An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by William M. ’21, Upper School student government president

At Upper School Back-to-School Night, Student Government President William M. ’21 welcomed parents and guardians. Following is an excerpt from his speech.

Hello parents and guardians! It’s a real honor to speak to you this evening from the comfort of my own home and in my favorite pair of pajama pants.

Traditionally, the Lakeside president gives a speech to peers at Convocation and then gives a modified version of the same speech to parents at Back to School Night. However, my message to students at Convocation was a call to approach this year with a service mindset, and as my parents very gently pointed out, this really isn’t an appropriate message for parents, as parenthood is already all about service.

So, let me start by saying thank you. Thank you for the sacrificial service that means that your children are the awesome people that I get to learn with and from. And instead of talking about service again, I would like to talk tonight about Lakeside as a family experience.

I remember freshman year, being new to this school and wondering what my parents would think about Back-to-School Night. As it turned out, they were pretty awed by the teachers they met, they used the wrong entryway for my English class in Moore Hall, and they experienced watching other people greet each other as old friends when they themselves felt they didn’t know anyone. In short, they got a pretty authentic taste of how I had felt in my first weeks as a freshman.

This year, I’ve seen my parents’ disappointment at not getting to attend Back-to-School Night in-person, because the people in this community have grown to be a big part of their lives, and seeing my parents’ disappointment, it really hit me: that at its best, Lakeside really is a family experience.

Now, there are some pretty obvious ways that this is the case. I mean, the commute to school and the complicated scheduling certainly make the logistics of Lakeside very much a family experience. And there is the financial sacrifice that parents make. I don’t want to underestimate either of those ways that a student’s Lakeside experience impacts everyone in their family.

But in 2020, there are new ways that the family component of the Lakeside experience has changed. In my case, it’s that my four-year-old sister sometimes joins my classes, whether I want her there or not. The kitchen has become my personal WCC and science lab, whether my mom likes it or not. And trying to beat my brothers at four-square or my dad at ping pong have become my favorite study breaks. These are by-products of something we didn’t invite, but things I already appreciate as being special.

Also, Lakeside has long emphasized community service and developing self-advocacy and resilience. We often hear parents, principals and teachers hold these up as the values that really matter, beyond grades and test scores and such. And because in 2020 we are literally going to work and to school together there is the opportunity to make these things a much bigger part of the family experience.

My hope is that parents and guardians, and indeed, the generations that follow us, will say that yes, the Classes of ’21, ’22, ’23, and ’24 made us proud. Not proud because we earned good grades or won certain prizes. But proud because of how we faced a period of disappointment and adversity.

We tend to be a community of achievers and I really want to emphasize that life in the midst of political turmoil… life under a haze of smoke… life without access to friends is not something that any of us should strive be “good at.” We will have — and we need to feel free to have — bad days.

But we are also a school of the educationally privileged and the incredibly well-supported. A school not just of future leaders, but of leaders, and I want to seize 2020 as the year that we showed what we are made of, and that’s community mindedness, resilience, and service toward others. Service that for us students takes the form of engaging with community-building efforts, not just complaining about the lack of community. Service that takes the form of being sensitive to the fact that the person to the right of you on the Zoom call might be scared silly — as I was — about being the new kid in class, that they might be experiencing the reality of family unemployment, or that they may have had the wind knocked out of them in terms of assaults on the core of their identity. And yes, service for our classes takes the form of staying home a lot more than any of us would like.

I’ve heard that question about whether great people make history or whether history makes great people, and I know it’s a little of both. I just hope that this Lakeside generation can take the tremendous gifts that you parents and guardians have all given us — and that the amazing Lakeside faculty have helped to feed and nourish — and that you will say we turned those gifts into something good for others. That we learned. That we un-learned. And yes, that we made the most of remote learning. Because if that can be part of your family’s shared Lakeside experience, that is truly something special.