For the 183rd Convocation ceremony, Miranda Gohh ’13 was invited back to give a speech. Below are her remarks in full. Read more about Convocation here.
Thank you so much for having me. And thank you Mr. Hill for that introduction.
It’s really great to be back here today.
To be honest, when I was writing this speech I was getting nervous. Maybe because Williston means so much to me, that I want to make sure I get it right? Or maybe because the last time I gave a speech, it was here for my graduation ten years ago? But I was thinking about the Convocation speeches I heard when I was a student here and I couldn’t remember any part of them. So that to be honest, took off some pressure and made me feel a little better.
What I remember from Convocation were not the remarks or words of wisdom that were shared with us, but the anticipation of what it meant to be here at that moment, as you are now. My freshman year I had no clue what to expect. My parents had dropped me off a week before, I’d just spent three days in the woods with a hundred people I’d never met, and all of a sudden – I was here, at boarding school. My sophomore year was a little more solid. I remember the excitement of seeing people who over that first year, became my best friends and who I had missed deeply that summer. I remember moving into a new building and hoping that that year would be as good as the first one was. My junior year, there was all of a sudden this new anticipation. I was a goalie on the girls’ ice hockey team. The goalie before me had graduated the year before. This year was finally my shot. This was my year to prove to myself that I could do it. The idea of college was also looming. And then all of a sudden it was senior year. This was it. The last go around. But still, lots ahead. Asking myself questions like, where would I be this time next year? Would everything I’d worked for up until this point pay off?
Being back here also makes me think how great it is that Williston so clearly marks its beginnings and ends. Like all good stories, there’s a clear beginning as we find ourselves here today, and a clear ending. I think this is part of what makes our time at Williston so fond, we can easily look back at who we were at the start and who we grow to become by the end.
And so, what should the beginning of this year be? Or better yet, where do we want to be at the end? If you have no idea how to answer those questions for yourselves, that’s completely fine.
Because in all fairness, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to answer that for myself if I were in your shoes. Because if I’ve learned anything since graduating, it’s that you really can’t predict where life will lead you.
Upon preparing for this speech, I reread an interview I gave for Williston with my then teacher Diane Sawyer. I told her that when I graduated, I wanted to work in Sports Marketing.
Ten years later, I’m now a Broadway producer.
If you had told me this is what I would be doing with my life now, there’s no way I would have believed you. I’d done zero theatre when I was here at Williston and I had no intent on starting. Because, why would I?
Like I said, I was a hockey player, Williston was one of the best teams in the league, and I would go on to play in college. Hockey was everything I loved and it made me the person that I was.
Backtracking a little bit, remember I told you the last time I gave a speech was when I gave the Commencement Address during my graduation. Well, I was rereading my speech last night to prepare for this and a few things stuck out:
- The fact that I wrote it the night before – I pulled an all-nighter and wrote it while everyone else had a sleepover in the common room. I finished it probably two hours before our graduation ceremony, read it over once, and then decided it was good to go. I had never spoken in front of a crowd of that size before but somehow that didn’t faze me at all. This made me realize how young I was back then and how much I envy all of you and the energy and adrenaline you’re all capable of today.
- I was very sentimental – there’s a part where I talked about learning new things once my class was fully gone from Williston. I talked about learning new schedules, new campuses, new restaurants. I don’t know if anyone else caught this at the time, but I remember my voice cracking unexpectedly and feeling a rush of emotion when I talked about getting a new roommate in college, and not knowing it they would ever be able to match the one I had here.
- And – this is where the speech got good – I was inspired to talk about one of the “Aha!” moments I had earlier my senior year after hearing a speech by the now late Mr. Swanson who had spoken the night before. These “Aha!” moments are the lightbulb moments that seem to appear out of nowhere. They’re revelations. Moments of clarity that make you see yourself and your life in ways you never had before.
And today I wanted to tell you about two “Aha!” moments I had before and after my time at Williston.
The first “Aha!” moment was when I fell in love with ice hockey. It was a moment no one in my family saw coming. But once I started, I couldn’t be stopped. For the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted.
