Magdalen Jane Lind - valedictorian
Good morning, and thank you all for sharing this day with us. We are grateful to so many of you - families, friends, faculty and staff - who have provided guidance in countless ways on our journey to the Greenwood today. Through this support, we have all found our place somewhere on these 600 acres. For some of us it’s in the art studio, for others the athletic fields, the theater, the farm, or the science labs.
One of my favorite spots on campus may seem unlikely; it is tucked in the back corner of the Learning Resource Center. From the outside, it’s just an office. One door. One window. One desk and swivel chair. Teacher Kim Culcasi's office has a particular aesthetic – twinkly lights, pillows for her visitors’ favorite spot on the floor, and a life-size painted cow descending from the drop ceiling. Though this is all greatly appreciated, it is not the reason I am so captivated by this room. Rather, it is the hundreds of printed quotes that fill every inch of wall space that make it my home. Each day, Kim has chosen and posted a quote in her office, their meanings often dependent upon the events of the day. The eggshell walls are barely visible under the explosion of color and words, and every student, teacher, and staff member who enters absorbs them in their own way. Wisdom from sources as varied as Jane Goodall to Sufi scholars; Native American visionaries to present day poets like Nayyirah Waheed; Margaret Mead to Yoda inspire us to be our best selves, to consider that we live together in community on a planet that needs our attention, and to reach farther than we might otherwise have thought we could.
When staring up at them from my place in the corner, I am reminded of the power of words, how such arbitrary symbols aligned in the correct way can convey love, inspire change, speak truth, and alter perspectives. Words impact each of us differently. They have the ability to send chills down our spines, heat to our cheeks, or pain to our chests. Words have the historical weight of starting wars and making peace. Heartbreak, friendships, political movements, compromises, and acts of love all start with words. Our worldviews are shaped by what we have been told in history textbooks and bedtime stories alike, in gossip sessions, and English classes. Every person we know and everything we know about them is conveyed through their words and subsequent actions.
As someone who deals with anxiety, I feel that some of the words on the wall are specifically for me, whether Kim knows it or not. Georgia O'Keefe, the prolific artist who became known as the mother of American Modernism said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” Often, I have been deterred by what others might think of me, and I know I am not alone in this. Although it might still occasionally sound shaky, as you might notice today, I’ve grown to heed the advice of these wordsmiths and use my voice.
Westtown has prepared us well. Westtown has taught us the value of being kind, brave, and the absolute importance of listening. In a time of such political and global conflict – of wars and fear and what seems like weekly school shootings – it’s time to implement these teachings. As the first graduating class to experience a full year immersed in the current political climate, we must be kind to those we do not know. We must be brave in the face of fear and injustice. We must listen to voices and experiences that are not our own - and we must act. Margaret Mead spoke to this when she said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." As we move on from Westtown, let us be that group of thoughtful, committed citizens.
I say this because I know we can all do better.
We cannot be silent, but we also cannot be afraid of silence. We cannot let our voices overpower those who are silenced everyday. I know that we can do this; some of us already are, while others among us are blocked by fear or complacency. Some of us need to raise our voices louder, and some us may need to pause, stop talking, and listen. I challenge us to use what we have learned. We have the power to make change for the betterment of those who are marginalized and whose words carry too little weight, but only if we stop waiting for others to do it for us. Now is our time.