- This is Poly
The Class of 2020 chose Austin Somers ’20 to represent them as the Senior Speaker at Commencement 2020 on June 12. During the ceremony, Head of School Audrius Barzdukas P’20 introduced Somers.
“A natural philosopher, this year’s Senior Speaker approaches every situation with curiosity and a desire to leave a lasting impact on the communities of which he’s a part. When he was peer tutoring our younger Middle School students, he recognized the need to make a deliberate connection between our Upper and Lower Schools. He successfully created the Lower School/Upper School Buddy program, which partners fourth and eleventh graders so that when the Lower School students arrive at the Dyker Heights campus as fifth graders, they have a member of the senior class looking out for them. His positive energy and genuine compassion also shine through as the MC for our Coffeehouse celebrations of student talent. But don’t let his gentle nature fool you—he also has a brown belt in Muay Thai.”
Before anything, I just want to say how special it is to me to be speaking during our virtual graduation with Emily Weinstein, who was one of my first friends at Poly. She works tirelessly and is the perfect example of a great student and a great friend. Thank you, Emily.
I’d like to welcome all of you again, I hope today finds you and your families happy and healthy during this crazy time—whether it be my classmates, their parents, siblings, grandparents, caregivers, the family dog, and anyone else who postponed their online yoga or Chloe Ting workout, thank you for taking the time out of your day to come and celebrate Poly Prep’s Class of 2020.
I would first like to congratulate all of us on completing our high school requirements. No matter the highs or lows we’ve gone through, it says something to have graduated from an incredibly prestigious institution as we join the ranks of notable alumni who include public officials, writers, scientists, artists, and voice actors in the Kung Fu Panda movie series.
Unlike many of the seniors this year, I am not an All-American athlete, I didn’t graduate Cum Laude, I didn’t study abroad in a different country, and I don’t have any music up on Spotify, so how in the world could I speak for such a diverse group of talents, personalities, hobbies, and futures?
Truly though, it is an honor to be speaking to you all and I am touched to have been chosen to do so. For that, I thank you. I can only hope to represent well enough the amazing group of students whom it has been a pleasure to spend time with for the past four years. Although I am honored, this is where the difficulty set in when writing this. Unlike many of the seniors this year, I am not an All-American athlete, I didn’t graduate Cum Laude, I didn’t study abroad in a different country, and I don’t have any music up on Spotify, so how in the world could I speak for such a diverse group of talents, personalities, hobbies, and futures?
In writing this speech, I started to think about my own experience at Poly for inspiration. I started in ninth grade like many of us, coming in on the first day of school as cool and as self-assured as you could be. I came to Poly with one of my best friends, Alexandra Fried. We were fresh out of a small Manhattan K-8 school where I had known the same group of 30-something kids for most of my life. There I played three sports a year, got good grades, and starred as sailor and chef #4 in our eighth grade play The Little Mermaid. I also had a cool new girlfriend, so needless to say, I thought I was hot stuff. But I was humbled in about five minutes. I didn’t even know what part of Brooklyn I was in when I got off the bus and walked through the doors for the first time. I also couldn’t find Alexandra. Finding myself flustered, I went into the restroom to kill time before her bus arrived, and there I bumped into Isaiah Wilson and his SpongeBob backpack. I was stunned. I went from being the biggest kid in the entire middle school to feeling very small. This place was different than anything I had ever experienced.
I’m sure that when many of us came on campus for the first time, we realized that Poly stands out as a school. I think my mom put it well after I had my interview in the fall of eighth grade. She constantly went on about how genuine and down to earth Poly’s staff was. She was right: the faculty here stand out. Throughout the past four years, it didn’t get more genuine and real than hearing Mr. Larose’s laugh in ninth grade English, seeing Ms. Hutchcraft’s pure joy listening to our fiction stories in the tenth grade creative writing elective, the compassion of Dr. DiCarlo in eleventh grade pre-calc, the intense love of Star-Wars exhibited by Mr. Bernieri in the senior year religion elective, or the kindness of Ms. Doughterty, whom I never got to know well, but whose special character I could feel when she said hi to me in the halls or asked me about what I’d had for lunch that day. Who would’ve known we’d be trading fist bumps every day with Ms. Lizzi in the front hall, or that we’d be laughing our heads off on Ms. Caro’s couch every chance we could, or actually looking forward to go to the library to see Ms. Bean and grill her about her kids or her search for a new house? With who else other than Mr. Wong could I talk about baseball and Pokémon in the same conversation, and in whose office other than Ms. Perez’s would there already be a group of students having a ball when I would stop by to say hello?
