Max Starr - Valedictorian

Dexter asked me a few weeks ago if I was ever NOT telling somebody a story. I replied. “No Dex, I am, in fact, always telling a story.”

I’m sure many of you can attest to my willingness to launch into a sentimental ramble about nearly anything under the sun. But while you might laugh this off, I would ask you to hear me out now because storytelling has, in fact, been a huge part of my final year here. I believe that stories have a power; a power to help keep alive moments that might otherwise be forgotten and that deserve to be remembered. Telling a story can help us to better understand that experience ourselves. So in order to speak for my class today I would first like to tell a story of my own.

I was on vacation in upstate New York, staying at my family’s summer cabin. I was nine at the time and had grown altogether very bored with my visit so I decided to go exploring through the drawers of an old writing desk. After rummaging around for a minute, I came across an old, slightly rusted skeleton key engraved with the number nine. Now, being the very imaginative child that I was, in the space of about three minutes, I had thoroughly convinced myself that this key opened some form of hidden treasure. I spent the rest of the day running around, digging holes every few feet, and interrogating the adults on our trip as to the whereabouts of the hidden treasure which, again, I was thoroughly convinced existed.

It goes without saying that I did not find what the key went to, either in the ground or anywhere around camp but nevertheless I left for home optimistic, with a plan to ask my grandmother if she knew what they key went to. It turns out she did. When I showed her the key, she pulled out out a box of assorted junk and handed me eight other keys identical to mine, stamped with the numbers one through eight. She explained that the keys had gone to an old tool shed behind our cabins which had long since been torn down. In that moment, the mysterious, wonderful allure that had enraptured me broke and I saw this object in my hand for exactly what it was: ordinary. Ordinary and frankly useless. It wasn’t until years later, when I was cleaning out my bedroom, that I found the key again. I sat on my bedroom floor and found myself reminiscing fondly about that day, many years ago, when I turned our yard into Swiss cheese. I found that I no longer cared what the key unlocked because I could see that the value of the key wasn’t in its rarity but in the experience it had given me. That day in my room, I learned a valuable lesson: even the simplest thing can be extraordinary if you let it. Each of us has the power to find magic again in places where disillusionment had reigned.

As our class prepares to leave Westtown today, it feels easy to oversimplify our time here. There is so much that has happened that it may feel impossible to try and process it all at the same time. So don’t. Remember instead those individual moments that have made up your time here: the quiet serenity of the swimming hole, the chaos of our more “energetic” collections, late nights spent awake on dorm, and midnight plunges in the lake. It is all these quirks that have made our time as Westtown so meaningful. I mean, who could forget when Eric Kang hurled himself out of his bunk bed to get out of lacrosse practice or when B2 [boys’ second floor dorm] turned our common room into the affectionately dubbed “meme cave.” These moments are where we can find the original magic of our time here.

This is not to say that our years here have been easy and always fun. Collectively we have faced hardships, and no, Mo and Anthony fighting over that quesadilla does not count! Individually, we have been challenged in our identities and faced struggles that went unseen. We have had friends come and go, family members pass, and even lost Westtown itself, replacing the dream of this sheltered community of ideals with an occasionally harsh reality. When hypocrisy and injustice rear their ugly heads, disillusionment is inevitable, even as we seek to appreciate and understand the challenges which always plague institutions. For some of us here, the magic of Westtown has been lost because of these realities.

No matter how you feel as you sit here, the fact remains that your feelings towards Westtown may have changed over the past few years and likely will continue to do so. It is up to you to decide how you will tell your Westtown story. Because you could remember Cape Henlopen as that time the entire senior class almost got kicked out for shiking [Westtown term for secret hiking], OR you could retell it as the best real-life ghost story ever. So as we go forth today, I encourage each one of you to look for the magic. Do not try and deny your struggles or grievances but accept them as part of your Westtown experience as it really happened. For when I chose to tell my Westtown story, I will tell of the late night crammers, the Sack Club videos, the Meeting for Worship jump into the lake, of John Baird hitting the dancefloor to Kendrick at Dinner Dance, and the tranquil beauty of the campus at dusk, when observed with good company. And you sure better believe that I will tell about my best friend, Hamilton Tree, and the time he tried to take that dog.

It’s been a hell of a ride. Thank you.

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