Goodbye and Good Luck, Class of 2020!

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(Credit: Adam Richins Photography)

Joy erupts from the Montrose’s Class of 2020 as they throw their caps into the air!

Erica Brown '22, Co Assistant Editor-in-Chief

The 2019-2020 year was truly like no other in Montrose history, but one thing has remained the same: we have to say goodbye to a beloved senior class.  On August 1, the class of 2020 entered a new stage in life as college students instead of high schoolers. Although they didn’t get to have a traditional senior year, they still found ways to be thankful and appreciate each other. Class salutatorian, Sophie Kocho, and valedictorian, Sarah Ling, recounted their experiences at Montrose in their speeches and speaker Melanie Francis addressed class of 2020 with her commencement speech. The speeches are below:

Sophie Kocko 

Salutatorian

Good morning, everyone. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to address you all today. I’m incredibly grateful to everybody who has worked to make this a real-life event. but, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss my sweatpants.

If you attended the Montrose Gala this year, you undoubtedly remember Emily Nelson and Sarah Ling’s breathtaking performance of “Rise Up” by Andra Day. What you may not have noticed, is the group of 10 or so seniors watching from the balcony. We stood huddled together. Awash with pride for our classmates. Our eyes suspiciously shiny. Fervently whispering “This is so beautiful.” 

Emily sang about overcoming challenges and how “all we need is hope, and for that we have each other.” We did not realize how significant her words would become. 

 Anna Bachiochi leaned in to me and peacefully proclaimed “I live for moments like these.” I chuckled. At the time, I failed to appreciate the raw depth and honesty of her words, which I have now come to admire.

A couple weeks ago, I was at my cottage in Canada when a huge storm hit. At 3AM, awakened by an explosive thunderclap, I glanced outside. For a moment, the lighting illuminated the pine trees, boats, and lake in stark clarity. The next morning, that moment niggled at the back of my mind. That sudden clarity amidst a storm felt hauntingly familiar. When the coronastorm hit, it illuminated pieces of our lives that we may not have otherwise appreciated.

It is times of hardship that help us recognize what and who it is that truly matter. In times of uncertainty, it is important to lean on the things you can be certain of. Your friends. Your mentors. Your family. Your faith.

These turbulent times have reminded me to trust in God. Before Montrose, God didn’t seem like someone you could lean on. Nothing changed that faster than Father Dick’s advice to “Treat him like he’s your best friend. Tell him everything: what makes you happy, what makes you sad, everything.” This lesson was like Fr. Dick’s skittles: simple, but bursting with flavor. We will carry it with us for the rest of our lives.

We would not be where we are without our teachers and mentors. Montrose faculty put their hearts  and souls into cultivating confident young women. We are in debt to teachers who dedicate hours to prep work for a totally new AP exam. To teachers who summon us into their office to ask: “How are you?” and care about how you answer. To the teacher who pushes us to “say it like a warrior,” because she knows despite our discomfort, we will feel empowered. To teachers who laugh with us at our slip-ups, like assuming that Dorian Gray had a golden toilet seat rather than a golden toilette set. Teachers, you have helped shape who we are and who we will become. You have supported us through failures and triumphs. Thank you.

Our class of 21 is a messy, dysfunctional, estrogen-heavy family. We fight. We act weirdly because we know we won’t be judged. We laugh. Most importantly, we love each other. 

Our unique support for each other shone through when we converged at Lily and Helen’s house one night in March after learning of their imminent and unexpected departure to China. We displayed our evil genius to the rest of the school when we wore incredibly ugly animal t-shirts on picture day. We even had the quintessential family experience of a turbulent Thanksgiving. Friendsgiving, in this case, included a whipped cream battle between Lenny and Maria and a very intense argument – not over politics – but over an issue of the same level of importance: who got to decapitate the turkey made out of butter. 

The connections we have made here will last a lifetime. I have befriended women who will become doctors, business women, engineers, politicians, and amazing mothers whose compassion and integrity will improve our world.

