by Felicia Wilks, assistant head of school / Upper School director
This is an excerpt of a speech that Wilks delivered at Commencement 2021.
As the Upper School director, I have the great privilege of reflecting on the Class of 2021. This class exemplifies so many aspects of our mission and our competencies and mindsets - you are a creative, caring, fun, and optimistic group of problem solvers. You exemplify excellence in academics, in the arts, in athletics, and in activism. You are growth-minded, and committed to connecting across differences.
You are a very special class to me personally because we all started in the Upper School here at the same time, and my wonderful advisees are in this class. You were an incredible set of 9th graders and were such a fantastic example of how community is built within a grade. You quickly made friends across friend groups and students coming up from the Middle School connected with students who had attended other middle schools in the area. Over the course of that 9th grade year, you became a strong, bonded class....
To the parents and guardians, siblings, and family members: I share in your pride of the students in this class. They have been through a lot — as a class, and personally. I can only imagine how you feel, having watched them grow their whole lives. Through every stage of their growth here, they have remained true to themselves - and supporters of each other, of younger students, and of a sense of community at our school. They have been truly caring leaders.
To the Class of 2021, I feel lucky to have this opportunity to tell the story of your class. My stories in this speech come from your coaches and teachers. While I could not include everything, 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: Your leadership. Your service. Your talents. And lastly, your joy, even during these challenging times.
To begin, the members of the Class of 2021 are unique in their leadership. It is not uncommon to have stories about seniors focus on their leadership — but your teachers and coaches describe you as kind and powerful leaders. Compassion and empathy are at the heart of your advocacy and leadership. You stand up for each other and for the causes you believe in. One teacher wrote: “When it mattered, [the seniors] came together, impressively taking an unambiguous stance throughout their high-school career for the things that brought our school community closer. They have strengthened their ability to listen to and see others in their complexity and difference, and I am proud of them for growing into the caring individuals that they are.”
- In your classes, you encouraged each other in deep academic inquiry, showing care and attention. One teacher shared that in class, "you were looking for the good in each other and each other's work. They are good people, good to each other!”
- You have ensured that everyone in your class can share their ideas. You made space for the quieter voices. As a result, leaders of all sorts have been able to shine in this class. You don’t have to be an extrovert to have your gifts acknowledged or celebrated by this class, and that is as it should be. As one teacher put it, “I have seen them caring for and supporting each other, showing empathy and love in the smallest acts…and [offering] validation and acknowledgment.”
Beyond your commitment to each other, there are countless examples of the ways you not only included younger students in your courses, teams, and social groups, but where you worked on their behalf, or actively mentored younger students. You took seriously your role as leaders on campus long before you were seniors and have been strong role models for younger students throughout your time in the Upper School.
- Students in this class were trained as peer educators in a variety of disciplines and led 279 peer tutoring sessions.
- Many of you served as facilitators for Middle School affinity groups over the last three years. In an effort to help Middle School students explore their racial identity and to prepare for conversations about race and ethnicity, you spent hours preparing lessons as well as sometimes missing class to facilitate these conversations. Middle School students talk about how important those conversations with Upper School students are for them — in terms of making them feel more comfortable bringing their full selves to school each day, and in making them feel that they are a part of a larger community on campus than they see in the Middle School.
- The leaders of student government in this class are outstandingly creative and determined. The unique experiences you came up with over the last 15 months is in large part how and why we made it to the end of the school year in one piece — the Great Bernie Bake-off, the Lakeside Olympics — and all of the other projects you undertook this year helped to connect the community and infuse some much needed fun and silliness into a challenging year.
- Senior leaders in this class also deserve a huge thanks for helping us to welcome the 9th grade and for being such thoughtful and present mentors. You went out of your way to connect with younger students and to extend your kindness to them — even though you were never on campus at the same time. I will never forget seeing you stuff envelopes full of candy to mail to the 9th graders last August because you knew we were beginning the year remotely and you refused to lose the fun tradition of the seniors welcoming the 9th grade by showering them with candy on the first day of school.
Your leadership extends well beyond Lakeside, and many of you chose to volunteer or work on behalf of young people in the greater Seattle area. You serve as lifeguards, sailing instructors, and tennis coaches. Additionally,
- A group of you created a science camp in south Seattle for low-income elementary school students called Yes2STEM, where you share your passion for STEM with these young students, and encourage them to pursue their STEM interests.
- Several of you have volunteered to tutor public school students in multiple subjects; this was an especially impactful service this year when so many students’ learning was interrupted by the pandemic.
- You have also worked consistently and broadly to advocate for the school to improve in a number of key areas and your advocacy has and will continue to benefit the school.
- Senior athletes eloquently and effectively advocated for the school’s participation in athletics this year when the uncertainty around COVID was at its peak. You were clear, mature and convincing.
- Our Upper School curriculum benefits from those of you who served as powerful voices on the Upper School Curriculum Committee, helping to advance the school’s dual goal of academic excellence and our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
- Though your outstanding leadership of clubs like One Love, as well as the advocacy of individuals, and of the senior editors on the Tatler staff, you have found multiple ways to push and support the school in being clearer about it’s policies on sexual misconduct and to commit to ongoing education on preventing sexual violence.
- You have committed to being a part of the conversation about mental health, and of bringing that conversation to students in the Upper School. Some of you are trained Forefront Peer Educators, who give presentations, aimed at juniors, about suicide prevention.
