Graduation 2016: Students Speak about Hard Work, Trust & Community at Montrose


Valedictorian Bridget Bane ’16: Montrose’s Brain-Building Lessons in Hard Work

Good afternoon classmates, teachers, family and friends. Now that we have graduated high school, we are one step closer to our first day at college. With thoughts of college often come fears about the future. However, I am certain that each and every one of us is well prepared for our futures and I can defend this claim with scientific evidence. We have all worked very hard throughout our time here at Montrose: we have written many papers, taken countless exams, slogged through mountains of homework. While we often claimed that our work would kill us, here we are today, and as far as I can tell everyone is still breathing. One of the many priceless skills our Montrose education has given us is the ability to work hard; this skill will stay with us throughout college and beyond.

My confidence in your ability to work hard has a scientific explanation. When we repeat an activity, the connections in our brain change to adapt to this activity. For example if you play the same piece in a handbell choir a hundred times, new nerve pathways will form. Each time you play the piece, these pathways become more solidified and efficient. The same process occurs for other skills, such as memorizing facts, writing papers, and making speeches. Any activity we do repeatedly will strengthen the neurons required to perform that activity.  

Now, I don’t want anyone else here today to think that they are too old to benefit from the fantastic abilities of our nervous system. Many studies have shown that brains of any age can make new nerve connections. For example, a study performed at the Rotman Research Institute for Geriatric Care in Toronto revealed that on a short term memory test, both young adults and the elderly can perform equally well. If anyone practices an activity repetitively, they can learn to perform that activity well. Fr. Dick, someone ten years older than you could learn to speak a new language if he put his mind to it. Every one of you in this audience has the potential to succeed in whatever you put your mind to. All you must do is take advantage of the amazing flexibility of your neurons.

       Our brains have adapted to the Montrose work ethic, and practice has solidified this work ethic firmly in our subconscious. When we face an enormous workload in college, or in our future jobs, our neurons will already be trained to take the challenge head on. As you head off to college this fall, I hope you remember this one piece of advice that my Dad gives me when I am nervous before a rowing race: “Rely on your training. It won’t let you down.”

    More importantly, our Montrose education has taught us to not only work hard, but to work well. Our teachers have encouraged us to aim for perfection: I am not saying that they have tried to turn us into a group of obsessive compulsive robots, but that they have always helped us to become the best versions of ourselves. When we do our work well, our effort is most efficient, as we form the proper brain connections from the start. Training our brains in this way is efficacious, since we do not develop unnecessary brain connections that will hinder the progress of our learning.

At Montrose we have trained ourselves to work hard, but more importantly we have learned why hard work matters. Through work we can fulfill our full potential as human beings made in the image and likeness of God. Our work allows us to help others, whether by sharing the beauty of a piece we have practiced on handbells, helping a friend with homework, or building a garden to remember a friend. Work makes us truly human by allowing us to transcend the material and reach the spiritual.

At Montrose we have learned to work hard and to become the best versions of ourselves. We have made full use of our amazing brains, which we can teach to do so many different activities. As we head off to college I have full confidence that you will take your Montrose skills with you, allowing you to continue to become the best version of yourself and to make a positive difference in the lives of the individuals you meet.

Co-Salutatorian Emma Frank ’16: Learning how to Trust Others in Close Community

Good morning Dr. Bohlin, Trustees, faculty, parents and guests.   On behalf of the class of 2016, thank you for being here this morning to celebrate our achievements.  

As I look back on my years at Montrose, I realize that it was here that I truly began to understand the nature of communities.  Communities are built on trust.  This trust takes many different forms: at its most basic, it involves merely a mutual understanding that no member of the community will harm any other, reminiscent of the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and his famous quote “man is wolf to man”. Each person promises not to harm the other people, in exchange for their own promise not to harm him. Without this basic form of trust, no sort of community could ever exist, only fear.  However, the thriving community at Montrose provides so much more.

When I first came to Montrose, I was very shy. Never a particularly social person, I felt much more comfortable with my nose in a book rather than interacting with other people, and I probably spent a good three quarters of my day visit reading in order to finish a book another girl had lent me before I had to give it back. My classmates at Montrose gradually helped me overcome my reluctance to start conversations, however, as I realized I could trust them- that the movie Mean Girls was not going to play out in my own life. I discovered that people were actually interested in my comments and opinions, and I began to share them more often and spend more time talking to others rather than constantly reading and nervously isolating myself. I became part of the Montrose community and realized that there were many trustworthy people, all of whom trusted each other and worked together.  

As far as I can tell, the second kind of trust is emotional. You trust people not only to avoid attacking you, whether physically or verbally, but also enough that you can form an emotional bond with them. You have to trust people not to take advantage of things you tell them, and trust that they care for you as much as you care for them. In our class, this trust has been tested many times as we traveled through the various ups and downs of our time together. The loss of a loved one can sometimes tear people apart, but I think that our community has come through that particular difficulty with a stronger bond. We learned how much we could trust each other, and we learned to rely on that trust and draw together as a class.

