"No matter if our paths make jarring turns or remain as straight as our beloved Senior Path, ... I hope your path leads you back here from time to time," said senior Rachel Walsh in her address to the 190 graduating classmates who elected her to speak at Loomis Chaffee's 101st Commencement on Sunday May 28.
Rachel and all the day's speakers touched upon the idea that Commencement and the graduates' time at Loomis Chaffee are but points on the journeys that are their lives.
Commencement Speaker Steve Tisch, an Oscar-winning movie producer, co-owner and chairman of the New York Giants, and parent of graduating senior Elizabeth Tisch, likened life's journey to the storyline of a movie. "In my business – the movie business – the producer is the quarterback. He must find the story, choose the director and the cast, line up the financing, and oversee a thousand other things that get a film made," Steve said. "You have the responsibility as the producers in your own lives ... and beginning tomorrow, you are producing an independent film, and it will be a true story. Those are the best kind." Four of the last five Academy Awards for Best Picture went to films based on true stories, he pointed out.
Good life stories, said Steve, draw from the lead character's experience of endurance, of overcoming injustice, oppression, personal flaws, and the challenges of the world around them, and many feature a pivotal moment of "awakening" in the lead character's life. Steve shared pivotal moments in his own life when he came to understand the relationship between rebellion and responsibility. Steve said he was inspired to rebel by Bob Dylan's embracing of the electric guitar, exemplifying Dylan's refusal to be pigeonholed as an acoustic folk singer. Steve also was inspired by one of his teachers at the Gunnery School, who went out on a limb to save Steve from expulsion when, as a 16-year old, Steve's rebelliousness had become irresponsible. Steve came to understand that he had a responsibility to his teacher and to himself to return to school, work to his potential, and be the best person he could be.
"You need to be you, but never forget [that] what you do matters to those close to you," Steve said.
Though not a true story, the movie Forrest Gump, for which Steve won an Oscar in 1994, tells the story of one of the most enduringly popular characters in film, the title character, and Steve says it is easy to see why. Forrest's appeal, according to Steve, is that in experiencing excitement and adventure during his life story, he encounters great loss and tragedy, but he never loses his optimism, his child-like sense of wonder, and his fundamental goodness. As Forrest encounters a series of ups and downs, he doesn't worry too much about that which he cannot control.
"I think Forrest had it right," Steve said.
Steve challenged the members of the Class of 2017 to write and produce a true story of their lives, as only they can do. He closed by quoting one of Forrest's most famous lines from the movie: "And that's all I'm going to say about that."
Also sharing their wisdom from the Commencement stage on Sunday were Christopher K. Norton '76, chairman of the Loomis Chaffee Board of Trustees; Head of School Sheila Culbert; and Trustee Harvey J. Struthers Jr. '60. Several other Trustees, Erik A. Cliette '84, Karin Kohler Finlay, Douglas W. Lyons '82, Duncan A.L. MacLean '90, and Steven P. Rosenthal, joined Sheila and Chris in presenting the Commencement Prizes.
The names of all the graduates were read by Dean of Faculty Katherine H. Ballard, and the diplomas were presented by Director of Studies Timothy C. Lawrence and Sheila.
In her remarks, Sheila couldn't resist referencing the wisdom of Forrest Gump's mother, who told him, "Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get." Sheila said the new graduates' education at Loomis equipped them well to take on the challenges they will face on the paths ahead.
Harvey closed the ceremony by encouraging the graduates to reflect upon the passages that brought them to the Island and will carry them away, and he sent them off by reading the lyrics from the Bob Dylan song "Forever Young": "May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong, and may you stay forever young."
Commencement Prize winners:
The Charles Henry and Mary Chaffee Willcox Prize: Catherine Lee
The Loomis Family Prize: Benjamin Hanseung Ryu
The Florence E. Sellers Prize: Ifteda Ahmed-Syed
The Ammidon Prize: Isaac Guzman
The Jennie Loomis Prize: Sydney Steward
The Nathaniel Horton Batchelder Memorial Prize: Justin McIntosh
Winners of the Sellers Faculty Prizes, awarded Saturday during Class Night:
Patrick J. Craig
Zimeng "Lily" Liu
Read the transcript from Steve Tisch's Commencement address.
Read the transcript from Rachel Walsh's address.