Student Commencement Speaker
Caroline Whitney Quan ’20,
I’ve said this before, but I am going to say this again. One of the best days I have
ever had at Heathwood was in second grade when I showed up to school without a
skirt on. I so vividly remember hopping out of the car and immediately making eye
contact with Olivia Antonetti... and she was giggling. I looked down and saw in
utter disbelief that I was not wearing a skirt. Now don’t worry! I was wearing a
pair of thick baggy blue leggings that were so long they rumpled at the ankles.
Somehow, no one in my family of six, six!, noticed I was missing my skirt!
I began to tuck in my uniform top into my oversized leggings which made for an
unfortunate lump that ran around my waist. Then, the most glorious thing
happened. I was told that I didn’t need to tuck in my shirt. And I smiled so, so big.
So big you would have thought I would get frozen with that smile on my face. The
battle against tucking in was hard-fought in lower and middle school. Any day you
were allowed to not tuck in? Those days felt free. Absolutely free.
I smiled so much that day that my cheeks hurt the next day.
And I have smiled ever since then,
because I made the realization that although I showed up to class probably three
feet tall at the time with a shirt tucked into janky leggings too baggy and too big,
my classmates were cheering me on. Who woulda thought?
Since the Class of 2020 began to form, we have been not only a grade but also a
In fourth grade? Well, we built empires during recess using pine straw. We were
architects and business people, contractors and lawmakers. During recess, there
was no limit to what we could do. And that is exactly how it should be! We were
submerged in an environment that encouraged us to embrace the whimsical and
not fear our imaginations. We stood together at recess and explored.
Then came middle school. We no longer had pine straw forts to keep our
community together. But we had something still pertaining to our roots in nature.
Mulching. (communal shudder)
One particular day in middle school, Dr. Beasley had us plant trees as we mulched.
Before we could go inside, we had to go talk to the trees and give them words of
encouragement. This seemed like complete insanity to us at the time. But now I
realize, he was reminding us how these interactions we make on a daily basis not
only shape who we are, not only who we want to be, but the effect of our words on
others. What can we say and what can we do to help others achieve their dreams?
In his own way, Dr. Beasley was encouraging us to explore and expand the
boundaries of our imaginations.
And... once we began exploring? We never stopped. In high school, we yelled at
each other from across the classroom in Dr. Sircy’s class arguing over
hypotheticals, what would you do if you came home to find a confused Shaquille
O'Neal in your shower? Dr. Burrows tossed mints to us and culminated a
collaborative atmosphere. Dr. Plowden always paused to give us moments to think
and speak up (pause).
Our time in high school taught us how to be independent, but also reminded us
how to be a community. We did fight and yell and have a cascade of mints appear
out of seemingly nowhere, but we smiled and we were excited. Day in and day out,
even when it all felt like one monotonous slog, you could glance at someone,
anyone, from across the room and share a smile or a laugh. (look around, make eye
contact with someone, smile) Maybe for no reason at all. (pause)
This year has felt at times insurmountable. I mean, we are six months into two
thousand and twenty and I am still waiting for this year to start! And to be honest?
And to be honest I struggled a lot when writing this speech. I wanted to take this
entire time to look back and reflect on our experiences at Heathwood. How we
passed around bags of candy and shared the last drops of water when the busses
broke down every single field trip. How our grade has won multiple bowling
championships. Yes, bowling is a sport! How our drama department went to the
international thespian festival in worldly Lincoln, Nebraska when we were
freshmen to perform our one act.
I wanted to just... talk about the football games when as kids we used to run around
behind the bleachers with small blue footballs in one hand and snow cones in the
other, to when we were either playing on the fields or cheering our hearts out on
But. I can’t ignore everything else that is happening, and that has happened this
year. I can’t ignore the fact that our senior year was cut short, or that there is
currently a global pandemic. I can’t ignore the current civil unrest surrounding
racial injustice. I can’t ignore that this year, we lost Jake. (pause)
And, I can’t tell you how things will work out moving forward, but I do know that
despite all of this we can still do something. We can decide how this year will be
remembered by talking, by speaking up. You see, we’re not social distancing,
we’re physically distancing. Six feet apart doesn’t hinder your voice. So ask
yourself, what can we say, and what can we do to make the change that we want to
see? How can we take this seemingly “muddy mettled” year and give it more than
just a place in our memories? How do we make everything that has happened this
year, all the good, all the bad, all the tears and anger and sorrow and laughter and
smiles and waves goodbye, how do we take these moments and make them more
than just stories? More than just memories? (pause)
How do we build our legacy? (pause)
Maybe we as the Class of 2020 will not be leaving legacies of our own individual
lives, but just one of collective hope and change. One in which we cheer each other
on, just as we always have. And maybe, that is exactly how it should be.
as tempting as it may be to imagine our futures and our legacies, today is about the
present. Today is graduation. A day to reflect on the past and smile, big, so so big.
And to that end I would like to share the first stanza of Shel Silverstein’s poem
“Where the Sidewalk Ends,”
“There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
This, right now, is truly a place “Where the sidewalk ends and before the street
begins.” And this sidewalk we have been walking on? This sidewalk is one that has
expanded across campus. From the Middle school building, all the way here, to the
Belltower, these sidewalks have interwoven all of our paths during our times at
Sure, we didn’t walk the path that lead to the front doors of Trinity and there is no
over-the-top rendition of the Heathwood Hall hymn being played on a pipe organ
behind me, but we are together in front of a bell tower with no real bells that has
become a staple of our Heathwood experience. It almost seems fitting.
I would like to thank the teachers who have helped make sure we had a sense of
closing to our senior year. I would also like to thank our families who have
supported us our entire way here.
I would like to close this speech with a quote that I think sums this year up quite
perfectly. A wise man by the name of Paul Rudd once had a conversation in an
episode of “Hot Ones” that went something like this:
“Look at us! Hey look at us! Who woulda thought?
And to that I would like to respond:
Look at us! Here we are, and here we are together.
And so our journeys continue,
And so in many ways, they have just begun.
Congratulations everyone. Thank you.