Graduation: 2017 – Hard to capture, impossible to forget

Good morning, everyone. My name is Sophie Smyke and I am incredibly honored to speak on behalf of the class of 2017 today. Before I begin, it’s safe to say none of us would be here without the gifted and dedicated faculty and staff of BB&N. And as much as we celebrate our own accomplishments, we also want to show our gratitude to our families, who have made this day possible with their love, support, and encouragement. Most of you wouldn’t be here today if you didn’t know already how impressive this graduating class is, so I won’t try to convince you of that. Instead, let’s try and celebrate as best we can the accomplishments of this class.
When I came to BB&N in 9th grade, I was pretty confident that I was an exceptional young woman. Little did I know I was entering a class with 130 of the most spectacularly exceptional and talented individuals. This could have easily resulted in a painfully competitive four years, but it didn’t. Now don’t get me wrong, I fully embrace our class’s competitive nature in the classroom, on the stage, in the studios, and on the field. What made our class so special, though, was our ability to use each other’s strengths to grow individually into the best version of ourselves.
There is an undeniable electric current that weaves its way through this class. It was sparked, perhaps, by a pretty large fire up at Bivouac four years ago. This electric current has been fed, sustained and lengthened every day when each of us steps through the doors at 80 Gerry’s Landing.
When I was 14 I had two passions: cooking and photography. When giving a graduation speech in 8th grade I compared the ten years at my old school to a three-course meal: I drew analogies between the trials of first grade and the tangy but essential qualities of a good salad dressing. I told the 300 people in the room that, to me, eighth grade was like licking up the last few sweet sips of ice cream at the bottom of the bowl.
I thought today I’d focus on the latter of my passions, instead. Photography has been a huge part of my time at BB&N in classes with Ms. Dobson, during my time serving as Photo Editor for The Vanguard, and of course, simply being a member of the iPhone generation. That being said, I have about 10,000 photos of our class stored up on my computer. All of my peers can be found in one or more of these photos, and if I could, I would spend the next twelve hours going through each one. But, I can’t. Perhaps my mentioning these archives might inspire each of you to go home and appreciate your own collection of memories. Needless to say, I was scrolling through these photos the other day and realized how important they are and will be as we start this next chapter in our lives.
We of course will leave BB&N with a mind filled with memories and feelings associated with the school, but forty years from now, photos will bring us back to moments we may otherwise have forgotten.
The first photo I found is still one of my favorites of our class. It is your classic freshman center, everyone-piled-up-on-top-of-each-other kind of situation. In it, eight kids pile themselves onto one of the small red couches. In the back you can just make out Will Hurley, waving his arms up and peeking out over Owen Gideon Murphy’s shoulder. Owen is wearing dark aviators and sports a classically fierce, expressionless face which pairs nicely with Henry Marshall’s big smile. Liv Manganella is draped over Owen’s lap with a pouty duck face and a piercing glance at the camera. On the right side of the couch, Audrey O’Neil and Katherine Nicholas are laughing as our old classmate Geo Baker spreads himself over the entire couch and crushes Will, who is holding the weight of three peers. Charlotte Foote is sitting at the foot of the couch making a peace sign and smiling as if the sheer chaos behind her doesn’t exist at all.
I love this photo. I love this photo because it shows how far we’ve come since those days in the freshman center. For the most part, we no longer pile on top of each other in the Commons. But we’re all still out here every day just having a good time and letting ourselves just be ourselves.
Now stick with me, because this will get mushy. I found a lot of photos like this. Photos of our class just being exactly who we are. We’re fun, we’re athletic, we’re artistic, we’re intelligent and thoughtful. I think the word I’m looking for here is we are an incredibly active class.
