By Dr. John Stegeman, Head of Upper School
Eastside Preparatory School’s Graduation Events for the Class of 2022 were a return to our in-person celebrations. The graduation event took place on June 10 at Town Hall Seattle, with seniors, families, faculty, and staff in attendance. What follows are excerpts from speeches given during the ceremony.
DR. MACK HINSON, PRESIDENT, BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Increasingly you will realize that most of your education occurs outside of classrooms and will be mostly directed by you. I would like to recommend to you what I think of as intellectual foraging. Read—I know, I can just hear my kids saying how archaic, so, okay—listen, watch, and maybe read about a wide variety of topics from a wide variety of sources. Learn a little bit about a whole lot of things. You never know what tidbit of information is the first step on the road to something fascinating. Curiosity keeps you interested and it makes you an interesting person.
What you are receiving today is a diploma, but what you have received over the past four years is an education. Hunter Rawlings, a past president of Cornell University, once said that genuine education is “not a commodity, but the awakening” of a human being. In your awakening, apply the skills you have learned here at EPS to the world around you. See the present clearly, informed by the past, but not beholden to it. Make the world a better place or at least the bit of it around you better. Find friends with whom to share the journey. And laugh, a lot.
So, my heartiest congratulations to you again as you go forward.
DR. JOHN STEGEMAN, HEAD OF UPPER SCHOOL
I bet I’ve seen a thousand bumper stickers in my life. I heard another one recently that got me thinking about the last several years of school: “You can’t go to school and not learn. You may not be learning what you’re supposed to, but you’re gonna learn something.” There’s a lot to unpack there. Let’s start with our mission points. Spoiler alert—EPS can’t directly teach you to think critically. Critical thinking is about applying your own mental energy to a situation that is new to you, evaluating it based on your previous experience and prior knowledge, making up your own mind through the lens of equity, justice, accuracy, or truth. That’s not us, it’s you. How about responsible action? Real responsible action is about doing the right thing when nobody is looking. How does one measure the empathy that’s required to lead with compassion? That’s mostly unmeasurable. Innovating wisely might be the hardest of all, for a wise innovation accounts for the way a thing could be used in the future, hypothetically. For each of these values and aspirations, it is you who do, or don’t do, the work. We as educators merely create an environment that inspires, encourages, rewards, and recognizes these things. And yet the evidence is all around that you’ve gotten it.
So who decides what you’re “supposed to” learn anyway? Well, your parents have some say. They have brought you through the earliest lessons in life. As educators who have spent years studying artificial intelligence, organic chemistry, and creative nonfiction, we have some say through the curriculum we build. But ultimately you have the most say, because you get to decide what it means. Please realize that your education was a partnership between your parents, your teachers, and you. But you are the lead partner. You have learned to make up your own mind.
So…Class of 2022…what have you learned? What are you going to do with it? We can’t wait to see.
AJ HELD, STUDENT SPEAKER
Congratulations, everyone! We’re doing it! We’re graduating! I’m so grateful to each and every one of you for these four years. To my family, for always supporting me, and putting up with me. To my classmates, for all the memories, and for making this community what it is. To the administrators and staff, for keeping everything running. And especially to the teachers. Y’all are the best.
I remember the ninth-grade Fall Overnight. We awkwardly stood around in a huge circle. We dragged our feet doing team-building exercises. But I also got a glimpse into the wonderful, welcoming Class of 2022. Skip a few years and there was this year’s Fall Orientation on the Skagit River. It was even fun riding the bus back to EPS, catching up and chatting. I think it’s a testament to the community we’ve built, despite a pandemic looming over more than half of high school.
One word to describe this class is “resilient.” It may be overused, but it’s true. We’ve done our fair share of whining, but we’ve made it through a lot and taken challenges in stride. I am confident that this group of humans can make it through anything life throws at us. We can’t just thank ourselves for that, though—throughout everything, we have been supported by so many amazing people. Words cannot describe how much the EPS teachers have done for us. You have guided and supported and mentored us through these crazy years. You have inspired us all. You have given us the tools to change the world for better. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Class of 2022, it’s been one hell of a ride. Don’t forget to have fun while you’re changing the world.
