Natalie Stott ’22 was the senior speaker during Williston Northampton School’s 181st Commencement ceremony on May 28, 2022. A video of her speech is here.
Good morning everyone, and a special good morning to the class of 2022, we have finally made it to the final destination in our Williston journeys: commencement day. In the next hour, we will finally be able to call Williston our alma mater, which is pretty surreal. I am honestly at a loss for words about how this day has come – which I’m sure is not exactly what you want to hear from the speaker on such a special day. So, I will attempt to make something out of my speech-lessness. I want to start off by thanking the amazing class of 2022 for selecting me as the speaker today, I am honored to be able to speak for our class as a whole and (hopefully) send us out on a good note.
Now, in writing this speech, I was forced to dig deep into my memory all the way back to my freshman year here, in an attempt to see how much we have all changed. We were all very different people before Williston, all coming from different places to make up the Williston community that we know and love. Whether you were here for one, two, three, four, five, or even six years, we have all impacted and been impacted by Williston and what it has had to offer us. No matter when we first arrived on campus, we were most likely thrown into an unknown world, feeling somewhat alone and lost.
At least, that’s how I felt my freshman year. I cried almost daily because I was stressed about stupid tests that probably meant absolutely nothing, and a lot of times freshman year, I literally cried ON the test itself. If Ms. Briedis were still here, she could probably attest to that. But I had never been as scared as I was than on the very first day I stepped onto campus as a Williston student. I had been moving into 194 Main when I looked to my parents and said: “what if I don’t make any friends?” They said that I most certainly would, which, I guess, is what you have to say as a parent. Little did I know that I had already met one: my wonderful, kindhearted roommate Kana. She and I are still roommates, or I guess, were roommates up until today and I am so lucky to have been paired with her, she somehow always dealt with my messiness, and never once complained.
Although I had Kana, I still didn’t really talk to anyone for 2-3 weeks, staying in my little shell, afraid to let my bizarre, odd true self shine through. I fondly remember the time that during pre-season for field hockey, my good friend Jules said: “hey Nat, wherever we go, you go” in an attempt to make me feel like I belonged. The very next day, they all forgot me when leaving for practice. Now, however, I think my outspoken, and quite loud, personality shines through, so my friends would definitely notice if they had left me behind, because it would probably be a lot quieter.
If there is anything I take from this experience, it is that in a few months, when we head off to college or wherever else we may be going, we will all be in a similar situation from when we first came into Williston: lonely, lost, confused, maybe even scared. But hopefully, we have taken enough from our Williston experience to make sure that this doesn’t happen, that as soon as we meet people, we show them our true authentic self. That is something Williston has taught me through and through. A month after I asked my parents if I would have any friends, Ms. Marsland sent them a photo of me wearing my Cheshire cat onesie around the dorm, a few weeks after that, they got a picture of me in a hotdog costume with a witch hat on – the wicked wiener, as we all called it.
That was only the first couple months at Williston, and four years later here I am, talking to all of you on our last day in the place I found myself. I know that expressing yourself freely without fear of judgement is much easier said than done, because there are always going to be people acting like they’re cooler than you, but those people definitely have their insecurities too, so when you can, it really is best to just be yourself and live like no one is watching you.
Our class is full of personality and passion, and so I am confident that next year, if I went to Syracuse University, I would expect to see Lily Vengco singing with the voice of an angel in front of the whole school, while Owen Fu cooks up something delicious for everyone to enjoy. You would also find Benning Johnson being the absolute kindest person in the whole entire world, and Sammi Freidman’s inspiring artwork hanging on the walls. At BU you would find Edward Bergham lighting up the stage. At Connecticut College, you would find Jack Haddad instantly impacting the community as a 2-sport collegiate athlete, at Ole Miss you’d find Kat Livingston cracking the funniest jokes with a straight face, at Villanova you’d find Ella Mattocks rocking anything pink and at Endicott, you’d find Teaghan Hall doing the same. If you went to Bowdoin, you would find Emma Merrill having 10 second dance parties, and when I’m at Amherst College next year I 100% expect Zach Walker to be shredding on his guitar in front of a crowd of strangers, hopefully with a guest appearance by Jackson Frechette and Tucker Motyka and most importantly, you’ll find Maeve Reynolds being my roommate.
