by Felicia Wilks, Upper School director
Following is an excerpt from Upper School Director Felicia Wilks’s speech at Commencement 2018.
…First, I have to say how grateful I am to have had you as my first Lakeside senior class. As someone who has worked in high schools for many years, I know that the senior class can make or break a school year. Your visible leadership modeled integrity, kindness, hard work, commitment, and fun in the classroom, in athletics, in the arts, and in the community.
The stories I hear about you from your Middle School years and from your time as 9th-, 10th-, and 11th-graders prove you have always been curious and kind. Funny and incredibly intellectual. A class of individuals who learned early on, and relearned with each new group of students to join the class, to take nothing more seriously than community, than being and learning together, striving to see things from each other’s unique perspective. You have always supported each other and the younger students on campus. This is your legacy.
Of all of your strengths and talents as a class, I will focus on eight of them, and it seems appropriate to begin with your intellectual curiosity and your skillful ability to question what you hear and experience. You listen carefully to the national experts we bring to campus to speak. You thoughtfully interrogate their assumptions and ask questions to which they can’t offer prepared responses. Likewise, in a unit on the Industrial Revolution in 10th grade a group of you entered into union negotiations with your teacher to be allowed to bring lunch to class. Management (aka your teacher) wouldn’t budge, but you moved him with your persistence, your good thinking and your good humor. In the end, a deal was struck: everyone pitched in for bagels to share on long block days. To this day, your teacher recalls fondly the good spirit the “union” brought to the table, saying it was an experience from which mutual respect grew.
You also have some pretty unique talents and gifts - you are a richly diverse group of individuals who have always been willing to share your interests with those around you. You have completed drafts of novels, have published writing, won awards for poetry (in English and Spanish) and have performed incredible spoken-word poetry at festivals and in front of the entire Lakeside community. Many of you are amazingly talented dancers in ballet, tap, modern, hip hop, and other genres, and at least one of you was invited to audition for the tv show, “So You Think You Can Dance.” You are also gifted visual artists, creating work that thousands of people follow on Instagram and that faculty and staff fight over purchasing. You are talented playwrights, filmmakers, and actors, performing at Lakeside, the Seattle Public Theater and the Washington Ensemble Theater.
One of the many skilled musicians in your class was selected for the All-Northwest orchestra four years in a row, while others of you reached state finals at Washington State Solo and Ensemble festivals. Still others of you composed and arranged music performed by the jazz band and symphony orchestra. One of you played in 98 baseball games during your time in upper school, breaking the record for the number of games played. You have gone on an incredible number of outdoor trips - one of you holds the Lakeside record for the most outdoor trips - eight! One of you entered 9th grade able to draw an entire map of the world accurately. Some of your talents border on the magical - one of you can make origami everything, including origami moose and origami flying Hercules beetle; at least one of you is a beekeeper who doesn’t need to wear protective gear; another of you successfully taught beginner flute to a group of campers - despite never having played the flute before yourself.
It will come as no surprise that all of this hard work and talent leads to many accolades, formal and informal. The members of the class of 2018 are competitors and champions in so many things: rock climbing, rowing, Ultimate Frisbee, geography and history bees, chess, ethics bowl, knowledge bowl, and countless other areas.
Your achievements are many, but your greatest gift to the Upper School has been your commitment to community. This has shown up in a number of ways: from the way you engage respectfully with each other, your teachers, coaches, counselors, staff, even your own parents and guardians! It’s especially touching to witness the care and respect you show for the younger students in our community.
You believe in equity and it shows in your personal relationships and in your work at school and in the greater Seattle community. One faculty member described you as a group of students who “are compelled by questions of social equity and justice that have given you a sense of social responsibility beyond your most immediate needs and concerns.” You are leaving behind a legacy of initiating, leading and facilitating conversations about race, gender, sexuality and other aspects of identity, diversity and inclusion. You worked to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students on campus by organizing an assembly where you shared your own stories and highlighted the stories of your peers, modeling what it meant to stand up for what you know is right. Members of your class comprise 28 of our 55 To Be Honest conversation facilitators and half of the affinity and alliance group leaders. We will have to work hard to find others who can so ably facilitate tough and important discussions in our community.
Your commitment to activism and social justice is not limited to your work on campus. Many of you volunteered far more than the 80 required hours, with a class total of 18,970 service hours, and a class average of 130 hours per student. You shared your time and talents with people and organizations throughout Seattle. You worked with at-risk youth to create works of art in Seattle. You created a coding camp to serve underprivileged children. You serve as lawyers and judges of the Washington State Association of Youth Courts. You serve as Teen Council members for the Planned Parenthood Teen Council and have traveled to present at the National Summit. You share your love of learning by tutoring students on campus and in local schools, camps and programs.
