student at podium

Williston Resilience


This address was given by Class President Sarah Markey ’22 at Williston’s 181st Convocation. 

Thank you, Mr. Hill. Faculty, and fellow students – especially the glorious class of 2022—welcome! Whether this is your first convocation, or your fourth like many seniors, or sixth if like me you went through the middle school, or in the special case of Mr. T, if this is your 39th opening ceremony, I am so glad we are all here, together at last!

As you may know, this year marks the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Williston. If this is your first or second year here, you’ve sadly never experienced a Button Speech, an annual event that enumerates school history in great detail. But don’t worry, I promise we’ll all be well versed by no later than mmmm 8pm.

But actually, there is great value in understanding our history. Fifty years ago, Williston academy, an all-boys school, merged with the Northampton school for girls, to form the school we know and love today. In the last few weeks of august I was looking through the school’s archival material–I know, thrilling. Best part of summer! I did however, learn some interesting things. For example, in 1926, the Connecticut River flooded, swamping the Northampton School for Girls. Much of the campus was underwater. It happened again in 1936 and once more in 1938. (Kind of makes you wonder why they waited so long to move to this campus!) In any case, every time natural disaster struck, the students rallied. They shoveled mud out of their dorms and classrooms and dining hall. They carried on.

A few years after the last flood, WWII broke out and the girls once more rose to the occasion. With so many men called to fight, local farms lost their workers and crops lay abandoned in the fields. Heroically, Northampton School girls turned out each morning before class to harvest asparagus and potatoes.

Now flash forward to 2020, when Williston Northampton students once again faced a crisis. And once again, we rallied—distancing, zooming, swabbing and masking our way through the pandemic. It wasn’t easy, but we made it through the disaster.

Ok. Enough history. The point is, we are a resilient group. Throughout our history, we’ve persevered through tough situations. As we head into a new year, I’ve been trying to find hope in our record of resilience. The truth is, I’m a little nervous. We’ve missed out on a lot during the past couple of years. There are people here who have never been to Willy Gras. Or a night game. Or a Tandem Coffeehouse or a holiday party at the Hills’. You guys don’t know what you’re missing! And for those of us who have experienced those things, we DO know what we’ve missed. And it’s brutal. We all SO want this to be an amazing year. And that’s what has given me moments of panic.

What I’m trying to say is that even thought this is the start of my sixth year at Williston–10th, if you count my time in the Children’s Center. Back when Sofia Michalski and Will Sawyer and I toddled around together in the little playground behind Ford. Sometimes still we put on bulky head-to-toe snowsuits and slide down the dining hall hill just for old time’s sake. But that’s another story. Even though I’ve been around a long time, I still feel the same butterflies that some of you 7th graders and freshmen and other new student are probably feeling today. We all do. It comes from setting really high expectations for this year and at the same time not being sure of what lies ahead. So, I’ve been wondering. If we can’t control floods or pandemics or how poufy our hair gets in humid weather (in my case, pretty much poufy enough to block the view of any poor person seated behind me at Assembly), then what is it we can control? How do we unlock the resilience so deeply rooted in this school?

Thankfully, unless Mr. Hill has had some kind of radical epiphany over the summer, we won’t be called on to slop mud out of the chapel or to roll from bed before dawn to pick cabbages. No one expects us to eradicate COVID, though I won’t object if you do. While there’s plenty we can’t control, there is one thing we absolutely can: Our experience this year at Williston! The community we build. The traditions we embrace. The excitement we bring. We, each and every one of us, have the power to make this year as great as we want it to be. Sounds easy, right? I think it is. Juniors and seniors, if you wholeheartedly show up, I guarantee underclassmen will too. When I was a freshman, my brother Nat was a junior and I followed his example. He opened doors for me, introduced me to friends, kind of showed me a way to be at Williston. Not all of us are lucky to have a big brother here. So, upperclassman, be the big sib!

Take Natalie Stott. When she belts her heart out to “Sammy” or pretty much any Taylor Swift song ever, but especially “Dear John,” or dances spontaneously in the dining hall, or spends her Sunday hunting down the golden egg, her enthusiasm is infectious. Plus, she’s been known to wear a hotdog costume around campus. Now, I’m not saying everyone has to be exactly like Natalie. For one thing, hotdog suits probably aren’t dress code. What I mean is, put yourself out there. Take some risks. Be yourself. Sing “Sammy” as loud as you can, pull up another chair to an already crowded table in the dining hall, jump into a class discussion, go to your classmates’ concerts and art nights and games, gather round a firepit, get competitive at Willympics. Williston is in our control. And we are the best Williston when we all join together, with students for every class bringing their own talents, ideas, and, yes, Natalie, onesies to the party. Remember upperclassmen, your engagement and attitudes are infectious.

We are Williston when senior Pragyha Athavan Raja paints another masterpiece at Snack and Easel and we are an even better Williston when sophomores Sean and Seth O’Donnell are inspired to do the same. We are Williston when Alan Rodal scores a goal at broom ball and we are an better Williston when Caroline Aufiero blocks his shot. We are Williston when Maeve Reynolds and the Glitter Glider set a school record at the Cardboard box derby and we are an even better Williston Benjamin Barth beats it with a blistering time of his own.

Unless God forbid the pond suddenly floods, we won’t need shovels to prove our resilience. Our toughness, our spirit, is measured by how we engage with each other. So, here are some things we can do to get the party started:

  1. At the end of Convocation, sing the “Alma Mater” with all your heart. Just like assembly this morning but even more spirit. And if you don’t know the lyrics yet, don’t worry, they’re written in the program. So, no excuses.
  2. Start a conversation with someone you don’t really know that well at dinner tonight.
  3. Foxtrot, tango, waltz?, you name it, at the dance later. Or just jump up and down like a lunatic. When you need to cool off, grab a couple new classmates and make an ice cream run to Mt. Tom’s

The perfect year starts now. And guess what? I’m not feeling doubtful anymore. We’ve got this. Just like all those earlier students who overcame tough times, we will rally. We are resilient! We are Williston!

I can’t wait to see you at the dance tonight…. and I’m even more excited to see who shows up for class Monday morning looking like a Fenway Frank. Thank you!