Lucien Wostenholme, a Great Neck North High School class of 2019 graduate, reflects on an early childhood day with his grandfather at the beach – the day his academic journey began – and the larger significance of smaller moments in his graduation speech. It was sent to the Great Neck News by the Great Neck Public Schools.
Students, teachers, administrators, parents, and guests—thank you for being a part of the Class of 2019 graduation ceremony. Right now, even looking out into the audience and standing amongst this sea of blue gowns, I am still just overwhelmed that I am able to stand on the same stage where the Disney Junior Dance Party took place in February.
Now picture the scene: it’s the summer of 2006, just before the start of kindergarten at E.M. Baker. My grandpa and I, standing before a vast lake, scan the rocky, algae-strewn shoreline for stones. Despite the cloudy, foggy grey sky, we immerse ourselves in the natural world—fully mindful and present in the moment. I watch carefully, absorbed in an aura of youthful wonder, as my grandpa examines the stones with great thoroughness and care, weighing each one in his hands, poring over their potential and their individual qualities. Then, with incredible yet subtle touch, he skips them seven, eight, nine times—lightly skimming the glassy water with neat, orderly ripples.
Even without knowing most of my future classmates, save for a few from preschool, it is in these small, pre-elementary school moments when our class adventure truly began. On our first day of kindergarten, we all stood upon a rocky shoreline before a great lake—on the frontier between watching Blue’s Clues, singing, or whatever else we did at five years old, and grade school—the path, the journey that would transport us to adulthood. Each of us began at our own beach, searching for the little stones, testing, experimenting, trying, failing, succeeding at skipping stones various distances over the initially calm and placid body. Those stones became our little opportunities, our little choices that we made day by day. Though we all began in different places, from different backgrounds, families, and homes, slowly, the ripples from our collective stone throwing—our collective seizing of our chances—began to meet and intersect, warping the water across all three spatial dimensions in a truly elegant, universal way. Over the years of grade school, our beaches became one as our stones’ residual effects did. The little decisions, interactions, and choices we made with each new opportunity transported us to new places. We met new people, made new friends, and developed long-lasting relationships.
Our great frontier was high school. At first, high school was a strange place. There were new conditions—new currents and waves—to take note of. While the upperclassmen and women were preparing for adulthood, we were just beginning to more fully shape our pattern of ripples. From a bird’s eye view, our stones’ shockwaves had barely ever reached beyond our simple circles of nearby friends and well-known places. The high school body of water changed that. As we spent our “freshman fight club” days reading Lord of the Flies and studying Kinematics formulas, more clubs, more teams, more classes presented themselves as new stones upon our shores – ones that begged to be tested, experimented with, and, eventually, skipped into the distance. Sometimes, the water was rough, choppy, unsettled – affecting the radiation of our stones’ pathways and interactions. Other times, big storms rolled directly onto our beaches and drenched us all, setting all of us back and threatening to erase our stones’ connections: a first taste of failure, first lost friendship, first cut from a team or play. Yet as a class, we learned that in order to keep our network of connected ripples and waves together, we needed to keep skipping stones—seizing our moments and choices—sometimes even faster than before.
Some made it just far enough to be considered a success—passing our first test, meeting new people, experimenting with painting and sculpture, or making the freshmen team. A select few, though, began skipping for hundreds of feet at a time—paths carved into the blissful future. These were our major successes: winning a gavel at Model Congress, earning a spot on the varsity basketball team, being selected for All-County and All-State in music, forging a deep connection with a teacher, classmate, or counselor, or even becoming a sought-after illustrator and artist. Slowly, we became more skillful, more refined with our stone skipping, and by the time we became Great Gatsby-reading juniors, we learned how to make our skips more intricate, ultimately crafting a strong, beautifully complex class identity. Now, as seniors approaching our next frontier—be it college, a gap year, work, or trade school—the experiences we’ve had, the challenges we’ve overcome, and the water-borne picture we’ve crafted will etch itself into our memories. As a class—the Class of 2019—we are ready to live in the moments on our new beach overlooking our new future.
So I urge you today to reflect on your high school moments: the shores you’ve roamed, the currents you’ve dealt with, and the stones you’ve thrown. Remember to imagine that rocky beach facing the future—a boundless place fraught with all conditions, bad and good. Today, our last ripples have made their way onto our on-water image, and now we stand ready to create new ones. Our sea of blue is serenading us goodbye and beckoning to that future. Immerse yourselves in the natural world, seize your opportunities, and ride their new waves as far as you can go. Thank you, and may we move ever forward!