Your reflections on what service has meant to you are moving, suggesting that you gained as much as you gave to your volunteering efforts. Here are comments from three student reflections about their service. One wrote: “I’ve learned...at Lakeside, that there’s nothing better than giving my time to those who need it.” Another student shared: “I believe that each member of a community, especially a privileged one like myself, should always do what they can to help those in need.” And a third student wrote: “[Volunteering has] opened me to a world that I didn’t know existed and encouraged me to become more understanding of the people around me and realize that everyone has a story that nobody knows.”
One of your most touching contributions is your commitment to younger students at Lakeside. You defy every stereotype of aloof, disconnected seniors. On the contrary, you have been the ones younger students confide in, and come to for advice. We called on the senior leaders in this class again and again this year to help us guide younger students. These leaders ran the 9th-grade retreat, making the perfect s’more for anyone who couldn’t make one themselves, but also giving solid advice about how to make friendships that last, how to stand for what you believe is right even when that position is unpopular, and how not to be too embarrassed about your 9th-grade crushes when you read the letter you wrote to yourself at the 9th-grade retreat as a senior. We called on them again to talk to 9th graders about how to approach Upper School dances – the asking and the going – and they showed up with just a few days’ notice to each 9th-grade advisory to share their advice. Students in the 10th grade asked the seniors to help them lead their impromptu 10th grade retreat this spring. Many 10th graders credit the retreat’s success in large part to the seniors’ presence and guidance.
There are also times when you looked out for younger students on campus in less official, but no less influential ways. We know about the many meetings you have had with incoming club leaders or those students who would like to start new clubs and have come to you for advice. We’ve also seen you sitting at lunch with your 9th-grade buddies, leaning forward to listen to what they say. One teacher recounted that during a discussion about the college process, a senior in a class of mostly juniors shared, “Look guys, you’re going to college if that’s what you want to do. And for those who worry about letters of denial...well...I was just denied yesterday. And guess what? I’m okay and you’ll be okay, too.” The honesty in that sharing will carry those juniors farther than days of reassurances from parents, guardians, advisors and college counselors.
Younger students on this campus know and trust you, seniors, and have benefitted from your guidance. You stepped up all year, never focusing just on yourselves – something you have done since Middle School. I understand there was a group of you who in 8th grade were on call to make sure the lunchroom was clean. You helped each time, just as you have in the Upper School with no evident motive other than a willingness to do the work of maintaining community.
You are also incredibly committed to each other. You are a tight class, with little drama, no evident cliques, and the ability to have fun with whichever of your classmates is nearby. I saw you all year at games, cheering on your classmates and friends. Your hilarious cheers during each season of sports were heard all over the region because you traveled near and far to show your Lion pride.
I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on your class’ sense of humor and fun. The senior run through theme of Pants, Pants, Pants! was unique and funny. I counted at least 20 pairs of pants on one student, and I know that was not the highest number. Who knew how many ways a person could wear a pair of pants?! The Class of 2018, that’s who. You filled Bliss with what felt like a million colorful balloons on the last day of classes, creating a great break before exams as well as the most inclusive, fun and festive senior prank I have ever experienced (thank you!). You are also hilariously competitive. The senior players for the faculty and staff vs seniors basketball game were serious! I have never been guarded so intensely! I had to remind one senior that I am old and out of shape during the game. Luckily the great coaches for the faculty and staff team led us to victory. Sorry, not sorry, seniors.
A few members of this class left selfies of themselves all over the Middle School assistant director’s office on a regular basis – which she found to be both terrifying and hilarious. You raced rolly chairs in the hallways of Allen Gates. Some of you play a game we think is called Pig Pen in Red Square that you have been playing since 9th grade. We don’t know the rules, but we enjoy watching you play it. And one of you pulled a marshmallow from a teacher’s ear and asked if he wanted to eat it (he declined).
You are an incredible class. I could go on singing your praises for another few hours, but even that would not be enough time. Just as having you for one year or for four years in the Upper School was not enough time. We will miss you more than you can imagine. But we are confident that you will continue to draw strength from each other, even as you head to different parts of the country and the world for the next step in your journey. We are also confident that you will create new communities, that you will lead, listen, and laugh in your new spaces, just as you have done here. Each of you carries the knowledge, love, and laughter of this class with you. And Lakeside will always be here for you. Please come back to see us often.
Without further ado, I am pleased and honored to present the Class of 2018.