All of these things will happen when we exist fiercely wherever our next adventure takes us, regardless of those around us, because Williston has taught us to be authentic, and to let our real selves show. It’s really fitting that if you go to Williston.com, the first 3 words that pop up on the screen are “be yourself here” And I know, I know, that every school probably needs some cheesy hook to put on the front page, but I truly believe from my experiences here, that this is true.
When talking with one of my teachers here freshman year, she told me, and I quote: “I think this place is really special and I’ve seen how special it can be, sometimes I even call it magical. Just thinking about my own high school experience and how inclusive this place is, and I know it might not feel like that all the time for everybody, but I feel like this is a magical place in terms of that it makes me feel really good that I can be part of a community and be able to help people within that community.” This teacher, as well as my dorm parent and coach in 2 sports, Ms. TF, said this to me nearly 4 years ago, but it has stuck with me all the way until today because it reigns true. Williston is special, and we were all lucky enough to be a part of it.
Now, it is no secret that our experience at Williston, or perhaps at some other high schools, was not entirely normal. In fact, there is a big piece of it missing, that we spent at home, on zoom. I don’t want to get into that part of our lives, because it was challenging, and at times it was easy to feel hopeless, and that is not what we are here to think about today, today we are here to celebrate our accomplishments over the last 4 years and reflect on our growth and adaptation. I have a quote to share that is very relevant to our high school experience and offers a more positive perspective on what we have all persevered through, and it goes like this: “Losing things doesn’t mean just losing. A lot of the time, when we lose things, we gain things too.”
Those that know me well probably think this is a Taylor Swift quote, and if you are one of the people thinking this, you are 100% correct, because it is. And with me, what Taylor Swift says, goes. And though that may not be the case for all of you, this quote applies to all of us sitting here right now. Every single person under this tent has lost something, or someone, but it doesn’t just mean losing. And for all of us members of the class of 2022, we have all shared a loss: a huge chunk of our high school years. But we have come out even stronger. Our class as a whole has made the most of our time here at Williston, starting right from the minute we stepped back on campus after a full Spring of zoom in 2020.
I think we can all agree that we have a different perspective, a different appreciation if you will, for the things and people around us. Every now and then I think about all the things, people, and precious time here that we lost, but what we have all gained is a completely new appreciation for Williston, and just for life in general. We all learned first-hand that in just a couple of weeks, so much could be taken from us, and taken from people all around the world. I never again took for granted a brunch in the dining hall, or a walk to and from Galbraith for practice, or spending time with the people I love whether it’s on the quad, in the dorm, at a weekend activity. This past week, we had Willy Gras on the quad. The last time Willy gras took place was 2019, so three years ago. I was helping set up with my fellow wildestcats, Sarah, Rosie, Gaca, Benning, and of course, our mom/fearless leader Davey, and we had the best time. Now, it may sound stressful and time consuming to put together an event for the whole entire school, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever had as much fun as I did while setting up. Me and our class prez, one of my best friends, Sarah Markey, in particular, were having a wild time. We were in a very crazy, wacky mood and I’m not sure if we stopped smiling or laughing while putting up posters, filling up water balloons, and even carrying a canoe down to the pond. It could have been boring and tiring, but because it was our last activity set-up together, something we have done for the entirety of the year, we most certainly made the most of it. This truly made me stop, think, and realize that it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters who you do it with. There was so much joy involved because I truly love the people I was doing it with, it didn’t really matter what I was actually doing, it just mattered that I was doing it with them. This is a moment that pre-pandemic, I probably would’ve taken for granted. But, when you lose so much time in a place you love, you gain a new appreciation for the little moments that would have once been overlooked.
