A Graduation Tradition

Like every graduate before them, the 104 members of the class of 2012 – the largest class in Middlesex School history – each had to carve a self-chosen design on a wooden panel before earning a diploma. This longstanding tradition of plaque carving was much on the minds of commencement speakers on June 3, 2012, and recurred as a metaphor or message of advice throughout the morning exercises.

As Board President Pete Olney ’66 told the seniors, their plaques “are a wonderful snapshot of your diverse interests and your current states of mind.” But, on another level, he added, each plaque “represents a microcosm of your experience here at Middlesex.” Learning to carve, he elaborated, was a new challenge requiring unfamiliar tools; in the process, students sometimes procrastinated, panicked, and sought the support of classmates. “Ultimately, you got it done,” he confirmed. “And you’ll do that again and again and again: new challenges, new deadlines, new tools.”

2012 Graduation Speaker

This year’s graduation speaker, the Reverend Joseph P. Watkins ’71 – a pastor and frequent commentator on MSNBC and CNBC – told the cautionary tale of a classmate who decided not to finish his plaque and consequently did not receive his diploma until the task was done weeks later. “Live your life as if you expect someday to have to give account for your life, for what you’ve done, for the choices you’ve made,” he advised, also urging the seniors to help others throughout their lives and to remember that character matters.

For the elected Valedictorian, Blake ’12, his plaque – depicting a scene from a favorite Dr. Seuss book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go – expresses the confidence and will to persevere that he learned at Middlesex. Looking forward to the next step in the journey ahead, he repeated for his classmates the story’s well-known lines: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.”

Head of School Kathleen Carroll Giles praised the class for its strong leadership and investment in the school community, thanking them for consistently “showing up.” Explaining that simple phrase, she continued, “Showing up is an attitude, not just a physical event; it’s about taking responsibility; it’s about turning your attention and your energy and your will to what needs to be done, to what should be done, to what you know will make the problem or situation or issue better….Keep showing up.”

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