Lightning struck during this coronastorm when my family drove through the motorcade blasting “Rise Up” as my mom bawled in the front seat. I had spent the past few months wanting to get AWAY from them, and here they were reminding me of what I needed to remember. 

Suffocating as they may have been, they were there for me when I cried and needed to vent. Just like they have for my whole life, they loved and supported me unconditionally. Families, thank you for your sacrifices and your love.

I think of these moments, and this is what I realize: don’t wait for a coronastorm’s thunder and lighting to make you appreciate them. Be an Anna Bachiochi: take a step back, absorb, and be grateful.

However, if something like a coronastorm does hit and you feel lost, remember that you are a woman called to greatness and loved by many. Remember the foundation that your Montrose experience has given you. Allow it to guide you. 

Mrs. Kris, thoughtfully said of our class: “What they have that no one can take away is this rich sense of the type of person they want to be. Even if they don’t know what they want to be, they know who they want to be, and that’s going to make everything else a little bit easier.”

To end with a last little bit of lighting. Yesterday was my dad’s birthday. I was explicitly told NOT to say or do anything at the reception last night, so I didn’t. I mentioned casually to a couple of my friends that it was my dad’s birthday. Unbeknownst to me, they organized a way to sing happy birthday to him in front of everyone. I got a little teary-eyed because I realized that that moment was SO OUR CLASS. So willing to do whatever, look a bit silly, just to make someone else happy. It was bittersweet, because I also realized that I wouldn’t have those moments with you girls this year like I have for the past 6 years. 

This year, we won’t know every teacher’s name. We won’t have a family to hug us at the end of a tough day. We might feel like we need a little bit more than our strong, confident selves. That’s when we must remember that wherever we are, we have what matters most. Our faith. Our mentors. Our families. Our friends. 

Montrose Class of 2020, congratulations. I love you girls.

Sarah Ling

Valedictorian

Good Morning Faculty, Fellow Graduates, Special Guests, and our 9 closest Family members!

First of all, thank you so much for coming! Despite the Australian Wildfires earlier this year, it is truly quite impressive that we all are here…   and if not physically, virtually! 

Seriously, we’ve been through a lot. Through the loss of Mr. Brian O’Connell and our beloved Father Dick as well as a worldwide pandemic and heightened racial tension among the people, we have all emerged slightly different from 2020 than we expected. So I repeat, thank you so much for coming, and thank you to Montrose for making this happen. 

As you can see in the program, they call me Sarah Ling and this year, 2020, I am the  Valedictorian. 

And as the supposed    “Latin Scholar”    our teachers pull teeth trying to find when digging up the roots of words such as “tangent” (meaning “ to touch” in Latin; but the name of a line that graces a curve at one point in math), “centripetal” (meaning “to seek the center” in Latin; but describes the nature of a circular force in physics), and “supercilious” (“eyebrow” in Latin; and a great word to describe the haughty nature of Lord Henry in Dorian Gray)

I am here to tell you that Valedictorian is comprised of two latin words: Valeo and Dico

Waleo (or as some of you heathens would pronounce “Valeo”) means “I bid you farewell” and Dico means “I say” hence together meaning , “to say farewell”.And considering that this is last in the program—–I have a pretty easy job! But Valeo also means to make healthier or to strengthen

So Class of 2020, I hope that my speech doesn’t just mark the end of our journey together, but strengthens you so that you can journey with confidence in the next chapter of your life.

Most Valedictorians speak of Fortitude. They speak of the grueling hours they spent cramming for exams. Or the academic struggles they faced. They describe how academic rigor has changed their perspective in life. They make it seem like this position, the same one that I’m in today, was wrought of iron and steel. That it was truly hard work. 

Visualizing all the great Montrosians floating before me on clouds

Praising this cold system: I never thought I would be here. 

OH STOP, I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE ALL THINKING! Most of you out there probably rolled your eyes straight outta your heads and thought   *oh no! Another humble know-it-all*. Well, no sir, I actually meant it. This truly was a surprise.