No matter where we go next, we all have a new lens to look through because we know what it’s like to lose things, but it has made us more resilient, and this commencement day is a sure sign that we have come out on the other side. We get to be here, today, graduating from Williston, in-person, in front of the entire student body, faculty, and our family and friends. I remember watching the class of 2019 graduate as a freshman, and little did we know then what was to come; no commencement for the class of 2020, a limited commencement for the class of 2021, but now, here we are, the class of 2022, finally getting to have our moment.
I feel so very fortunate to be a part of the great class of 22. Our class has had a tremendous impact on Williston, the community, the arts, and the athletics. In our community we started new traditions and continued old ones: Willy Gras and the canoe race, the broomball league, senior elimination, and casino night, and that’s just to name a few. Senior leaders on the dance team put on two successful dance concerts after having to do a virtual show last year, and senior actors helped to put on an amazing production of the fall play “metamorphosis” and the winter musical “Mamma Mia!” On the athletic side of things, did you know that 50 seniors sitting here today are playing a sport in college? That is nearly 40% of the graduating class. This year, we have had 4 championship teams led by members of the senior class: Girls Ice Hockey, Boys Swimming, and Girls Water Polo all won NEPSAC Championships, while Boys Ultimate won the New England Prep tournament. We also have 7 individual seniors who won a NEPSAC Championship this year sitting here today: Praghya Raja in squash, Jakob Frates in the shot put, Ella Mattocks in the 100 butterfly, Ava Larkin in the 100 freestyle, Jack Haddad in the 100 breaststroke and the 200 medley relay, Henry Wiemeyer in the 200 medley relay, and Abigail Touhey, who won 4 NEPSAC Championships this year in cross country, 1500m, 800m, and 4×4 relay. Ava, Jack, Abigail, and Selena Negron also all hold school records in their respective sports.
Knowing all of this, it is pretty safe to say that our class has had a significant impact on the Williston community. Even though we may have experienced some bumps along the way, we prevailed. No matter where our next journeys may take us, we will always have a home at Williston. For me, I will be right down the road at Amherst College next year, and already have plans to make weekly trips to campus and stay at Ms. Talbot’s house for the weekend. Ms. Fogg has also assured me that I can have a job here in 4 years when I graduate from college, and as of right now, I will definitely be taking her up on her offer.
Now, before I go, I have some advice that I would like to share with you all. It doesn’t matter if you’re a senior, underclassmen, faculty member, friend, or family, this could apply to any of you. Number 1: As I said earlier, what Taylor Swift says, goes. Well, that might just be me, but I recommend you try to give her a listen or find someone else to look up to and inspire you as much as Taylor Swift inspires me. Number 2: turtleneck sweaters are AWESOME for crying into during tests, or maybe if you’re out there and not in school anymore, you could get one for job interviews or something, I’m sure I’ll find other uses for mine once I’m out in the real world. And finally, Number 3: just be yourself, find an outlet that allows you to express yourself to those around you. For me it was a Halloween costume that I’ve held onto all these years, in fact, I have it right here (should I bring it on stage with me?), that being said, find your hotdog costume, no matter what it may be.
But really, as we all leave here today, no matter where our futures take us, I hope that you will find, and be, your true self without influence from anyone else around you. I hope that you appreciate the little moments that would otherwise pass by unnoticed. I hope that wherever we all end up, we look back at our years at Williston with fond memories and remember the bond we all shared. To all the underclassmen out there, I honestly never believed that this day would come, it always felt so far away, but it will definitely sneak up on you no matter what you do to slow down the time. So, when you’re playing dodgeball on Sawyer, playing Broomball at the rink, grabbing an ice cream at Mt. Tom’s, or even just hanging out with friends on the quad, make sure to make the most of every single moment. Because you never know when you will lose things, or how quick the time will pass you by. I feel so lucky to have been a part of this community, and I know that no matter where life takes me, takes us, class of 2022, Williston will always be our home.