Graduation 2019: Principal’s Address

Owen Tucker-Smith, Editor-in-Chief

On Saturday, June 8, the Mount Greylock class of 2019 graduated. In addition to a graduation-themed print issue, the Echo is digitally publishing the texts of the addresses of the principal and the two class speakers.

Thank you so much for joining us today to celebrate a milestone in the lives of the people you see before you. As you have heard from Clare and Adam, most of the Class of 2019 has been together here at Mount Greylock for six years, and many have known each other since those pre-kindergarten days when graduation included a mortar board made of construction paper, tape and staples and lots of balloons.  We still celebrate with lots balloons, but we’ve upgraded our mortar boards and added robes, cords and tassels.

Six years represents a third of these seniors’ lives, and in those six years, much has happened locally, nationally and globally. Equally so, much has taken place in their own lives.

Several days ago Talia Cappadona, a sophomore, found me to share a video she had made of the Class of 2019.  She was still editing, but Talia was excited by its progress. The video started with a full pan shot of the class then transitioned into shots of individuals, pairs and small groups of students.  She introduced the subsequent shots by starting at the seniors’ feet then rolling the camera’s focus upward to catch their faces almost as if she was trying to catch them unaware. But when the camera’s focus reached the seniors’ faces, suddenly they smiled or laughed or posed or even jumped in a twirl. Talia’s final shot caught the backs of seniors as they were leaving through the main entrance at the close of the day. Beneath the video was a medley of upbeat songs about going off into the world but remembering from where you came and what you learned there.

The effect of the video, particularly the camera work that caught growth and joy overwhelmed me, and I started to tear up right there in the middle of the main office.  Poor Talia. Tears were the last thing she was expecting from her principal. But her video captured this class so well, and you are my first class.  Jake Schutz and I started as a principal team six years ago just when you were entering Mount Greylock as 7th graders.  And wow, what a transformation — not just in size and physical growth, but through the challenges you have faced, the risks you’ve taken, your small accomplishments and your extraordinary victories. You have moved into adulthood, and Talia’s video crystallized that for me. And it was powerful.

Today, as we formally watch the graduating Class of 2019 fledge from Mount Greylock and go into a wider, more complicated world, my role – one I take seriously with the privilege of having known you for six years –  is to celebrate your growth and remind you that your transformation will continue. Every experience you have — those you make and those that seem to happen to you unwittingly — will form the layers of your life. In different ways, they will contribute to your transformation.  Isn’t it the iconic Ferris Bueller who reminds us not to let life just happen to us but to take the time to look around so we don’t miss anything. He’s right. Life moves fast. Live consciously. Look carefully so you notice the minor as well as major events. Pay attention to life as it’s happening, but also give yourself time to sift through the events once they have passed.  Who you will become in your next set of transformations will be built on not only your experiences but what you have learned from them. Give yourself the opportunity to consider and apply their relevance and value. Give yourself the chance to revel in the triumphs, especially the surprising ones. You have had so many here — there will so many more in your future lives. Take time to examine the failures but don’t be stymied by them. See them as contributing to the layers in your life and recognize that the vibrant lives you will build for yourselves will always include some manner of transformation.  Stanley Kunitz — a poet from Massachusetts who lived for almost 101 years — wrote a poem at 70 that considered ways to reflect on and continue with his long life. Kunitz’s “The Layers” has been a favorite of mine since I was not much older than you. Despite the fact that it was written by a septuagenarian, it’s a poem I think about as I move through my own life, reminding myself that change is the only constant. I am going to close my remarks with it.


“The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe

out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled

to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind

the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way,

bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,

exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go

wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road

precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice

directed me:

“Live in the layers,

not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

Members of the Class of 2019, on behalf of the faculty and staff, I tell you that you have given Mount Greylock great joy and innumerable reasons to be proud and honored to have worked with you  for a third of your lives. Thank you. And know that you have our warmest wishes for bright, dynamic futures.