Joseph Dana Allen Award Winner Emily Weinstein ’20 Is 2020 Commencement Speaker

Head of School Audrius Barzdukas P’20 told the audience at Commencement 2020 that at Poly, our featured speakers are our students.  He introduced Emily Weinstein ’20, recipient of the Joseph Dana Allen Award, presented for the highest scholarship, combined with commensurate character.

“This year’s award winner is a consummate and unfailingly thoughtful student of the liberal arts,” Barzdukas said. “She has fully immersed herself in our academic program over the past four years, excelling in both the STEM fields and the humanities. One of her teachers wrote, ‘She is one of those students who pushes you as a teacher to constantly learn and grow and bring your best into the classroom each meeting. Her work consistently demonstrates a beautiful combination of her amazing creativity and her proficient programming ability, with every application telling a story from its documentation through its execution.’ In what free time she created for herself, she was the managing editor of The Polygon, the school’s newspaper, and the Polyglot, our yearbook. She’s a singer, an artist, a writer, and a scientist. Intellectually generous, infinitely curious, and genuinely kind, she derives joy from the process of learning collaboratively with her classmates. Self-reflective and humble, she pursues knowledge for its own sake.”

Commencement Speech by Emily Weinstein ’20

If you had asked me only four months ago what I expected from the remainder of my senior year, I would not in a million years have guessed that I’d be having virtual lessons from my home and be indulging in daily pajama days. I wouldn’t have imagined a world in which, “Sorry, my Wi-Fi is acting up” was a valid excuse to miss class, but I must admit, classes got 100 percent better once there was a chance for a guest appearance from someone’s pet.

I’m sure we do not need another speech on our current situation, so I promise not to linger, but I do want to take this opportunity to thank some members of our senior class for their hard work in these stressful times.

We had hoped for so much—commitment day, Prom, an in-person graduation, and many of the senior traditions that we’ve waited for for so long. And thanks to the members of our community, we were somewhat able to remedy our losses. Molly O’Connor took charge and allowed us to still celebrate the hard work and achievements of our peers virtually on Instagram. Olivia Hurley began the new tradition of Friday-night Netflix Parties. Austin Somers works tirelessly to keep us all entertained, be it at virtual Coffeehouse or in this graduation ceremony. Shoutout to the Polyglot staff who worked overtime to get us our books, to the Polygon editors who continue to publish stories, to the Poly Math team which still competes in online competitions, and to everyone who has not given up in the face of hardship. In a time that is so directionless, your efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Now, we are here today to celebrate the success of the 2020 graduating class and all those who have gotten us here. I am honored to be speaking before you. I have spent the last four years working tirelessly to serve the Poly community in every way I could. Though, I must admit when I first got here, I had no idea what I was doing nor what I wanted to accomplish.

In ninth grade, I was lucky enough to have Ms. Whalen as my English teacher. It happened to be Ms. Whalen’s first year at Poly as well, and the very first assignment she gave us was to write her a letter so that she could get to know us better. I told her of my love of math, Harry Potter, and warned her that I was uncomfortable in these new situations, so not to expect much from me. She wrote back, “It’s good to know I have a fellow newcomer in the group. I’m glad to have you in my class.

It was a simple response, but I cannot tell you how much those words comforted me at a time that I was so unsure. This sentiment set the basis for my Poly education, and I would come to discover that the passion and genuine care Ms. Whalen had for her students was a shared trait amongst all of my teachers.

I remember early on Dr. DiCarlo encouraged me to participate in Math League contests, Ms. Hutchcraft prompted me to submit my writing to outside competitions, and Dr. Reid was always around to support me when I thought the yearbook had finally broken me down. Throughout my time at Poly, countless individuals have had an impact on my education and on my life. I’ve spent so many hours in the English Department trying to finalize my essays and in the Math Department the day before the quiz with Ms. Licata struggling through problems.

Although this support kept me motivated and saved my grade on occasion, I unfortunately cannot credit it with pointing out a direction in life. One of the benefits, or perhaps detriments, of being a teenager is not knowing exactly where you will be in 10 years’ time.

