- This is Poly
To the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance,” faculty in academic regalia, Head of School Audrius Barzdukas P’20, trustees, administrators, and then the Class of 2022 processed onto Poly’s football field, a fog-draped Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in the distance behind the stage.
Clad in a white suit and standing solo with an electric guitar, Soph Cimmino ’22 performed a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful” to open the event.
Head of School Barzdukas welcomed the families, friends, and students. After a moment of silence in honor of the students at Robb Elementary in Texas, he opened his remarks by describing the unique journey of the Class of 2022: the challenges they met head on during the pandemic and their unwavering sense of resilience and hope to bring them to this day. The theme of journey continued throughout his speech, describing how the act of moving forward is “about seeking your next edge.”
Poly’s Senior Speaker is chosen by classmates. This year’s Senior Speaker was Ryantony Exuma ’22, who was also Student Government president. In his remarks, he expressed his wish that his fellow graduates, “…continually push yourselves to embrace new perspectives as your journey in learning continues to unfold” and offered three lessons he has taken away from his time at Poly and some advice to guide their way:
Members of the Advanced Concert Choir and other senior singers performed “In My Life,” by the Beatles, which was chosen as the class song.
The Joseph Dana Allen Award recipient, Jake Zrihen ’22 presented the second student speech of the Commencement ceremony. The award, in honor of Dr. Joseph Dana Allen, Poly’s headmaster from 1917-1949, is given for the highest scholarship combined with commensurate character. Zrihen spoke of how America is founded on dissent, that unity can bring change, and reminded his classmates that they are upstanders, not bystanders. He urged that no matter where life takes them, that his classmates should engage in discourse and never settle when things “aren’t right.”
Andrew Foote P’27, ’29, Chair of the Board of Trustees, then authorized the conferring of diplomas to the Class of 2022.
As each student walked across the stage, Barzdukas presented their diploma and shook their hand, pausing for a photo. Several faculty and staff members, who are parents of members of the Class of 2022, were on hand to help present the diplomas to their children.
Senior singers led the assembly in singing the Poly Song before Barzdukas concluded the ceremony with some words to carry with them. He asked graduates to “reflect on what you’ve heard today and commit to making good use of your education, to put it in the service of truth and justice. Today, you join a long line of distinguished alumni who have taken that responsibility seriously and worked to make the world a better place.”
A virtual flock of mortarboard hats soared high in the air. Poly’s jubilant Class of 2022 celebrated together as Handel’s “The Hornpipe” played in the background.
Good morning, everyone. Before we begin, I’d like us to pause for a moment. Please join me in a moment of silence for the students at Robb Elementary, for whom school should have been a safe place.
Welcome parents, grandparents, friends, and guests to Poly Prep Country Day School’s 165th Commencement ceremony. Welcome, especially, to the Class of 2022. You are special, Class of 2022. You are special because your story is unique in the history of our school. When you began your Upper School career, there was no COVID. No masks, no testing, no contact tracing. You were ninth graders trying to figure out what ninth graders for generations had been trying to figure out about life, learning, relationships, your own selves. Then, BOOM, the universe foisted a pandemic upon us all. Routine matters and events–the everyday stuff, get up, get dressed, go to school–moved from certainty to utter uncertainty. None of us really knew HOW things were going to turn out. But we did know, Class of 2022, that every day you came to Poly with unfailing optimism, resilience, hope, and spirit. That was true leadership and it made all the difference in the world. You are here, Class of 2022. So from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of everyone–Welcome to your Commencement.
Class of 2022, there is a group of people who traveled with you, supported you, and helped make possible your journey to this special day: your teachers, your coaches, your mentors, your deans, and most especially your parents and family. They all deserve your thanks because none of you did this by yourselves. And I would like to ask you to, right now, please stand, turn to them and give them a round of applause to say, “Thank you.” Please stay standing because there’s one more group that deserves our thanks: our amazing staff who keep us safe, feed us, organize our lives, clean and maintain our beautiful campus, and make this Commencement happen–staff, we all owe you a gigantic “thank you.”
Today, Class of 2022, you continue your journey as a graduate of Poly. That metaphor of a journey is poignant because it represents action, taking steps, moving forward.
Life, indeed, is a journey because becoming yourself means taking risks, making decisions, acting on your values, making mistakes of commission rather than omission. Moving forward is about seeking your next edge. Buddhist monk Pema Chodron says, “Life is a journey of meeting your edge again and again. That’s where you’re challenged; that’s where, if you are a person who wants to live, you start to ask yourself questions like, ‘Now why am I so scared? What is it that I don’t want to see? Why can’t I go further than this?’… Sooner or later everybody meets their edge…If our edge is like a huge stone wall with a door in it, how do we learn to open that door and step through it again and again, so that life becomes a process of growing up, becoming more and more fearless and flexible, more and more able to play like a raven in the wind.”
