Good morning everyone and thank you for being here!
I have spent a lot of time this weekend watching my classmates interact, completely amazed at the people they have become in the four years I have known them. Relevance is such a buzzword in today's society; everyone from New Yorker critics to the middle schoolers I have had the pleasure of knowing is yearning for some way to quantify an individual's relevance. Relevance, at least in my experience, means being, in some aspect or another, worthwhile; it means having importance, knowledge. It means that people believe you have something to say. It seems that high school, those precious four years of angst, is, in essence, the quest for relevance. People always stress the fact that adolescence is the time for discovery and exploration, but they leave out the next part of the sentence. High school is the time to discover specifically what it is that makes each of us relevant, what class, what sport, what experience makes us someone worth listening to.
I remember freshman year being struck with the realization of how little I mattered. I spoke with some close friends about the terrifying thought that we might never become anything greater than the scrawny fourteen year olds who shuffled into chapel. The seniors seemed so put together, so interesting, so sure of themselves, but most importantly, they seemed as if they mattered to the school, to each other, to themselves. I heard them talking about the majors they were considering for college and thinking about how it would be impossible for me to prioritize my interests. We envied their sense of purpose, their acceptance of where they fit in in the world, and we felt overwhelmingly irrelevant. Freshman year we weren't even sure why we mattered to ourselves, much less to the world around us.
But over the next four years, we did exactly what everyone told us we would do. We explored. We discovered. We failed miserably and checked another thing off of the list of things we would never be good at. We excelled at things we had never thought about before. We found love for the outdoors, we found ways to communicate effectively, becoming wordsmiths in our own rights, we found people who inspired us. We've grown up. We began as over exuberant children, with nicknames like Blue Jay and Marg Barge, children who rushed through the halls turning each other's backpacks inside out, meowing at each other across the classrooms, writing awkward love letters to someone we had only spoken to once, staging fake revolutions against our beloved history teachers. I don't know when we started changing into who we are today; maybe it was that very first day of freshman year, but somewhere along the way we became determined to become something special. Once we got over the initial instinct to move as a pack, we began to dip our toes into different areas of interest.
Some of us found our passion immediately and have worked all four years to become so incredibly good at it that no one can deny our relevance in that subject. Think of the hundreds of pictures our budding photographers had to take to finally find the right angle for the photographs we saw in the gallery yesterday. Think of the thousands of pins our wrestlers had to suffer through before learning how to counter. I have loved watching my classmates foster their talents, I have admired them for knowing what it is they wanted to do and for continuing to find ways to challenge themselves within their chosen disciplines. But for others of us the path to relevance took a few more turns. We have had students attempt countless different sports before realizing that their passion for literature or mathematics was the way for them to feel fulfilled. We have had classmates who experimented with hobbies like learning the banjo, binding books, writing poetry for other people to read. Perhaps the most difficult part of all of this has been realizing that though it is possible to love more than one thing, it is okay to choose one to focus on primarily.
Now we are seniors; I stand before you and can say with confidence that each of us has found some way to be relevant. We may be a small class but the diversity of interests and excellence within our group is incredible. Part of me thinks that we could run a small country with only the class of 2016 in charge. I have loved watching my class discover what it is that makes them tick, what it is that they can talk about and hardly be able to stop. Whether it is herb growing, babysitting, creating pandemonium at basketball games, horseback riding, cracking jokes laced with wit, golf, French class or even simply the art of conversation, each one of us has something that makes us matter and that is a beautiful thing. We don't share the same interests for the most part; I will never be able to scale boulders with Tom, or cook up a storm with Ronnie, or dribble down the court with Kurt. I will never be able to see the world through the lens like Isabel, or pin someone on the mat like Abby, or bake a loaf of bread like Margaret. But that's a good thing. We have found ways to earn respect and praise in our own disciplines and I have enjoyed realizing the support that all of us are ready to offer one another in the pursuit of our goals.
Now we are about to go off to be freshman again, alone in new cities or even new countries. We are going to places filled with people who love the same things we do and while that is exhilarating it is also terrifying. How will we find ways to distinguish ourselves among the thousands of students at our new schools? Will we have to find even more specific ways of identifying ourselves? Something we can cling to during those late nights when we are sure that we made the wrong choice of school is the image of who we were four years ago and relish how far we came. I was wearing pig tails every day to school for a few months when I was fourteen and now I'm off to Vermont. We spent 1,460 days here as high schoolers and we have changed so so much. We have another 1,460 days ahead of us to change even more, to mold ourselves into who we want to be, to find ways to be both happy and relevant.
To the people gathered here today, friends, family and faculty, we want to say thank you for believing in us when we didn't even know how to believe in ourselves. Thank you for giving us the opportunities to find the things that make us excited. Thank you for your constant reminders that it is okay to not be good at everything we tried to do. Your influence on us has been critical to our development and to our well-earned relevance.
To the class of 2016, I urge each of you to remember these past four years not only as precious time on the mountain but also as potentially the first time you discovered your own importance. This place holds the memories of who we used to be and of who we thought we would become. And lastly, I want all of you to remember that wherever you go, whatever you decide to do or become, to this place, to these people, you will always be relevant here.
Valedictorian Sophie Swallow will spend five months in Guatemala and Peru doing internships in social work before enrolling in Middlebury College in February 2017.