- The Mental Health Advocacy club is another example of your willingness to be vulnerable, to fight stigma around mental illness, and to share resources.
Thank you for this important work — that clearly benefits students and the school, and will have a lasting, positive impact.
Your spirit of inclusivity and your empathetic approach to others also inspired your creative and impressive engagement in service. Even with the challenges to doing direct service that resulted from the pandemic, members of this class completed almost 18,000 hours of service in the last four years:
Impressively, the members of this class founded new non-profits like
- Feminaid, that distributes pads and tampons to emergency shelters and food banks.
- The Colorization Collective, a non-profit that provides teens of color with mentors of color in the arts, and a peer-to-peer network.
- Gallery 13, a coalition of visual artists who donate their commissions to the Black Lives Matter organization.
You also worked successfully with other nonprofits to make an impact with your service:
- After years of serving Bellevue’s homeless population and hearing individuals’ stories, one of you realized that the city’s policy of capping drug and alcohol treatment at 28 days was insufficient. In response, you wrote your own carefully researched proposal to lengthen treatment, and that proposal is being considered by the city.
- Several of you have volunteered at Planned Parenthood, serving as peer educators at local schools, and lobbying state legislators.
- The 26th annual Cease Fire anti-gun violence rally was enhanced by one of you playing the guitar and singing lyrics to a song you wrote.
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 committed and thoughtful leaders on campus and beyond, you are also incredibly talented — and in a wide variety of areas.
- You are accomplished athletes in your own right as individuals — you are cross-country skiers, biathletes, alpine ski-racers, champion cup stackers and so much more. But you also are known for being role models and committed to the team
- One coach described the seniors as follows: “The team and the seniors this year are emblematic of the power of being together. What mattered truly seemed to be the caring everyone did for each other, and the will of the team to make something special, positive and unique out of the time they had together. This class focused on being grateful and excited for the chance to be together – they spent zero time lamenting about what ifs. They took hold of each day and propelled themselves forward with gusto and finesse, with unity and with a lot of humor. “
- You are impressive and accomplished artists, novelists, poets, incredibly talented dancers, singers and musicians with music available on major online music platforms and many, many fans and streams; you are filmmakers, origami aficionados, gourmet cooks, birders, linguists, farmers, and perfumers.
A few of your accomplishments include:
Several of you speak more than 3 languages, including American Sign Language, and one of you has created two unique languages of your own, and another of you has been a part of preserving an endangered Native American language.
- At the 2021 Synthetic Biology: Engineering, Evolution & Design Conference, one of you will be listed as an author of a UW research paper
- One of you has written over 100 short stories, and several of you have poetry and other writing published in journals, newspapers and magazines; one of you is a gifted slam poet; we have the 2020-2021 youth poet laureate for Seattle Arts and Lectures in this class.
- In an effort to contribute to the national political dialog, a few of you created a podcast and later expanded the idea of the podcast into a political blog.
- One of you has wowed us for years with your magic.
- There’s a musical about the development of the atomic bomb in the works, thanks to one of our graduates.
- I bet very few of you have memorized the names, states and parties of the 100 sitting Senators, but one of our seniors has.
- 1,500 origami lions were created by one advisory in an effort to achieve a Guinness World Record.
- As a docent and teen educator at the Seattle Art Museum, one of you curated your own show of 18 pieces for an audience of 600 teenagers.
- One of you can create 3-D printed models of just about anything and one of you can make just about anything out of cardboard.
- A cybersecurity “capture the flag” national online competition for 8,000 competitors was created by one senior.
- If you see a revamped 1972 mail truck around town this summer, it might be one of our seniors who repaired that truck and started an ice cream business.
- One of you has performed in 120 professional performances with some of Seattle’s most prestigious acting companies.
- One faculty member had this to say about the actors, directors, and playwrights in this class: “The plays they wrote this year were brave and thoughtful! They have been examples for all of the drama students in production and have made deep connections with the first and second years, despite not seeing them in person! They were leaders in the fall play and the musical and Circus! with many doing all three and finding joy in the creative process! They deserve so much credit for inspiring each other and younger students and for continuing to push us adults to create better work and more creative opportunities!”
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention your sense of humor, joy and optimism. 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:
- I can say from firsthand experience there is nothing more joyful than watching a room full of teenagers frantically trying to follow along a Bob Ross video on the screen and before them - each piece beautifully unique. Thank you for starting the Bob Ross club!
- The Prattler is absolutely hilarious — and provided some much needed humor during the pandemic
- And finally, I will say, I am really sorry we never got that zip line installed from Bliss to the AAC. That is another example of the creativity of this class and every time I think of that proposal, it makes me smile. It would have been so fun!
Your strength as a class is in your goodness — you are good at many things, so many things, that I could not include them all. But more than the impressive things you create and accomplish, is that you are good people. You are kind, funny, brilliant, empathetic, and determined. You adapted to conditions none of us could have anticipated — and not just with the pandemic. In each case, you focused on caring for each other and this community. You made it through these hard times and you helped all of us through with the strength of kindness. You exemplify caring leadership and I am grateful for all you shared and for who you were on this campus — in person and remote — over these last four years.
I encourage you to go out there beyond this Lakeside world and bring your ideas, your advocacy, your empathy, your excellence, and your goodness into those new spaces. And please always stay connected to Lakeside. You will be dearly missed.
Without further ado, I am pleased and honored to present the Class of 2021.