The way we become more fearless and flexible is to keep seeking and then opening those doors. To keep searching for our edge. That’s how you traveled through the pandemic, Class of 2022. You kept showing up, you kept opening doors, you kept bringing yourself to your life.
The best lives are like that; the best lives are lived as a way of being. We hear the cry of “do something” about gun violence across our nation right now. But, before you do something, you must be something. Fulfillment and growth happen when who you are matches up with what you do. When it’s like that, your identity is aligned with your life. You are being you. In the best lives, doing something begins with being something.
Being yourself frees you from the burden of having to find motivation. Two thirds of Americans report every year that they don’t like their jobs. The average American spends some two and a half hours a day on social media. Those are signs of a mismatch between who you are and what you’re doing. That mismatch is about being bored and unmotivated. Elie Wiesel said: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
Beware indifference, Class of 2022. It can sneak up on you. Indifference and its cousin, “boredom,” operate passively, yet powerfully. Seriously, beware. Don’t let those two sneak up on you. Boredom and indifference sneak up on us when we back away from our edge and forget what really matters: that identity matters, that values matter, that being part of something bigger than ourselves matters. Indifference and boredom lead to an unhealthy attachment to outcomes: I need to get into a certain college; I need a certain job; I need to make this much money. Then, you think, I’ll be happy. We want to believe that there is a point when we will have arrived.
So you scramble and sweat toward what you think is the goal. But so many people, when they achieve those goals, feel a little empty. Maybe more than a little empty. That’s because outcome orientations get in the way of discovering who you are and finding what it is that you want to do. Writer Edward Abbey famously observed, “Money can buy everything except health, wit, intelligence, love, virtue, pride, friendship, grace, and, if you need it, happiness.”
Money and stuff and hours on social media are not the journey. The journey is the edge. And it is easy to know when you are on the journey because the journey is how you feel.
How you feel matters; it matters more than money, fame, achievement, or any of the other usual suspects people chase with their time and energy. Your education has empowered you to realize that you control how you feel unless you give that control away to someone or some circumstance or some chase for something ephemeral and fleeting. If you only take one lesson from your education, this is it: if you don’t like how you feel, do something to change it, to take control of your life.
Because we need you, Class of 2022, to help us all take control of how WE feel. Something’s not right with how humanity feels: inequality is widening, the environment is being destroyed, mass extinction, the climate crisis is getting worse, deindustrialization is wrecking communities, the pandemic has proven our fragility, authoritarians threaten peace and stability–-war, targeted hatred, and mass violence reveal that there is something deeply wrong with how we feel about life and the future.
That’s quite a list. Class of 2022, and we need you to help us ALL take control of how we feel. The world needs your intellect, your optimism, your energy, your good character, your commitment to seeking truth. We need your leadership. We need you to lead by example by taking control of your life and BEING something. Class of 2022, we need you to see the world as it is, imagine how it could be better, and inspire us to make it happen. Being something, Class of 2022, means being who you are and feeling the right way.
Start now, Class of 2022. We need you to start today. Now. The world needs you. Now. We need you to lead and inspire us all. Now. You will make a living by what you get, Class of 2022, but you will make a life by what you give. So start now. Be something. Be who you are. Lead us. Indeed, the very future of our world depends on you doing so.
You give me hope for our future, Class of 2022, because your resilience and spirit in managing the pandemic have been inspiring. Indeed, I am inspired every time I hear your voices. Among the things I have come to depend on at Poly is the eloquence, insight, inspiration and candor that are delivered whenever our students speak publicly. Our students speak so well, so often better than any adults, that among our traditions at Poly is that we don’t bring in Commencement speakers. Poly students speak at Poly’s Commencement.
Our first speaker is a natural leader—he has served on student government throughout his time at Upper School, including as President in this year. He also earned the senior French award and Poly Cup. Representing the best of Poly both in the classroom and in our student organizations, he used his impactful voice to help guide Umoja, our black-identifying student affinity group, and has brought much needed perspective, action, and insight to our community. His thoughtful and trenchant comments about a range of issues across all academic disciplines have enriched academic and student life, and his role on our football team also contributed to his full embodiment of mind, body, and spirit. He will attend Dartmouth College next fall. Please join me in welcoming Ryantony Exuma.
The Joseph Dana Allen award is presented for highest scholarship with character commensurate therewith. This year’s recipient began Poly in 6th grade and has made a mark in our classrooms ever since. Both the senior Latin award winner and recipient of the Dartmouth Book Prize in 11th grade, he excelled in our humanities courses as a double language student and in our math curriculum, the latter in which he took a leadership role extra curricularly on our math team. His accolades transcend the classroom, however, as he also has been a four year member of our tennis and hockey teams. This year’s Joseph Dana Allen award recipient will join Ryantony in attending Dartmouth College in the fall. Please welcome Jake Zrihen.