And this is because: I never did that “hard work” shenanigan.

Don’t Believe me? Just ask my classmates. Before every test, there is the infamous 5 min wait outside of the room. 

Sophie’s creating a crazy diagram on the white board, 

Bella is rewriting all the information in her perfect penmanship, 

Normally 6 people are dissecting a well worn textbook for the last tidbits of information. 

A whole clan of people hover over Devyn’s open Mac Book featuring a quizlet Mary McManmon made last night. 

Maria Lennon is praying for all of our poor lost souls 

Lily and Anna are recounting the hours of studying they did the night before so they, in fact, do not have to go through this last 5 minute rush. 

Celia holds a large coffee. Like, a LARGE coffee. 

And Soup is having a pleasant doze in the corner.

When somebody asks, “Hey Sarah, how did you prepare for this test?”

And I’m sure every one of you can quote these three words: “I’m Winging It”

Normally after this bold statement, I get lanced with those sword eyes in all directions. But how can I not tell the truth? Aside from that once in a blue moon rote memorization quiz about the important dates in European History— I truly have wung most of my tests. And tests lead to GPA, and GPA leads to here—so HOW? 

Is there a miscalculation? Have all the past Valedictorians been lying to you with conspiracies of hardwork and fortitude?!

Having I been lying to myself?

In Junior year, we went on a retreat, called the Junior Journey, and aside from throwing Claire Chiodini (one of our beloved teachers) in the mud, we also wrote letters to our senior selves. 

I remember racking my good ol’ noggin’ny noodles and trying in vain to summon some sort of something about “oh how great it is as a senior”.

But as I re-read it, I thoroughly shocked myself:

Dear Future Sarah,

You are a natural performer 

(Oh! Why thank Sarah in the past! 

No problem Sarah in the future! 

No really you shouldn’t have! 

No I really I must!)

“You are such a natural performer that you make everything seem easy. But that is not true. You have worked tirelessly for these past 7 years.”                  

I was shook. My old thoughts proved to be paradoxical to my way of living. Was 11th grade Sarah right? Who was I: a carefree scholar skipping through life or a stressed-out workaholic masquerading before everyone—including myself.

We all wrote letters that day. Did your past self help you rethink your present?

Having wrought myself upon the rack for months, finally, when I taking a bath–which is my creative thinking space as well as Archimedes’–I had my Eureka moment. 

To me, studying was not work. Yes, I guess it is work, but hard, painful, tortuous work—       nah. Therefore, to me, it wasn’t studying at all— I mean Studying sounds like a contraction of “Student” and “Dying” And I just didn’t feel that. I saw the beauty and the truth dancing together in everything. It was something I admired, I looked at, peered at with wide eyes before *poof* it’s 3:15 and all the magic was gone. 

And if you walk into class everyday with the mindset that what you are about to see is truly a piece of art, then —trust me— you won’t forget it.

And if you don’t forget it, that knowledge becomes a part of who you are.

History has always been hard for me. I did not see much importance in men constantly killing each other over and over again, but somehow Montrose changed that. I don’t really remember how Mrs. Forsgard driving stick-shift related to European History, but hearing her first hand accounts of her friend coming from East Germany, stopping in at a grocery store and saying “Wow, I forgot there was supposed to be   food    in grocery stores” really opened my eyes to the applications of the “not-so-dead-nor-so-old” History.

And just like that, something completely uninteresting to me became a reality–beautiful and true. 

In some cases, it truly is hard to find that zing, so you do all within your power to make it brilliant. 

Together we have performed 8 Shakespeare’s plays!

Together we have used integrals to rotate functions around axies making beautiful shapes!

We have shot nerf guns at pendulums to discover the principle of momentum

We have drawn pictures and played charades to remember vocab words!

We have eaten, stolen, and given potato chips to live out Aristotle’s levels of virtue

We have made boats

And We have had Soup’s Dog float on said boats!

All this to say, if you are suffering while you are learning, you’re doing it wrong.