Flash forward to 2009 and I’m here at Williston, after being recruited by Ms. Talbot to play ice hockey here on the girls’ team.
Now I know the team is the top team in the prep school league today and has done the unthinkable and won back-to-back championships in these past two years.
But – this was not always the case. When I was here, we were good, but under Ms. Talbot’s guidance, we became great. And that was something that was very exciting for me to be a part of. I already loved being a hockey player before I came to Williston, but being a part of a legacy that we were all creating together, made it one of the most special experiences I could’ve asked to be a part of.
And I wore this legacy like a badge of honor. Even though I never got the most playing time or had the best stats in the league, I was so proud to be apart of this team. Hockey was where I came from, it was who I was here at Williston, and it was who I assumed I would go on to become once I left and went away to college.
As you can probably guess, however, that’s not exactly what happened.
The second “Aha!” moment was in college, when I discovered that my relationship with hockey had changed.
When I went away to college after graduating from Williston, I remember a group of student counselors telling my class that we would not leave the same people that we were when we arrived.
I disliked this idea because I loved the person that I was. After 4 years at Williston, I knew exactly who I was and who I wanted to continue to be. Or so I thought.
When I got to college, the parts that I thought would be easy were actually hard. Hockey was not the same hockey that I had fallen in love with and was proud to be a part of while here at Williston. And I was developing new interests, and whether I wanted to admit it or not, hockey was holding me back from seeing where those new interests could lead. I was changing. And I was growing.
And after two unhappy years of playing in college, I decided to quit.
And – this is where theater comes into play.
If any of you have ever been to a Broadway show, you probably have a general idea of what I do as a producer. Part of that might be true. I do sit in on auditions and listen to people sing and watch them dance. I attend marketing and advertising meetings where we talk about how we can make our show the next big hit, like Wicked or Hamilton. But what I really do is bring stories to life that I love and connect the rest of the world to them. I champion stories that show people who they are and who they can be.
To me, theatre is like holding up a mirror. It’s powerful because we see ourselves reflected back at us. And this is a vulnerable thing. Because when we see ourselves onstage, we see everything. The good, the bad, the ugly. Our fears, anxieties, and everything we work so hard to hide so no one else sees or knows about them except us.
But what makes theatre so compelling to me, is that it shows us a path to overcome and conquer these fears and anxieties. It puts us in situations where we can allow ourselves to be brave.
When I quit hockey, it was terrifying. Hockey was everything I had known up until that point. My teammates, my coaches, they were my people. Hockey was what I had dedicated my life to. It was what had brought me the most joy. And all of a sudden, I was making a decision to put that side of me to rest and to start afresh as someone new.
I was having my own “brave” moment.
And of course it was scary. And some of it was painful. But it allowed me to open a door to a world that I had never known even existed or was available to me.
While hockey and theatre seem worlds apart – I think my life has actually unfolded in the exact way it was meant to. I loved hockey because I loved being a part of something that was bigger than myself. I loved working towards a common goal and seeing myself and each of my teammates rise to the occasion in our own individual ways.
Theatre is the same. It takes 5-7 years to get a new musical up. Not only this, but it takes a village of hundreds of people. From the actors, to the designers, to the crew who build the sets, to the people at the box office who sell the tickets.
It’s working towards a common goal and creating something that didn’t exist before.
And I think deep down, this is what I was always meant to do, even though I hadn’t known it before.
I believe there are many chapters in life. What makes life life are all the beginnings and endings we experience, and the strength we have inside ourselves to see each of those beginnings and endings through. Today we find ourselves at a new beginning.
You may know exactly how you’d like this next year to play out. Or, you may have no clue. Either way, I hope you allow yourself to lean into the moments that ask you to be brave. Whatever that looks like to you.
And celebrate each other when we see our friends and peers step into these moments of bravery themselves.
Trust your instincts. Listen to what your hearts are telling you. And have the most fun. Because if it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.
Thank you for having me back today and I hope you have a great year.