Lakeside's 95th commencement ceremony took place on June 13, on a warm, sun-bathed afternoon on the Upper School quad. Before a throng of parents, guardians, relatives, and friends, 145 members of Lakeside's Class of 2019 received their high school diplomas. Upper School Director Felicia Wilks and Head of School Bernie Noe recognized the diverse accomplishments and remarkable character of the graduating seniors. Distinguished Service Awards were presented to retiring history teacher Bob Henry, retiring Outdoor Program Coordinator Chip Mehring, and, posthumously, to the late technologist and philanthropist Paul Allen '71.
Wilks: A legacy of action and integrity
Upper School Director Felicia Wilks formally — and personally — presented the Class of 2019, thanking them for the imprint they have left on the school. "Your class has a centered strength that plays an incredibly positive role in our community," she told them. "The stories I heard about you from as early as Middle School suggest you have always been kind, an all-in class that has consistently said 'yes' to whatever is needed. You are true leaders."
Wilks, whose own daughter was among the graduating seniors, expressed a special bond with the class and its cohort of parents and guardians. "In the best of times, you have made things better," she told the seniors, "and in the worst of times, you have also made things better."
Wilks highlighted six areas in which this class of seniors stood out: Their "goodness as individuals and as a class;" their leadership by example; their advocacy for positive causes; their commitment to service and volunteering; their exceptional academic, artistic, and athletic talents; and examples of their "great curiosity and innovative thinking," which ranged widely from fluency in nine languages to the creation of motorized kayaks and virtual-reality glasses for runners; from Lakeside's first-ever winner of the U.S. Math Olympiad to one of the nation's fifteen Cameron Impact Scholars to the class's own International Grand Chess Master. Five members of this single class have represented the United States in international competition.
"You are an incredible class," Wilks said, "kind, fun, and accomplished. Thank you for all you did for the school over these years — and thank you for setting such a high bar for empathetic, engaged, ethical, hard-working student leadership. We are grateful for the legacy of action and integrity you will leave at Lakeside."
Student speeches: Seasons of love and a strong foundation
Representing students on the commencement program were Sebastian Alfonso, president of Upper School Student Government, and J'Dyn Plater and Aidan Kyle, chosen by their fellow seniors to speak. (You can read excerpts of their speeches on the blogs and reflections webpage.)
Alfonso, who gave the convocation, spoke about moments that represent "the magic of Lakeside. The freedom to explore and be open in an exceedingly rare environment."
"I was reflecting, a few days ago, with a friend ... on our favorite snapshots from Lakeside across these last four years. From the bigger moments ... to the small ones, no less profound ... I'll borrow from the musical "Rent," ... in claiming there's no universal way to measure that experience. Because clearly, it's greater than the sum of its parts; more than seconds ticking away on a clock or a never-ending deluge of assignments. We've passed through seasons of love." See his full speech here.
Plater and Kyle gave special thanks to three veteran Lakeside teachers retiring this year: Tom Doelger, Bob Henry, and Chip Mehring, before honoring the Class of 2019 and their legacy. "These four years have ... given us a foundation on which to build our lives," said Plater. "I have seen each and every one of you, every day, be kind and genuine and overall great role models." Kyle spoke to Lakeside's role in their development. "It is a place that creates unique people and I hope everyone continues to carry on the Lakeside legacy for the rest of our lives." See their full speech here.
Noe: Lives of reverence, simplicity, service
Head of School Bernie addressed three areas for students' continued growth post-Lakeside. First, he urged the graduates to develop their sense of reverence, their capacity to see mystery in the world, and to feel awe and deep respect.
Speaking to everyone in the audience, Noe noted that "we have to cultivate our capacity for reverence throughout our lives, which means taking the time to notice beauty that is right in front of us, taking the time to develop deep respect for truth in all of its many forms, taking the time to contemplate the mystery of life alongside the rational, taking the time to reflect on our lives and the meaning of our experiences." He held up retiring English teacher Tom Doelger as someone who has embodied reverence: "reverence for you, his students; reverence for the profession of teaching; and reverence for a life well lived."