So where does that leave us.If you have been participating in your saturday evening doze right now-* It’s * time * to * Wake * Up*

Not only am I almost done with my speech, but the ceremony is almost over! 

Ok,I didn’t come here to boast about my first class plane ticket throughout all of highschool. I came here to encourage you, my friends.

So here: 

In January, everybody praised our 2020 vision! Wow! You must have a great vision! You must see so clearly! You have a great perspective into the future!

Well— None of that matters see unless you’re lookin’ for something, SO…

Search for Beauty

Search for Truth

Now, I am thankful that Montrose has made this search a lot easier.

But in your next place, in the moments before a new test, if you learned your facts throughout the pursuit of Beauty and Truth. It will feel as if You did not drag yourself through the mud 

and yet you will be prepared for whatever may come. 

The Finding of Beauty and the Finding of Truth Will Satisfy your soul.

And when you find the ultimate beauty and the ultimate truth together: As one:

You, my dear friends, have found God.

Class of 2020. Wake up and smell the roses

The Search has only just Begun.

Address to the Montrose Class of 2020 

Melanie Francis

Thank you, Dr. Bohlin, for inviting me and allowing me the privilege to join you in celebrating this very special commencement event. Class of 2020: I’m honored and delighted to be here with you, Father John, Chairman Bill Noonan, and with your families today. I’d also like to extend a very special welcome to Lily Wei and Helen Zhang, and their families — members of the Montrose Class of 2020 who are attending this ceremony virtually from their homes in China where it is about 10:30 in the evening right now. And let’s not forget our fellow Montrosians and our faculty who may not be filling their usual seats here with us this year, but are certainly also with us virtually. The process of getting all of us here has not been easy, and is yet another act of Montrose’s selfless love that we have all come to rely upon; it’s what makes this school such a special place. So hats off to everyone in the events, planning and communication teams that have brought us this unforgettable moment today. 

It’s somewhat surreal for me to be standing here, knowing that only four short years ago, my husband John and I, and our family, were sitting right here watching our daughter Lauren graduate as a member of Montrose’s class of 2016. That means she too is a 2020 graduate, so I know first-hand how different this entire experience has been.

Fast forward four years…after ups, downs, loss, grief, life changes, role changes, navigating a pandemic, and bearing witness to a societal reckoning that, without a doubt, will sear itself into the history of our land…I find myself returning to Montrose commencement…with a bit of a different view this time. I have the Montrose Community to thank for so many things…holding our family in love and prayer when we needed that so much; and this year, becoming the source of the only social events where I am able to see a large group of people! Not since Saturday, March 7th have I (and I’m sure I’m not alone here) actually put on something nice to wear and attended an event where I’m able to be with more than 10 people at once. That last time was the celebration of Montrose’s 40th anniversary. So Montrose, you represent nearly 100% of my entire 2020 social calendar.

In all seriousness, that example is a proof point to a nugget of truth that you should take away with you today — Montrose is a relationship-centered community that will not leave you when you leave here today. And this community extends beyond the lives of you the graduates, and the rest of the student body — it extends to parents, grandparents and siblings. Together we form this incredible ongoing, multi-generational Montrose community and it is THIS larger entity of love that has been here for me, and will continue to be here for you. 

In our time together here today, I’d like to talk about three things: 

First, let’s talk about you, our class of 2020, because you are the reason that we are all here 

Next, I’ll share some thoughts on coping and navigating through uncertain times by finding and channeling your grit 

And finally I’ll leave you with a challenge question to take with you as you contemplate what’s next 

So today, 2020 graduates, gathered in this place where joy is 

palpable, let’s embrace our joy 

St Teresa of Calcutta was noted to have said “Keep the joy of loving God in your heart and share this joy with all you meet especially your family.” You are here — physically and virtually — with each other, and with family, teachers and advisors who think the world of you and are showering you with love. Embrace this joy right here in this present moment. We are here to acknowledge the years of effort you have put forth and to truly celebrate the achievements manifested as a result of your tremendous work inside and outside of the classroom.

