About a week ago, I met with Mr. Hillard to talk about some of my beginning-of-year duties as student body president. It was in that meeting that I was informed I would be speaking here today in front of every employee of this school. I was told to “take it in any direction” and to “make it my own,” which is to say: I was given zero instructions and zero parameters. Sensing the disorganization and confusion of my thoughts, Hillard offered me a single piece of advice. I had gathered that by and large this meeting is, if you’ll allow me to dramatize a little bit, dreadful. It’s a reminder that the blissful vacation you have been enjoying since May is all but over, and today you will learn all there is to know about the current state of this well-oiled machine that the students so endearingly call “Hammond Fun School”. So Hillard’s advice to me was to use this speech and my voice as a student as a reminder of why you all are here. Basically, talk about the “Hammond experience” that we hear so much about and how each of you help to define it. Originally, this task scared me. That’s because you can’t really sum up the Hammond experience in a slogan, in an analytical essay, or in a data report. Why? Because the Hammond experience isn’t a list of course offerings, travel experiences, sports championships, plays, productions, concerts, or college admissions data. You’d be correct to acknowledge that, with regards to this type of information, Hammond is quite impressive, but at its core the Hammond experience is, like I believe most things can boil down to, an anthology of stories. So I figured if I was going to attempt to explain why it is you got up early this morning to be here and why you will continue to do so for the next 10 months, I ought to start with some stories.
Now… I have plenty of stories to go around. When I stepped on campus for the first time in pre-k, Obama had just taken office for the first time, Michael Jackson had just died, Apple had just unveiled the iPhone 3… and here’s a fun one: my 8th grade science teacher (shoutout Ms. Moore) was herself in 8th grade here at Hammond. The point is I have been here for quite some time—in fact I probably hold this “Hammond Seniority” over a lot of you in here, and because of this I have a zoomed-out perspective of Hammond experiences at all stages. I’ll start in the lower school. In 1st grade, I was crushing math. I was always shooting to finish first in the class on our addition and subtraction speed tests. This stuff was basic and intuitive to me. No problems. Flash forward to 2nd grade. Mrs. Anderson introduces multiplication… woah. She wrote two numbers on the board and then what they multiplied together to form. Instant meltdown. I absolutely could not fathom how you could combine 3 and 5 in any fashion to get 15, and I understood even less why you would ever need that. So I did the only reasonable thing I could think of: I sprinted behind the cubbies and cried. Mrs. Anderson paused the lesson to meet me back there. She talked over my sniffles and told me to give it a chance before I got discouraged and she ensured me that with a little bit of time, it would make sense. Her tone was so comforting that I took a chance on believing her, and wouldn’t you know it... she was right. After a few days and a couple of flashcards, I understood multiplication. But there was a greater lesson to be learned here. That compassion that I was shown that day and throughout the rest of my lower school years instilled in me the confidence in myself that I needed to approach learning. I carry this lesson with me still today, and I consider it the first fundamental pillar of learning.
Moving on to middle school. This is the time in a student’s academic career where the workload and difficulty of material begins to ramp up ever so slightly. It’s manageable, but if you don’t put any work into it, you will sink. Hammond middle school teachers made this adjustment seamless and offered a great support and advice system. But the one piece of advice that I remember most and carry with me to this day comes from the 5th grade. In my English teacher, Mrs. Fiedler’s room, she had taped giant letters that went wall-to-wall that spelled out the phrase “First You Make Your Habits. Then Your Habits Make You.” The spirit of this message is what I found throughout all four years of middle school; that is, the patience of middle school faculty with kids adjusting to a new style of schooling, and their wisdom to encourage them toward good habits. I’m thankful that my middle school experience taught me to hold myself accountable and to create good study habits that I would carry with me for the rest of my academic career. I consider this the second pillar of learning.
My third pillar of learning is passion, and that’s the name of the game here in the upper school. The raw joy that all of the upper school teachers are brought by the study of their respective fields is truly inspiring, and, after lower and middle school taught me how to learn, it was that passion in the upper school that really made me to want to learn. I know the stupid high school kid has probably already kept you for way longer than you were hoping, so while I could go down a list of every teacher I’ve ever had and how they exhibited passion, I’ll keep it to a single example. Late last school year, I decided that the scientific study and analysis of language was something that captivated me. So, knowing that Señor Beaver was Hammond’s expert on the subject, I caught up to him as he and Dr. Beaver were leaving the library one day and I said to him: “Hey I’ve been doing a little research lately and think I might be interested in learning some Linguistics. What can you tell me about it?” Dr. Beaver, standing next to us and hearing my question, said out loud, “oh boy,” because she knew I had accidentally opened a can of worms that would delay their departure from campus for another 30 minutes. Señor Beaver probed my interests, gave me a brief rundown of several subfields of linguistics, and the next day, I left campus with 3 of his finest textbooks from his personal collection. The idea that someone could be this excited about a subject really piqued my interest, and so, for the last 3 months, I have been inspired to explore Linguistics, and I’m now considering pursuing study of this subject in some capacity in college. If you take something from this story let it be this: your passion is infectious, probably moreso than you realize, and if you ever feel like you’re having a hard time reaching students, take a moment to remember what it was that made you so excited about this subject, and let that passion shine through. Us kids are by nature curious creatures; where interest goes, we will usually follow.
So, as I said. The world is about stories. But unfortunately, after 14 unforgettable years, my Hammond story is entering its final chapter. Here’s the thing about stories, though: they’re deeply individual. Today I shared with you a window into mine, but this year we will also send off seventy-four other seniors, each with their own stories and passions kindled by Hammond’s flame. After my class, 220 more students, representing the other 3 grades of the upper school, will make this same journey in short time. And, inevitably, all 997 of the students who call this place home, whether in a few short months like the seniors, or in the case of our new Pre-K’ers, the year 2036, will leave this place with the lessons they learned here. So, congratulations for, in spite of how massively irritating we all are, sticking with this career trajectory for another year. But most of all, on behalf of all of us who will soon finish our Hammond journey, all of those who currently are in the thick of it, and preemptively, on behalf of those who will one day share this experience: thank you.
Thank you for inspiring us. Thank you for showing us kindness and compassion. Thank you for being our mentors, and occasionally our therapists. Thank you all for being part of our experience, and we, the students at every level, are all eager to see what you have in store for us this year. That is, after all, why you are here. Thank you.