by Felicia Wilks, assistant head of school/Upper School director
This is an excerpt of a speech that Wilks delivered at Commencement 2020.
As the Upper School director, I have the great privilege of reflecting on the Class of 2020. You exemplify so many aspects of our mission: you are caring, resilient, hard-working, talented, and very funny. An overall terrific class!
To the parents and guardians, siblings, family members: I share your pride in the students of this class. They have been through a lot — as a class and personally. Through every stage of their growth, they have remained true to themselves and supporters of each other. They have pushed the school to be better than it was when they arrived and they have succeeded.
To the Class of 2020: I feel lucky to have this chance to reflect back to you how awesome you are, with specifics from the adults in this community who know you best. So many people happily shared their stories with me. While I could not include every story, I hope that, by the end, each of you feels seen, appreciated, and loved – because you truly are.
Of all of your strengths and talents as a class, I will focus on four. You are an impressively accomplished class, but your biggest accomplishment is how much you grew. So, I will begin with the ways your class grew together and contributed to a sense of community in the Upper School. Second, I will share snapshots of the impressive ways you have used your talents to serve others, in Seattle and beyond. Third, I will shine some light on your many wonderful talents and accolades. And finally, I will end with a few words about the joy and laughter you have brought to us all — and the resilience you have displayed during challenging times.
To begin, I have to say that the Class of 2020 has shown more positive growth and leadership than any class I've worked with in the last 20 years. You did not begin as the tightly bonded class you are today. But you worked hard to come together and, as a result, your class came to exemplify inclusion. You strongly support one another, you are willing to be your authentic selves, and you make space for other people to be their true selves in our community. The impact of your inclusivity is not limited to peers and younger students. One of your teachers shared how your class encouraged him to bring more of himself to school, writing: “[Students in the Class of 2020] embraced me with open arms and inspired me, for the first time in over 10 years of teaching, to be open about my identity as someone who identifies as gay.”
One of the greatest examples of your efforts toward greater inclusion is the work you did to more firmly connect your class:
- The Class of 2020 is the first class to request and execute – beautifully – a 10th and 11th grade retreat. You proactively worked to repair the gaps you saw in your class and made connection one of your priorities. And it worked! You became a tight class and you consistently support one another. You inspired students in younger grades to take stock of how well their classes bonded — and to take action to change it if they didn’t like what they saw. You showed that class culture can be set and improved by students themselves.
- When any of you are performing — whether that is in the arts, athletics, table tennis, or speaking to the Upper School — you show up for each other. Your enthusiastic support for each other has created the perfect backdrop for your many accomplishments and may have encouraged some of you to try things you might not have otherwise. I hope you will always support each other’s efforts — even when you are not in school together each day.
- One faculty member put it best, writing: “You embrace your peers for who they are on their journeys. You not only celebrate and get behind your peers when they ‘do’ something; you are also there for each other for ‘being’ someone.”
Beyond your commitment to each other, there are countless examples of the ways you included younger students in your courses, teams, and social groups. You took seriously your role as leaders on campus long before you were seniors and have been strong role models for younger students. For instance:
- 19% of this class volunteered through the peer tutoring program, ensuring that students felt comfortable seeking help when they needed it, which is so important at a school as academically challenging as Lakeside.
- You drove countless miles with younger students who needed rides to practices and games off campus.
- You mentored young contributors to the yearbook and Tatler, and prepared younger students to lead your clubs and affinity groups after you.
- In an effort to encourage more student body support for sports, music, drama and other extracurriculars, you started the school’s spirit committee when you were still new to the Upper School yourselves.
- Two of you served as unofficial junior leaders on the Mt. Baker outdoor trip to help the leaders support less experienced students along the way.
- Outside of school, many of you volunteered or took jobs to work with young people. You are lifeguards who teach young people to swim; you coach tennis; you referee wrestling matches; you wrote an educational children's book about nut allergies; and teach children at synagogues and other places of worship.