DERIN HELBLING, STUDENT SPEAKER
It is an honor to stand here before you on this most momentous occasion. While I am sure that the feelings of leaving this school for the great beyond resonate differently for each and every one of us from sadness to joy and everything in between, I think we can all agree that it has in fact felt like a very long journey.
I look out upon this crowd of honored peers and feel pride. I am proud of the way each and every one of us, who through this difficult time, was able to log onto the thrice-damned Microsoft Teams and get work done. Even just that would be worthy of commendation, but wait, because our grade didn’t just do the bare minimum either. We had students busting their butts off on incredibly detailed and specific independent studies. We had seniors engage in all manner of extracurricular activities. Theatre, music, sports, trying to build a fusion reactor in our basement, everywhere you looked our class was represented in force.
This feat that every single one of us has achieved is worth celebration. I am so proud to stand amongst you all, for, whether we like it or not, the future rests upon our generation’s shoulders. I am honored to have had these past four years with you all at Eastside Preparatory School, I could not ask for better classmates.
So here we are. If all the world truly is a stage, and all of us are in truth merely players, then I think it is safe to say the high school arc of this particular production is well and truly over. Now is the time to take our bows and get ready for the next part of our stories. And as we collectively stand waiting in the wings for the next act of our lives to truly begin, all I ask of you is for you to share in that immense pride for that which we have accomplished.
The Critical Thinking Award is presented to the member of the graduating class whose keen appreciation for ideas and willingness to promote intellectual discussion enlivens our classrooms and hallways on a daily basis. Anika Mehta is a lifelong learner with a powerful intellect. Her teachers describe her as curious, thoughtful, passionate, and engaged. Anika has pursued a quest for justice in her independent study and senior thesis work. She is equally prepared to speak from the research she has conducted or her own values, and her work ethic in class always enlivens conversations. She uses strong analytic skills to try and improve the world, putting extra effort into assignments outside of class time and engaging with others in critical dialogues. Anika is always there for others, ready to step up to whatever task she is given, cultivating good will and conviction while standing up for her beliefs.
The Responsible Action Award is presented to the member of the graduating class who in both quiet, unseen actions and courageous public moments demonstrates a consistent, sincere regard for the community. Owen Gammill consistently holds himself to a high standard and champions fairness and community. It is the easiest thing in the world to sit down for five or ten minutes and find yourself talking about Bob Dylan’s lyricism, the novel that won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction, or how supporting small farms can positively impact every aspect of a community. Owen loves learning, ideas, intellection, and idea-driven conversation. He is genuinely interested in enlarging his own perspective by hearing, and deeply understanding, the views of others. He uses his passion to think critically about politics and economics. But more than knowledge, it is Owen’s steadfast pursuit of ideas with regard for community that merits this award.
The Compassionate Leadership Award is presented to the member of the graduating class whose actions consistently reflect the importance of personal responsibility and compassion for others, setting an example for all to follow. Consistently and throughout her time at EPS, Aybala Turkarslan dedicated herself to making the school a better place for all and widening our concept of what community is. She sets an example for others to follow and models education as fun, stimulating, and worthy of full attention. One teacher notes, “She is one of the kindest students I have had the pleasure of teaching. Aybala is warm and genuine and cares deeply about others.” She is the classmate who makes everyone want to participate. Aybala puts her whole spirit into everything she does and demonstrates that her wholehearted intention is to better the community and create lasting change and tradition at EPS.
The Wise Innovation Award is presented to the member of the graduating class whose creativity, curiosity, and contributions illuminate new possibilities and inspire others to similar exploration. Ella Allgor is smart and accomplished, but her inventive nature really sets her apart. She can create anything from nothing. As a child, Ella crafted furniture out of toilet paper, and this spring she really did design her own prom dress. Last month she installed a sink and all its plumbing, and previously wired the electrical components for a new apartment; there’s really nothing she won’t try— and manage—to figure out. Classmates recognized her creative contributions and her eco-friendly invention patent. When we talk about wise innovation, we envision everything she does. Ella receives this award for inspiring us all with her unflinching optimism and ability to see beyond the present challenge to a brighter future where anything is possible.