about your accomplishments and the new journeys that await. But we’re also heartbroken that this time together has come to an end.

We feel sorrow – but it’s a beautiful sorrow because it stems from the love and relationships that have grown during your time on the Hilltop.

I love St. Luke’s Commencement. I truly do. To look out at the faces of our young women and men, people I have come to know over the years, and feel certain we are sending good, solid, smart, kind, citizens into the world…it feels extraordinarily fulfilling.

The quotation above came from my Commencement address. Experience taught me that joy and heartbreak would rule the day. These reactions come naturally at the end of something meaningful and familiar. The bonds, the struggles, the laughter and the growth — of minds, friendships, and experiences — inspired a wonderful tangle of emotions for all to see on this landmark day.

St. Luke’s 84th Commencement was simply beautiful. Valedictorian Patrick Quinn eloquently urged classmates to “seek great things out in ourselves, for we will find them if only we believe in the possibility.” Salutatorian Alex Robertson counseled friends to “always be searching for meaning and for learning, constantly struggling against the nothing we are so often predisposed to doing.”

The seniors elected Student Council President Jackson Prince to be their Class Speaker. He left peers with this sage advice: “Do what makes you happy. Do that which makes other people happy. And never forget that every heartbeat is a divine privilege.” English teacher Frank Henson elected by students to deliver the Parent Address, left no dry eyes when he told students: “The love we parents have for our children has roots that grow deep into the center of our hearts.  And these roots  —  this love  —  continues to grow as you grow, and the ache increases as the clock ticks.  And today, the clock is chiming.  So, we are feeling a lot of love today.  And a lot of ache.”

Frank nailed the “beautiful sorrow” of Commencement. The joy and the heartbreak. But mostly, joy. To the Class of 2013: Continue to Learn. Go Forth to Serve. But come back to visit often. You will be missed.

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