Your focus on inclusivity also led to some important diversity, equity, and inclusion work on campus. One faculty member described your class as follows: “This is a class that showed a certain propensity to ask difficult questions not only of their friends and families, but even more importantly, of themselves. These students exhibited their empathy and ability to show compassion, especially for those that society has identified as ‘others.’ [They possess] commendable traits of perspicacity, empathy, compassion, and work ethic. Looking out for each other is part and parcel of looking out for those ‘others’ who invite their compassion and deep belief in social equity and inclusion.”
You have initiated a lot of work on campus around diversity and inclusion, which will have a lasting impact. A few examples of your work in this area include:
- Students in your class advocated for and started the school’s new interfaith and spirituality affinity group.
- You have been willing to be honest and vulnerable in front of your peers in your Real Talks and in assemblies about race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity, modeling that vulnerability and openness are not incompatible with leadership and strength.
- Twelve of you helped design and served as student facilitators to the Middle School affinity and alliance program, which deepened the experience for our Middle School students, who found in you both impressive role models and empathetic listeners.
- You have sent messages of support and activism to the student body both during times of celebration — like Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and also during the recent unrest related to racial violence in our country. In these moments, you have not waited to be asked to do something for your peers — you just stepped in as leaders do and offered what you sensed your community needed.
Your spirit of inclusivity and your empathetic approach to others also inspired your creative and impressive engagement in service. Members of this class completed over 16,000 hours of service in the last four years including the following:
- Many of you went on Global Service Learning trips and trip leaders commented on your work and engagement with those communities. One comment captured what I read from many leaders: “Nearly all of them spent a good deal of time with dirty feet and mud-stained clothes. Not one of them complained. Ever. I could not have been prouder of them, of how they engaged, what they acknowledged, and how they grew.”
- Young people in Seattle benefit from your volunteering at organizations like Teen Link, Seattle Young People’s Project, and GirlUp.
- A stadium sized audience at WE Day Seattle enjoyed hearing one of you speak when you were just in 10th grade.
- One of you serves as a guide for blind skiers, enjoying the many ways the skiers show you that we each have important skills, gifts, and insights to contribute.
- One of you volunteers to teach self-defense classes to those who are most vulnerable.
- At least one of you is an Eagle Scout.
- When one of you volunteered as a tutor, you listened so carefully to the challenges that your students faced that you were able to create a database to enable the organization to pinpoint the needs of students more effectively.
- You founded new nonprofits like Northwest Instruments for Charity, an organization that collects and delivers instruments to under resourced schools in the region; and Purple America — an organization created to give high school students a way to communicate with those who may not share their political views.
- Your class also boasts some impressive work on the environment and climate change.
- You have testified before the Washington Legislature’s Environment and Energy Committee supporting the establishment of minimum state standards for the use of plastic bags in retail establishments.
- You co-led the Youth Climate Strike in Seattle, which drew over 20 thousand young people.
- You volunteer for organizations that promote sustainable development.
- You led research at the University of Washington on curbing the proliferation of invasive plant species that negatively impact Lake Washington.
- One of you even put forth a proposal at the aerospace company where you were volunteering to make the process of creating aircraft interiors more environmentally friendly and your proposal was accepted.
- In reflecting on your perspective about service, one of you wrote: “It isn’t enough to just sit around and wait for someone to hand you an opportunity to give back to the world; it is part of our civic duty to actively be on the lookout for the ways we can go out and help meet our community’s needs.”
The world needs what the students in this class can do. I hope you always keep this spirit of service and find new ways to give of yourself throughout your life to improve the world for others.
In addition to being generous leaders on campus and beyond, you are also incredibly, exceptionally talented - and in a wide variety of areas.
- You are some of the most accomplished athletes Lakeside School has seen. In your time in the Upper School, the Class of 2020:
- Amassed 14 Metro League championships including a boys cross country team that hadn’t won a league championship for 32 years and the girls soccer team that hadn’t won the championship for 11 years.
- You brought home eight academic state champion trophies in your four years in Upper School.
- State Championships were won by this class in girls swim & dive, boys soccer, and boys tennis.
- Members of this class contributed to winning the WIAA 3A Scholastic Cup last year, the first in the school’s history.
- One of you is an internationally ranked table tennis star and in an amazing story, accepted the challenge to play against your entire advisory — you on one side of the table and the rest of the advisory on the other — and of course, you won against all those other paddles!