As Montrose’s first graduating class of August, I’m sure you can feel this transitional moment even more so than graduates of any other year, as you find yourself at that unique crossroad where you are able to vividly look back and reflect on all that Montrose has done for you, while also having already entered that mental space where you are ready to march forward to college, to new adventures and ultimately into a profession. Montrose has cultivated a mindset in you that has prepared you to be the leaders this world desperately needs you to be — and it’s time to go out into this world to face these challenges with the virtues you have learned to live, and the talents God has given you to hone.

As a class, and as individuals, I know you are ready to lead the way as you set forth beyond this place of joy, to encounter a world undergoing rapid transformation. Why do I know this? Because you are the generation that has been doing this throughout your entire lives. You were among the first babies born into the post-9/11 world. From your vantage point, the changes that emanated from 9/11 have always been your normal. Add to this the fact that you are what is known as “digital natives,” which means you’ve grown up with devices and the ever-presence of social media for your entire lives. And here you are now, in your late teens, in the throes of a pandemic, showing us how quickly you’ve been able to pivot your learning style to adapt to an all-digital environment from as far away as China. 

It’s actually comforting to realize that you have always been on the cutting edge of societal change, because I foresee that journey continuing for you. And I think we can look to you as a sign of hope — you, and your inherent resilience that has blossomed as a result of a lifetime of rapid change, you are our hope for the world. So stand ready to become that metaphorical candle that offers little value being hidden under a basket…stand ready to shine bright by carrying yourself such that everyone can see your light, and your goodness, your love for God and others. 

Don’t see 2020 as the year you missed out. No no. 2020 is your badge of honor. There is no question this year is going to get its own callout bubble on the timeline of humanity. If you ever questioned the benefit of a well-rounded Liberal Arts education, 2020 has been the year science and medicine met history met economics met public policy…met social justice…what a cacophony of events to show us how these unique disciplines are inextricably linked in reality. And while we absolutely need specialists in all of these fields, I must say it’s been easier for me to try to follow along with the skills of a generalist that I’ve gleaned from my own liberal arts education. Montrose has already given you that, and yes, Philosophy and Comparative Politics win again! It’s Reason #158 why Mrs. Elrod rocks! And if you thought YOUR Philosophy and Comparative Politics class was interesting, just wait for what the Class of 2021 has in store! 

But we’re not done with 2020 yet. Very soon, you will each step out to pioneer and navigate a college experience that will be unique and unorthodox. And then last, and certainly not least, the majority of you will wind down the back half of the year by casting your first official vote in a U.S. presidential election. You — and we — are never going to forget 2020. And they don’t hand out badges of honor for the easy stuff. 

So how can we navigate through grief and uncertainty with 

GRIT? 

This is a lot to deal with in your late teens…These are trying times, and we are grieving. In some respects, 2020 stripped everything away — the distractions, the rushing, the need to wear anything other than sweatpants, the trappings of consumerism. We continue forward in the absence of the perspective and guidance that Fr. Dick would have offered us in these historic times — and while I cannot even predict what he would have said, I know he would have had the perfectly worded phrase or a precious gem of guidance that would have settled our hearts in the way that only he could do. I can empathize with the grief you have felt this year.

And I’m here to acknowledge that grief is OK…we’ve all felt it now…there is a heaviness to it, which is why — thankfully — it does not have to last a lifetime. So we can sit with it, and we can acknowledge it. We can lean on others when the weight is too heavy to bear alone…and when are ready, we will emerge from it — not instantly as if turning on a light switch, but more gently as if watching a sunrise. So how do we emerge from grief? There’s a lot of expert advice out there, but I’m going to spell out my own for you. You need to harness your inner grit — your perseverance and your passion to overcome the obstacles that might attempt to weigh you down.

Let me define my take on GRIT for you by spelling it out: G-R-I-T. 

