Family, friends, and faculty gathered in The Riverside Church in the City of New York to celebrate the graduation and accomplishments of St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s class of 2019.
Commencement Address, Victoria Weld Bergstrom P ’19, Board of Trustees
Good morning! On this celebratory and festive day, I’m going to use this time to talk about something everyone loves—presents.
I know I speak for every parent here when I say that each of you children, has been the best gift we ever have, or ever could, receive. (if you have siblings, that applies to them as well, but today is about you!) The day you came into our lives was transformative, and you have been unbelievably precious to us ever since. And, so, as one does with something precious, we have sought to treat you with great care.
Thus, as soon as you were old enough, we committed to giving you the invaluable gift of education. [And, I know, here in the U.S., education of children is mandatory, but, as you know, that is not the case in every country, and many children are never given this gift]
We, your parents wanted to give you not just any education, but the very best education we could find. So, we embarked on the fun-filled process of New York City school applications, and because education really matters, we looked carefully for a school that would take seriously the essential work of supporting each of your unique strengths and challenges. ‘Seek and ye shall find.’ For some of you, this has been your only school, and for others the search took a bit longer, but all of your parents chose St. Hilda’s for its diverse, inclusive community and its unique commitment to maximizing each child’s talents. Whether you arrived at this school in nursery, or in seventh grade, you all have been here long enough to recognize how very special this school is. This year, you showed us all how much each of you treasures the gift of education through the hard work you invested in the high school process.
From the day you arrived at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s, your exceptional teachers have shared with you the gift of themselves: their time, knowledge, love, and abiding interest in your well-being. From the warm greetings of Mr. Curcio at the front desk, to a hug when you needed one, your years at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s have provided you countless gifts, the gift of a solid academic foundation, art, music, a night camping in the woods, field days, and Christmas Pageants…. You have all benefitted from spending your formative years in a nurturing environment, with a phenomenal team of adults who have dedicated their lives to bringing out the very best in each of you. And you have all learned and grown incredibly since you first walked in the school’s doors.
As you prepare to leave this community, you will take with you all you have learned, and the close friends you have made. In exchange, I’m going to ask you to give yourselves, and each other, some gifts, too.
- Give yourselves the gift of wonderful friendships. Be warm and welcoming to those you meet, and be considerate and careful listeners to the ideas others share. Civil discourse is essential to a productive society, so keep your interactions civil, even when you disagree. Seek to spend time with those who bring out the best in you, and strive to bring out the best in those with whom you spend your time.
- Give yourselves the gift of books, and take the time to read them. Not the books that will be assigned to you—of course you will read those-- but also books you choose. Books that teach you more about the things you love, or take you on great adventures. Books that let you escape challenging circumstances. Books that change your perspective, and help you better understand yourself, and others. Books that change you.
- Give yourselves the gift of quiet time, away from screens and noise, to think quiet thoughts, and nurture your dreams. At this exciting time in your life, each of you has limitless potential. Ponder that. With hard work and determination, you can achieve anything! So, to quote the poet Mary Oliver, ask yourself, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Then, give yourselves the time for those plans to develop. You have very many years ahead of you to figure things out. For now, take the time to enjoy the summer, to revel in your accomplishments, and keep dreaming your dreams.
- Give yourselves the gift of perseverance. As Winston Churchill famously said, “never, ever, ever give up.” Last week, the world remembered the soldiers who were brave and persistent enough to save Europe in WW2. While we all hope you never face challenges such as those, you have already seen the results of working hard, and you’ve learned that the harder you work, the better the outcome, whether on the playing field, in the classroom, or on the stage. I promise, you will never regret having tried your best.
- Give yourselves the gift of strong consciences. You have been taught well about the differences between right and wrong. Keep your conscience awake, and listen to it. Do not seek to drown out its voice, ever.
- Give yourselves the gift of courage. Courage to try new things (and there will be so many new things you can try in the years to come). Courage to stand up for what is right. Courage to make the right choice, not the easy choice. Courage to ask for help when you need it, and courage to give help when someone else needs it.
- Give yourselves the gift of gratitude. Notice the many wonderful things in your life. Remember to be grateful for everything you have been given, and to share that gratitude with those around you. I guarantee doing so will make you, and those around you, happier. Thank a teacher!
- Give yourselves, and each other the gift of love. The class of 2019 is a very special class, each of you with a unique set of wonderful talents and abilities, and your diversity has made you stronger together. You have supported each other through challenging times, and you will continue to help each other even as your worlds expand. You have learned to show love by serving others, through school traditions including the beloved Thanksgiving food chain, and I know you will take that commitment to service with you throughout your lives.
Work hard, dream big, and be kind. The world is a better place with each of you in it, and we are all terribly proud of you, today, and every day. Congratulations!!!