Joseph Dana Allen Award Winner Gauri Purohit ’21

Gauri Purohit ’21 received the Joseph Dana Allen Award for highest scholarship, combined with commensurate character. Gauri shared memories of her multifaceted experience at Poly offering anecdotes about academics, performing arts, connecting and laughing with friends and teachers, and navigating recent social justice events with the support of the Poly community. Gauri will be heading to Yale this fall. As part of this honor, she presented the following speech at Poly’s 164th Commencement on June 4, 2021:

Gauri Purohit joseph dana allen award winner 2021

Good morning students, parents, faculty, administrators, staff, family, friends, all the siblings who didn’t think they would be able to attend, and of course, my fellow grads, the Class of 2021. We always knew this day would come, but I know I wasn’t ready for it to come as soon as it did. Not too long ago, on a very hot summer day in early June, I was sitting in one of those white chairs with my parents in the Oval, searching for my sister in a sea of blue robes as the class of 2012 walked to their seats. Nine years later, my sister is the one sitting in the white chair with my parents, and it is the Class of 2021 that is graduating today. My name is Gauri Purohit, and I am so grateful to be speaking before all of you today.

When I was informed that I was to speak at Commencement, I realized that I had no idea what a graduation speech was supposed to sound like, other than perhaps a cliche-riddled, quote-heavy reflection on who we have become and who we are destined to be, but that wasn’t really what I wanted to leave you all with today. In the search for some inspiration, I first rewatched Rory’s valedictorian speech in Gilmore Girls, but instead of providing me with a vision, it just made me binge watch a whole season. I then moved on to YouTube, only to realize I wasn’t as witty or charismatic or funny as 99% of them. I was left to hope that simply speaking frankly will be a compelling enough speech for you all.

Gauri Purohit in The Laramie Project

As I mentioned earlier, nearly nine years ago to the day, I had skipped class to attend my sister’s graduation. I suppose nine years is a rather long time—after all, that’s longer than the class of 2021 has spent on this campus, but I still remember walking onto Poly’s grounds for the first time as a prospective student—no longer was it solely my sister’s school, but at that moment it had become my school, too, with all its ponds and geese (and geese poop) and turtles no longer being surprising features, but expected and comforting ones. From waking up early in the morning to catch the bus to staying beyond the late bus and waiting for my parents to pick me up (my mom and dad have become very good friends with the security guards over the years!), there were often days where I spent more hours of the day at school than at home—and many of those hours at home were spent doing work for school. That never really bothered me though, because I was so excited to be at such a multi-faceted institution with various resources and opportunities. That novelty never wore off. With each passing year, I continued to try different extracurriculars and take as many classes as I could, whether it be Science Olympiad and going to invitationals with some of my closest friends, dancing and singing in lighthearted musicals like Seussical, Jr, or acting in heavier, more poignant productions like The Laramie Project.

When I think about some of my fondest memories of this school, I think about time spent laughing with friends on the way from the science building to the band room, to cheering on my peers at pep rallies, to having deep conversations with some of my favorite teachers. But I also remember the late nights, walking down dark hallways after a late A Cappella rehearsal, trying to make my way home after a long, satisfying day. It was moments like these, walking alone in this big school with minimal light, when I realized that Poly genuinely was my second home.

The beauty of Poly is that there is always something new to try and explore, whether it be in the context of extracurricular activities or fun electives or independent studies or advanced classes.

It’s a home where whenever the Poly Song comes on we all join in, teachers and students and alumni alike, stomping our feet and clapping our hands to make a Tower. It’s a home where we all make a dash to the salad bar in Commons whenever the Caesar salad is refilled. It’s where we’re taught not to be afraid of being wrong and where discussion and differing opinions are valued as long as our mutual respect stays consistent and strong. Each and every individual that I have met here, whether it be a student, a teacher, or a member of the amazing staff, has often unknowingly broadened my perspective. The beauty of Poly is that there is always something new to try and explore, whether it be in the context of extracurricular activities or fun electives or independent studies or advanced classes. Even while we all are on our individual journeys of exploration, we all know that when we jump into something new, we have a huge support system to rely on.

Poly really is a microcosm of the world. We were reminded of the variety of diverse perspectives of every individual that is a member of this community.

But I’ll be frank, when political, social, and racial tensions reached a high point last year and we were all surrounded by disarray and unrest, while we were already in the process of transitioning to virtual learning in the midst of the pandemic, I was skeptical of how resilient our community would be, of whether I would be able to trust my peers to speak out for justice. But, as we’ve all heard in Chapel countless times, Poly really is a microcosm of the world. We were reminded of the variety of diverse perspectives of every individual that is a member of this community. We were reminded of the importance of that mutual respect and the confidence that we place in each other to be good and to speak out for one another.

As we move on and go our separate ways, I know we will, of course, take what we have learned and our values with us. But let us also remember to appreciate the time we spend with others and the memories we make as we make them. These past four years, each grade, every test, every assignment was weighed with the pressure of college looming nearby. In hindsight, I wish I had appreciated the present more for what it was instead of framing its purpose in its use for the future. I wish I had spent more time with family, laughed more with friends, attended more Homecomings and Oasis Nights and games. But, as I stand here before you today, I have no regrets about the journey I took to get to where I am.

My time at Poly has taught me so much about my interests and who I am…

My time at Poly has taught me so much about my interests and who I am, and I feel that it has done the same for so many of my fellow grads. When I see some of you crushing it out on the field, I am inspired by your tenacity and work ethic and your ability to manage your passions with your fierce academics. When I’m on stage, I know I’m acting alongside people who I’ll watch on Broadway someday. In my classrooms, I see future philosophers and scholars and successful business owners and entrepreneurs. Poly has bred in us a drive to go after what we want and given us the resourceful attitude to make that happen; let us carry that with us as we move forward on our diverging journeys, as we find new friends and new interests and new lives in the years to come. I hope that we can look back at these past four years, even in the unexpected circumstances that clouded these last two years, and remember all the good, all the fulfilling moments, and all the amazing people that we have met along the way.

I want to end with a few thank yous to the people who have meant the most to me. First, to my mom and dad: I love you. Thank you so much for deciding to embrace the immigrant life for your daughters; I really appreciate it. You have given us everything and more; you worked so hard to send us here, and I am so proud to be your daughter and I hope I’m making you proud, too. To my sister, thanks for going into medicine and becoming a fancy doctor so that I don’t have to. I am so lucky to be your sister and you’re pretty cool now even if you weren’t in high school. I love you. To my dean, Ms. Gardiner, you are my biggest mentor and I have no idea how I would have survived high school without you. Thank you for all the pep talks and the unscheduled therapy sessions in your office. To all of my incredible teachers, I am so grateful to have learned from each and every one of you. Thank you for all of your support and love and understanding through my internet glitches; I am so lucky to have been your student. I’m also thinking of the teachers who have left Poly but who have had undeniable impacts on me. Thank you to each and every member of the administration and all of the incredible faculty and staff. To all the parents and families here today, thank you for being the Class of 2021’s biggest supporters. Each and every one of us is so grateful for you.

And to the Class of 2021, and to some of my closest friends, thank you for being the people I grew up with for seven years. Through everything, all the good and all the bad, we have made it to where we are today, magically fulfilling all of our graduation requirements. I wish you all the best. Congratulations everyone!