The final kind of trust is rarely talked about, but it is vital to a healthy community. In order for a community to function smoothly, the members must trust each other to take care of what needs to be done. This form of trust took longer to learn, but with all the different class activities happening during any given point of this past year, I found it impossible to help with everything I wanted to. As the year went on, however, I realized that this was okay. I didn’t have to participate in both the class mural and the all school musical while writing my capstone, because I had classmates who each had their own talents and if we all shared the work, we could do everything we needed to. By using our individual gifts, our class was able to divide and conquer all the various senior projects and special events more effectively than if each of us tried to be involved in everything. Throughout this year, we learned to trust each other to work together in order to accomplish all our projects, and seeing the results of our work brought us closer together as a class.

So while I learned a great deal of facts about history, philosophy, literature, science and math while at Montrose, I am very appreciative that I was also able to learn these other lessons. Instead of Hobbes’ ruthless philosophy, I have come to embrace one more similar to the ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle: man is by nature a social animal, and without the variety of individual talents and support present in a community, we cannot reach the full potential of our own special gifts. I cannot thank you enough, Mom and Dad, for sending me to Montrose. And to the Class of 2016, thank you for teaching me so much about trust and community.

Co-Salutatorian Abby Gillis ’16: Tracing the Class of 2016’s Journey as Forming a Montrose Home

abby gillis for website

When some of us first came to Montrose, we thought the school was too big and confusing for us to ever be able to find our way around. Over the years, however, we’ve managed to find ourselves in pretty much every corner of the school at some point or another. Many of these places, like the courtyard or the front desk or Father Dick’s office, have been a part of every stage of our Montrose experience, but I think there are also a certain seven rooms that each stand out as being sort of emblematic of one of our seven years here.

Most sixth grade classes at Montrose have homeroom in Room 4, but as we’ve been told time and again during our years here, our class of then-23 girls was too big for that. Instead, we landed in the upper school hallway, in the larger and more centrally-located Room 11. It was Room 11 where our Montrose journeys began and Room 11 in which we spent most of our time during our first year here, getting to know each other and hearing each other’s stories both formally during personal introduction reports and informally at each other’s desks during the time between classes.

In seventh grade—so commonly referred to as “the middle of middle school”—we appropriately moved into the middle of the middle school hallway. Room 16, the middle school science lab, was the room in which we had Life Science that year, the room in which we asked millions of almost-relevant questions, performed the famous jelly bean lab that we still don’t understand, and openly talked through every single test and quiz, completely unable to stop laughing with each other even as we focused on work.

In very much the same way that high school is meant to prepare us for college, we were told that eighth grade was meant to get us ready for high school. If any one class managed to do that it was Mrs. McKinney’s Medieval and Renaissance history class. Most of us really learned how to take notes and study for tests that year in Room 1—which is, conveniently enough, located above the middle school and below the upper school hallways, making it an appropriate room for our transition from middle to high school.

The room representative of ninth grade was another homeroom: the relatively giant Media Center was the only room in the school that could hold a freshman class that couldn’t stop talking about breaking records with their 42 members. That poor room saw more than its fair share of excitement that year, witnessing not only the routine drama of Class Meetings and attempts to finish attendance before 8:00, but choking-on-meatball incidents and the chaos of half the freshman class trying to clean the remnants of their Polar Express (train track) decorations off the floor with oranges.

Tenth grade, I think we’d all say, was the hardest year for this particular class. We lost a beloved classmate and friend, making our sophomore year one of tears and grief and mourning, but also one of prayer. The room of tenth grade was, in so many ways, the chapel.

Junior year, however, took us back to the classroom with a vengeance as we began APs and had to start thinking seriously about college. Downstairs in Room 15, we were challenged a little more than we liked in Ms. Rice’s famous metaphysics class as we tried to wrap our heads around Aristotle and Aquinas at 9:00 in the morning. Room 15, known for its warmth and its distinct lack of windows is also unfortunately conducive to napping—and the perfect classroom for eleventh grade, the year of coffee.

As for senior year… the obvious room to represent twelfth grade would have to be the senior commons, where we sang, danced, wrote our capstones, hid each other’s backpacks like sixth graders, and celebrated everyone’s college decisions. But there’s actually another place where we were all together this year—our homeroom, and the room in which we had Comparative Politics and Theology. As it happens, this room was Room 11. In our homeroom, as in so many things, we came full circle in our seven years. We spent most of our time this year spread out across the school, and sometimes across the town, but for a few hours a day we were all crammed together in Room 11 again—at round tables instead of our old desks, looking messier and much more tired than we had in sixth grade, but still sharing memories between classes– not of the times before we’d known each other but of the times we’d had together, becoming integral parts of each other’s stories as we made our way around the school we had turned into our home.