Even the most meticulous student, like one of my oldest friends Michelle Kwan—with her horse-ranch-inspired retirement plan—looks into the immediate future and is met with a hazy image of life past graduation. I am no different. That’s one of the reasons I came to Poly—to figure out what I wanted to pursue. But with so many people guiding me in so many directions, I couldn’t narrow it down. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining, I’m just confused.

Poly opened my eyes to everything I could possibly study and hope for from my education.

Poly opened my eyes to everything I could possibly study and hope for from my education. Perhaps the aspect of the Poly curriculum I am most thankful for, though, is the technology requirement. In sophomore year, I enrolled in Ms. Belford’s Introduction to Computers class. I had spent my middle school years studying computer science, learning a myriad of programming languages, Photoshop programs, and graphic design skills that led me to resent a computer screen. I remember sitting there, bored, as we talked of binary and booleans. When we were assigned our first project, though, it was as if a switch in my mind flipped.

It was simple: recreate Flappy Bird on Scratch. Nothing about the program itself stood out, but when I got to work, my love for programming got the better of me. That night, I rushed through my other work, impatient to complete my simulation of the round yellow bird flying across my screen. I struggled to find a rhythm because after all, I had sworn off learning technology for two years, but I believe the break was a necessary part of bringing me back to my passions.

The challenge is what finally drew me back in. I emailed Mr. Polizano soon after and begged to be let into the computer science track. In his lapse in judgment, he let me in, and he has had to deal with me ever since. Learning computer science at Poly was different from my previous experiences. I still had the support of my teachers, spending every day before the deadline in Mr. Farrar’s office fixing my unsavable code.

After our Game Design class with Mr. Rosenberg, Seamus McNulty and I started the Programming Club, which became a place for the school’s programmers to work on our assignments, plan new projects, and hang out with like-minded people. In turn, the MakerSpace became the place for the computer science students to spend all of our free time, and I’m sure the faculty truly appreciated that.

I found my people, and I found my passion in computer science.

I found my people, and I found my passion in computer science. The requirement Poly put in place that I originally dreaded was a blessing in disguise. Plus, I never would have learned how to make a robot out of Play-Doh containers, and we never would have gotten the army of neon green chairs in the MakerSpace. That’s right, you have me to thank for those.

So, what is it exactly that I am trying to get at here? Is it that everyone should stop what they’re doing to make an army of Play-Doh robots or maybe plan your retirement at age seventeen? Well, if that’s what you want to do, it worked out for me, so I’m not going to stop you, but I was aiming for something else.

My experience at Poly highlighted the successes of the liberal arts education. I came here blind, unsure of anything. Like many of my peers, I am stumbling through my life, going day by day, trying to figure it all out. Poly opened my eyes to one thing I am passionate about, but that doesn’t account for my newfound love of statistics or that urge to pursue creative writing scratching at the back of my head.

The world needs more of our innovative minds, and there’s no better time to start.

I’ve changed my mind countless times about what I want to do, and that’s okay. If there’s one thing Poly taught me, it’s that I have the choice to be unsure, to try different things. No one expects us to have it all figured out. Some things will stick, others won’t. Especially now, we have the time to pursue our interests and chase those crazy ideas we’ve been itching to make real. And you know what? The world needs more of our innovative minds, and there’s no better time to start.

In your endeavors, you will stumble and fall, but know that you have someone to catch you. Make sure to thank them along the way.

Thank you to my dean, Ms. Nestor, and to my dedicated teachers here at Poly, without you I don’t know where I would be.

Thank you to my parents and my family for supporting me and putting up with me for eighteen years, and to my friends who dealt with an onslaught of messages, asking what I should even speak about.

Thank you to everyone who had a hand in the Class of 2020’s success.

To everyone listening, thank you for giving me the chance to speak my mind. I am so proud of us, my fellow graduates, and no matter what, we will be all right. Congratulations.