His second suggestion was to "live your lives as simply as you can, keeping your needs and wants to a minimum. If you can do this you will have more time for people you love, causes you believe in, work that you find meaningful and of, course, for reverence." Echoing advice he often gives students, he reminded them that "to be overcommitted is really to be under-committed." Retiring Outdoor Program Coordinator Chip Mehring should be their model of elegant simplicity, he said, a man "whose values are deeply aligned with how he spends his time, and generations of Lakeside students have benefitted from his amazing commitment."
His final piece of advice was regarding graduates' responsibility to others, and to the world. "Remember that everyone on this planet is just like you," he proclaimed. "Everyone wants a decent standard of living for their family and hopes for a bright future. Immigrants at the border hoping to enter this country want this, unemployed factory workers throughout the United States want this, people in the red states and blue states want this. Everyone is just like you and you are just like them. And do not listen to any individual, any political party, any ideology that tells you that you are different, better, or somehow superior, that wants to divide you into them and us. Everyone across this country, and around the globe, wants what you want: a decent standard of living and a bright future. I hope, Class of 2019, that all of you will work to create a more just and equitable America and more just and equitable world."
In this work, Noe said, they could look to retiring history teacher Bob Henry. Over 30 years at Lakeside, "he has devoted his time, love, and energy into being a great classroom teacher, into doing all that he could to make us a truly inclusive community. ... You couldn't find him when the thank yous and praise and awards were happening. ... Life for Bob has never been all about Bob but rather the students and colleagues he was helping. And we are a more just and equitable school because of his efforts."
Distinguished Service Award winners: Bob Henry, Chip Mehring, Paul G. Allen
Three members of the Lakeside community were recipients of the Willard J. Wright '32 Distinguished Service Award. Bert Valdman, chair of Lakeside's Board of Trustees, presented the award in recognition of the "extraordinary contributions" of three members of the community: retiring history teacher Bob Henry, retiring Outdoor Program Coordinator Chip Mehring, and, posthumously, to the late technologist and philanthropist Paul G. Allen '71.
Of Henry, who is retiring from Lakeside after 31 years, Valdman shared: "Totally committed, cheerfully demanding, and wise in the ways of how people learn, Bob is the kind of teacher who gives a school like ours its heart. ... Colleagues, grateful for his wisdom about their teaching and his grace in advising their own children, will perpetuate Bob's legacy when they make their classroom environment feel like home; listen with an open heart and mind; commit deeply to equity and inclusion; help a new Lakeside teacher feel like they are a good teacher; see from the student's point of view; sit side-by-side with a student in the hallway, conferencing about a project; or inspire a student to dedicate their adult life to young people and making the world a better place."
Of Mehring, retiring after 36 years, Valdman said: "For decades, Chip has shared his great wealth of knowledge and his passion with countless students and faculty members, generously giving them all the benefit of his unending patience; authentic caring; broad and deep expertise in wilderness travel; flawless attention to detail, safety and efficiency; and prodigious storytelling prowess. The joy and majesty of the outdoors that Chip revealed to them made an indelible impression."
Allen's honor was accepted posthumously by his nephew, Duncan Patton, Lakeside class of 2008. Valdman shared, "In his devotion to brain research, sports, the environment, education, and the arts, Paul exemplified the school's mission, contributing wisdom, compassion, and leadership to a global society. He devoted his energy and resources to making the world a better place for others. ... Through his loyal and generous support, Paul advanced the mission of Lakeside School. We are grateful for his service and proud to call him an alumnus."
Read the full citations for Bob Henry, Chip Mehring, and Paul G. Allen here; remarks by Bob Henry and Chip Mehring will be posted on the blogs and reflections webpage.