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Tess Williams '06 delivers Commencement Address

Lead the Charge

Tess Williams ’06
2023 Commencement Address
June 10, 2023

Thank you, Mrs. Owen, Mrs. Hodgson… 9th-grade graduates, family, friends, teachers, and fellow alumni-

It is an honor to be here on this beautiful, momentous day. I remember my own Pine Point graduation as a whirl of emotions- sadness at saying goodbye to my friends and this school, excitement for what lay ahead, and pride at what my classmates and I had accomplished in our time here.

These moments in our lives, these ceremonies marking milestones and turning points- they are so meaningful. Class of 2023, I’m grateful to be here to be a part of yours today.

As the years have stretched since my own Pine Point graduation, I have become more and more aware of just how special this school is, and how lucky today’s graduates and my own classmates were to grow up here. There are the obvious reasons why: world-class field trips to tropical places, biology classes that take you out on the water and into the woods, the opportunity to be a scholar and athlete, and artist all at once.

What is Unique about Your Time at Pine Point

But what is truly unique about your time at Pine Point, in my mind, comes back to the core values: Respect, Integrity, Moral Courage and Excellence. These aren’t just buzz words, these are a commitment made by the teachers and administrators to educate in a way that fosters acceptance, bravery, authenticity, and curiosity. It means that we, as Pine Point students, were given the space to fail and to learn from it, to explore different aspects of our personalities, to challenge authority, and to push ourselves and each other. This is such a unique and fortunate way to learn and to grow up.

As a result of your time here, 9th graders, you are better prepared than almost any of your peers to face what the world will throw at you.

Hope for Your Future

It is easy, these days, to feel like the world around us is spiraling downwards. That the news is all bad and only getting worse. The world you are inheriting as you leave the shelter of this school is certainly wrought with challenges.

I come to you on this sunny June morning, however, filled with hope. Despite the barrage of panic headlines that we face daily, people on this planet are measurably better off than they were when your parents graduated. In the last 30 years- in my lifetime-the rate of extreme poverty globally has dropped by 80 percent! Yearly deaths from natural disasters have been halved! 86% of one-year-olds today have been vaccinated against disease, and those babies are more likely than ever to receive equal education whether they are male or female.

The challenges can feel staggering, don’t get me wrong. The progress, however, is also staggering. It is often quieter than the bad news being screamed at on cable TV, but it is happening nonetheless. And it doesn’t just happen spontaneously, it happens because people make the choice to focus their efforts and their talents on bettering the world around them. Chemists are inventing vaccines and medicines that are more portable and effective and at a faster clip than ever before. Aid workers have tirelessly chipped away at social inequity across the planet. Tech innovation has brought electricity, internet, banking, clean water, and more to all corners of the globe. Civil rights activists, biologists, artists, teachers- great and small, people all over this planet are bravely and creatively tackling the wide variety of problems plaguing our world.

You are Uniquely Suited to be Changemakers

This brings me to my point. You have been taught not just algebra and essay writing, but how to tackle challenges, to problem solve as a team. You have been taught kindness, empathy, and open-mindedness. When you were just 8 years old, your Pine Point teachers were already pushing you to think more deeply and creatively about the challenges in front of you.

The fact that you had the safe space, support, and encouragement to think and learn this way is so beautiful and so rare in this country, let alone this world. It makes you uniquely suited to make the choice to go out into the world and lead the charge to make it measurably better and better.

You are a part of the largest, most ethnically diverse, and best-educated generation in our nation’s history. You have already been through a global pandemic during crucial years of your lives. This has tested you and made you stronger but also kinder, and more aware of the vulnerabilities of those around you. I stand here today hopeful because a generation like yours, led by compassionate and curious people like you, graduates sitting here today, is a generation that can and will change the world.

I think probably, as your graduation speaker, this is the part where I’m supposed to offer you some sage advice. Well- I’ll let you in on a little secret. We’re all just winging it. In many ways, I feel just as spun around and uncertain as I did sitting here 17 years ago. But I do have one little piece of wisdom, something I didn’t fully grasp at my own graduation. Look around you. These people- the ones you’ve grown up within the classroom, on the stage, on the fields- they are going to be leaders and movers and change-makers. Unfortunately, many people you’re going to encounter in your adult lives won’t have had the benefit of the kind of childhood and education that you received here. This is an opportunity for you to share the values of your Pine Point education with those people and lead by example.

Take the respect, integrity, moral courage, and excellence imbued in you by your teachers here and make the choice to use it to make this world a better place. Your community of friends and family will be there with you every step of the way.

The future is bright with you at the helm.

Congratulations, Class of 2023; we can’t wait to see what you do next!

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