When I think of my time at this school and in this class, the memories won’t be filled with blockbuster events like proms or big games, but with the little things—the recurring experiences that became habit for us, like taking the subway home with your best friend, having your morning hangout spot with your crew, throwing the Frisbee or the football out in the back fields, or rushing to Commons to beat that dreaded lunch line.
This class helps each other, and I’ve definitely received my fair share of help from some really great people I can now call my best friends.
We all have memories like these, whether different or the same, and the beautiful thing is that we created them with each other. One thing I love about this class is that we have the guts to go out and meet somebody new, to go talk to somebody we’ve never spoken to before, and befriend those we normally wouldn’t naturally connect with. High school isn’t easy for some, but it’s this quality in this class that makes it that much easier. It’s because of these special people who allowed new or shy students to break out of their shell, leading them to becoming more confident in who they are as high schoolers and as members of this graduating class. This class helps each other, and I’ve definitely received my fair share of help from some really great people I can now call my best friends. Because of that, we should thank them—that deserves both a lot of recognition and a lot of respect.
Yes, we were the class that stuck it out during the first global pandemic in a century, we were the ones who had to adapt to a new way of life and learning, we were the ones who had one of the most eye-opening and transformative experiences in just a few months.
**When writing this speech, it was my intention to not say the words corona or quarantine or pandemic. We all know about it, there’s no reason to mention it. But it’s true that this time has taken away our chances at making the same memories graduating classes before us have been able to make. It’s empty space, or at least was. Now, within that space are new memories, memories that in 20, 40, 60, maybe 80 years from now we will be telling to our future families and friends. Yes, we were the class that stuck it out during the first global pandemic in a century, we were the ones who had to adapt to a new way of life and learning, we were the ones who had one of the most eye-opening and transformative experiences in just a few months. And, later in life when our kids are doing their math homework and ask us who would buy 35 rolls of toilet paper in one trip, we can say, “You wouldn’t understand, you kids have it too easy.”
This brings me back to those little moments I mentioned earlier, and how those would be the ones that would make up most of my memory about Poly, not the missed prom or inability to graduate in person this month. Those little memories didn’t stop when we walked off campus for the last time in March, and if I were to follow the lead of commencement speakers around the world who attempt to end their speeches with a profound message, it would be to never stop making little memories, and to never stop the things that you started as a result of us being stuck inside for so long. Never stop video chatting with your best friends from 9 PM to 4 in the morning just because you can, never stop telling people that you miss them or that you love them, never stop contacting people who you haven’t seen in a while randomly just to check up on them, never stop trying to be a better cook or a better baker or a better artist to pass the time, never stop trying to new things, listening to new genres of music, reading new books or playing new games, never stop having too many family movie nights or family walks to count, and never stop looking forward to the next time you’ll get to make one of these memories. Never stop engaging in little acts that make you happy, because whether after one chapter or the entire story of your life, those are the details that make all the difference. Similarly, our Poly experience isn’t rounded out by the time we failed a midterm, missed prom, or even got an A in a really important class, its saying what’s up in the hallway, making a joke during class even if it’s ill timed, taking a short walk to go get lunch, or staying late even when you don’t have to just to hang out with your friends a little longer. It’s rounded out by the hours we have spent snapchatting or texting each other while at home, by the letters you send and the online games you play with each other, and by the anticipation of a massive hug when we get to see each other again.
In the words of Ms. Pabon, it’ll be OK.
I am proud to be a part of Poly Prep’s most well-rounded, adaptive, strong, and good-looking graduating class ever.
We’ll still be here when this is over, and we’ll be stronger, tighter, and more appreciative of what we had and have. This class has been through so many ups and downs, and it’s clear to see that we are experiencing one of those downs. Every storm runs out of rain, but no human being can run out of smiles, of laughs, of jokes, of positivity, or of love, and I’ll never run out of the thanks that I want to give to this class for taking me in and helping me become who I am, to my friends whom I will never forget, to the teachers who became some of my best friends, to my family for being there every step of the way, to Joy and Christian, for helping me with my speech, and to my dog Dooska, for sitting under my legs as I wrote it. I am proud to be a part of Poly Prep’s most well-rounded, adaptive, strong, and good-looking graduating class ever. To all of us, congratulations. Thank you, I love you guys.