- Of course, your class won the seniors vs. faculty basketball game for the first time in anyone’s memory. I hate to lose, but honestly, if we had to lose, I am glad it is to your class. You could have done a lot more gloating, but instead, you characteristically bore this accomplishment with much humility. And I fully intend to fight to keep your title in place — and not let any other class beat the faculty and staff!
- You are impressive and accomplished artists, novelists, singers and musicians with music available online and many, many fans, you are calligraphers, swing dancers, filmmakers, expert sewers and costume designers, origami aficionados, rock tumblers, Irish dancers, published journalists, composers and conductors, pilots, roller skiers, TikTok mega stars, jumping chicken trainers, barefoot tree climbers, expert whistlers, video game designers, and versatile entrepreneurs.
- More than a few of you have been recognized statewide and nationally for your work. A few examples include:
- One of you performed in the National Youth Orchestra, winning the Music Composers Guild Competition.
- One of you won the New York Times photography contest where teens were asked to reflect on stereotypes about their generation and to submit photographs that countered them.
- Several of you were recognized in Bellevue Art Museum’s 20 Under 20 exhibit, while others were recognized in the Washington State High School Photo Contest.
- Several of your plays were recognized by ACT’s Young Playwrights program, and one of your plays is being published.
- Members of this class participated in a total of over 75 amazing Lakeside productions; and while one of you was in 14 Lakeside productions, many of you were cast in your first school musical as a senior.
- You won awards for your writing in Spanish and in history, and one of your research projects was selected to be performed in space.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention your sense of humor and resiliency. You know how to have fun, and your teachers and coaches shared stories of the joy you brought to so many situations in your time in the Upper School:
- Seniors in Organic Chemistry synthesized 22,450 mL of homemade biodiesel fuel and when they were done, they piled into one of the Lakeside buses, fueled it up with their concoction, and drove around the neighborhood screaming “The Wheels on the Bus” at the top of their lungs.
- One of you somehow came to Spanish class with your teacher’s kitchen as your Zoom background; you sang happy birthday on Zoom in party hats — some of which were shoes or baskets.
- In 9th grade, one of your teachers was trying to teach you all clichés so you would avoid them in your writing. The teacher would begin class with a few clichés, reading the first half, so you all could fill in the second half in unison. But you didn’t know them all — or maybe you did, and it was more fun to be creative. Here are a couple that teacher recalled: When life gives you lemons, make ...bubble tea! People in glass houses shouldn’t throw...darts!
- And maybe the best example of your great sense of humor was the legendary Mars Lander Halloween costume that was both brilliantly and hilariously rendered!
More than anything, you are resilient — as individuals and as a class.
- A faculty member captured this spirit of resilience: “Their way of managing this current circumstance speaks to their resilience, flexibility, adaptability, and compassion. They have been so good to each other and offered their younger peers an excellent example of poise and maturity in a time of crisis and uncertainty.”
- Likewise, a coach who knows the class well wrote about the character of this class: "They are big supporters of each other and also steadfast achievers; they are fearless, determined, and they don’t make excuses ever. They weren’t impervious to fatigue, discomfort, or discouragement, they simply chose to accept those aspects of their road to self-discovery."
The members of this class listen and observe with empathy and kindness. You use your talents and intellect to solve the problems you observe. You are flexible, adaptable, and interested in improving the world around you — not just for yourself. This is something that distinguishes your class. You have been through a lot, and yet, here you are. You have made it through and along the way — even as you struggled – you continued to lead, to reach out to each other and to younger students. You exemplify inclusive, responsive leadership, and I am truly grateful for each of you.
Thank you for all you did for the school over these years and thank you for setting such a high bar for empathetic, engaged, creative, hardworking, fun student leadership.
Remember that nothing lasts forever — not high school, not social distancing. So know that these challenging times will pass too. Soon, you will be in your new communities, sharing your many gifts there as you have at Lakeside. I look forward to seeing you up close soon. Please stay connected to Lakeside because we will miss you dearly.
Without further ado, I am pleased and honored to present the Class of 2020.