G: Greatness & Grace 

At Montrose, you have been called to greatness. You have been shown countless examples of what greatness is…and what greatness is meant to be. And you remain on that very path to greatness. Do not lose sight of that. Aspire to achieve greatness while upholding the virtue of grace — exhibiting kindness and compassion in the grace you give while also being receptive to the gift of grace from God. Remember that “the will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.” 

R: Resilience 

This is your inner emotional trampoline…your capacity to bounce back from challenges and setbacks. You are the generation of resilience. I know this is not easy. I also know you’ve had good practice. Play on that trampoline to sharpen this skill and it will serve you well. 

I: Intuition 

Intuition doesn’t get as much credit as it should. I think it’s pretty important. It’s that instinctive “gut” feeling that tells you things outside of your conscious reasoning, yet is regarded as a legitimate way of knowing by philosophers. I believe that survival skills are built on intuition. Learn to listen to that part of your psyche. Experiment with it. Channel your intuition. Learn to trust it, and this too will serve you well. 

T: Tenacity 

This is mind over matter. This is the drive from within that will propel you forward when the rest of you is begging to stop. Capstone taught you tenacity. College admissions taught you tenacity. This is not new, and this is not over. Yes there will be setbacks. Yes…you will be told ‘No.’ There are challenges ahead of you that will require reflection — listen to your heart, and your mind, and dig deep to seek out the tenacity (and the self confidence) that will ultimately pull you through. And then do it again, and again, and again. 

And that leaves us with our challenge: our world today needs empathetic humans — How do you plan to show up? 

I had the good fortune this past week to have my company host Martin Luther King III as he spoke to our CEO about diversity, equality and inclusion. He quoted his father as having said, “The ultimate measure of a human being is not where one stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy…now is the time for all of us to do that which is good, just and right.” and MLK the 3rd himself has said “we have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.” 

As we eventually emerge from this pandemic, our society will be different — Humanity 2.0 if you will. My advice to you is to question everything. Seek to understand. We have spent so much time honing our rational intelligence…our IQ. Equally as important yet getting a fraction of the focus is emotional intelligence…our EQ. Our workplaces, our community and our world need high EQ people right now — and whether you realize it or not, the experience that Montrose has given you in your academic (IQ) formation, has been grounded in the character development of a high EQ individual. This EQ can become one of your most useful superpowers. 

Have the courage to let in the discomfort — go to the uncomfortable places that just don’t feel good. Let your virtues guide your conscience and use your critical thinking skills as you listen and process what you are absorbing. Listen before you label. Ask yourself if this is a perspective that you are familiar with, or rather, is it something that is different because it comes from a world that has thus far been outside of the frame you’ve experienced thus far? Examine your own personal biases — we all have them. Be willing to acknowledge yours. Use the skills you’ve been taught in discourse and debate to thoughtfully and articulately engage. Apply the Growth Mindset to proceed with the understanding that you might not always be right…but you will always be learning. I challenge you to show up courageously with the confident eloquence that makes Montrose graduates so strikingly unique, coupled with the empathy and love for others that this education has so firmly rooted within you. 

Montrose — and your parents — have set the bar high for you. Be sure to thank your parents and teachers for everything they’ve done to support you. Going forward, you will benefit by setting your own bar, and you should not be afraid to do that. Lean into the uncomfortable challenges of larger workloads and new perspectives while at the same time, run toward new things that ignite your interests and passions. Extend your circle of comfort by first peering over the edge, and then stepping outside of it. 

To conclude…in this celebratory moment within this joyous place, I leave you with the quote that appears below my picture in my own high school yearbook, and I share it because the message still holds true today: “We are not put on this earth to see through one another, but to see one another through.” The world needs you at your greatest, Montrose Class of 2020. So go forth with the courage to Change, Question, Listen, Reflect, Speak, Lead…Shine…Be our hope..and see one another through. 

Thank you, Congratulations, and Godspeed.

 

Erica Brown ’22, Co Assistant Editor-in-Chief

22ebrown@montroseschool.org