I found a photo I had taken for The Vanguard of Kat Capossela, Worthy B Rae, and Mason Olmsted playing spikeball outside with so much energy you’d think it was an ISL championship. Worthy’s hand hovers over the bright yellow ball and Mason stands in the ready position, legs bent and agile hands at the ready. I found another set of photos from that same day during the all-school capture the flag game. In three separate photos you see Nell Fusco running at full speed behind an opponent, snatching the green pinny. Our class is no stranger to this kind of athleticism. We have some pretty epic spike-ballers and Kan Jam-ers, but we also have some of the best athletes in New England. During our time at the Upper School, we’ve raked in two baseball ISL championships, one football, a couple of golf champs, and most recently, a spectacular girls lacrosse championship. Now I can’t say that I was personally a part of any of those teams, but I can speak on behalf of the fanbase when I say there is no better feeling than running out onto the Belmont Hill football field after winning the annual Drill the Hill game, or standing over the Elliott Bridge watching our boats race during the Head of the Charles.
This active nature isn’t limited to our athletics, though. I found a shot of Alec Chapman sitting at a table in the North End with four cameras, six lenses and a slice of pizza spread out in front of him after a five hour photography expedition around Boston. Lexie Massa has put hours of concentration into perfecting her intricate and stunning ceramics. As a stage manager I’ve watched the incredible actors in our class get lost in the adrenaline of production week. A few weeks ago Guillermo Alvarez just stood in the courtyard and played violin for an hour in the middle of the day. How cool is that?
There are some crazy smart people sitting behind me right now. With our active bodies and active creativity comes a tremendous amount of love for learning. Our class has so much fun being smart. BB&N has always pushed us to be active learners. We have all learned to apply what we learn in the classroom to the real world. I know many of us are eternally grateful to Jack Flahive, Cassandra Kane, Aaron Kaufer and Vishnu Murale for creating the Knight Life app, which allowed each of us to input our schedules and get notifications reminding us to go to class or assembly. I found a photo of my Human Geography class at the top of the tower in Mount Auburn cemetery after an hour studying how cemeteries and gravestones reflect our cultural identities.
These actions and activities translate to activism. I found a photo I took for The Vanguard last year of Emma Voligny and Eptisam Kassim, two of the leaders of the new and improved Community Days held each year at the Upper School. These young women brought conversation and cultural education to the students and faculty in a way that will serve the community in the years to come. I found a photo of Sophie Wang, Orly Levy, Charlotte Foote, and Nick Piccirillo holding a “spread love not hate” sign at a peace rally earlier this year. We ran to each other’s sides to support the Women’s March and continue to help each other navigate through the world we live in every day.
I can’t help but mention one of the most amazing actions I and many of my peers have ever witnessed. In March, my best friend and probably the most loved guy in the class wrote a personalized letter to every single person in the grade telling them what they’ve meant to him over the years. Actions. Small actions like Bayard Eton’s letters are exactly what make our class so special. It is these acts that inspire us and push us to be better. It is these acts that fuel the electric current.
Active people get stuff done. Actions drive community improvement, local and global alike. BB&N has done a spectacular job fostering the “active” in us, but it takes more than a school to change the world. It takes students who are excited about where they are and where they’re going. It takes students who recognize problems and understand the steps necessary to fix them. It takes a hunger for competition and progress and, above all, it takes appreciation for the people and places that got you there. For all of us, BB&N must remain in the backs of heads as a cornerstone of our educational careers as we head off to mark our place in the world.
We are exceptional. There will never be another Class of 2017. We have collected our fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, like any good high school class does. But with each hiccup we have reached out a hand to each other and helped to create a group so close and so completely impressive.
The last photo I found on my computer was taken the last day of academic classes in March. It was “tropical” Friday, and the seniors came to school with Hawaiian shirts, hula skirts, sunglasses and flipflops. In typical Massachusetts fashion, it began snowing, and as typical Massachusetts teens, we saw the snow as an obvious location to take a group picture. Katherine Nicholas poses for a selfie on her phone, and in the back, twenty seniors hold up their beach balls and leis. Someone’s holding up a giant blow-up palm tree, and a few kids sip drinks out of a coconut. Everyone stands on tippy-toes in flip-flops on the snow covered ground, and everyone is smiling.
We have so much to celebrate both individually and as a class. We should be proud of our work in the classroom: our freshman history papers and sophomore debates, our junior profiles and senior essays. We should be proud of our artistic and athletic accomplishments, of our community building and service accomplishments. But we can’t feel satisfied. We must feel inspired and motivated and supported by our time here as we step outside this afternoon: the Buckingham Browne and Nichols School Class of 2017.

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