An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by William Murray, Class of 2021

Lakeside Upper School Student Government President William Murray delivered the following speech at Commencement 2021.

Today I’m going to share with you a few Lakeside memories, and the lessons I’ve learned from them.

The first memory I’ll share is from Back-to-School Night sophomore year, an evening when Mr. Noe for some reason decided it was a good idea to tell all of our parents that, “no Lakeside student has so much homework that they can’t help out around the house.” I was the lucky one whose parents really took one that to heart.

Mr. Noe, I knew I had you to thank as I rolled garbage cans down to the road, vacuumed the stairs, and everything else. And I hope that will help explain why I was somewhat skeptical the following year when you introduced your latest thinking, this time in the form of the Lakeside competencies and mindsets. A lot of people were fans; I mean, the student body even voted to name two of our portable classrooms after them! But me, I was a little bit concerned.

The posterchild of the competencies was unstructured problem solving. It was the one teachers were always citing on rubrics. It even got a mention in Ms. Christy’s speech yesterday at baccalaureate. But in practice, I had no idea what it really meant.

That was junior fall. Then came junior spring, and unstructured problem solving became a lot more tangible as COVID made our usual ways of getting things done impossible — going to school, for instance. We had to figure out a new way to continue our academic program without the routines, the systems, and the physical environments that had come to characterize learning for us. Mr. Noe, you were a step ahead of the game, and everyone else rose to the challenge, from the faculty and students, to directors and coaches, to PGA volunteers and parents. The commitment and creativity I saw directed toward our learning, our well-being, our milestones…it was incredible.

It thought about this last summer while reading a book about Ernest Rutherford, one of New Zealand’s most famous sons and a father of modern physics. He won the Nobel Prize, so that’s big. But even more impressive was that another 11 Nobel Laureates had been his graduate students. This guy literally had ideas to spare! And do you know what one of his best-known quotes is? “We didn’t have money, so we had to think.” He attributed his ability to innovate to his limited resources.

Now, Lakeside does not lack resources, I appreciate that. But this year, we lacked the routines, the systems, and the physical environments that had come to characterize learning for us. And so, we had to think. We were kind of thrown into the deep end, and you know what? We found that we could actually swim.

The next little story is from 8th grade, when I was a prospective student taking tours of high schools. There are two things that I remember from my visit day at Lakeside: my salmon Caesar salad at lunch—very fancy—and the oval tables in the humanities classrooms. While every school we visited talked about collaborative learning, diversity of perspectives, depth of discussion, at Lakeside, even the furniture reinforced that message. At Lakeside, dialogue is not a part of a special lesson plan. It is simply part of life. It’s not perfect, but through it all, those oval tables continued to stand as both places and symbols of learning and growth.

When our oval tables were taken away from us, the engagement, the dialogue, and the learning from one another remained a constant. Lakesiders didn’t just wait the year out. Rather, we showed up. Our cameras were on (most of the time), we had done the reading (most of the time), and our discussions continued over Zoom in ways that still allowed me to benefit from the insights and perspectives of my awesome classmates. “Lakeside Remote” was specifically not a place, but it was still a place of learning, and through that I saw that this is a class of students who are committed to learning, no matter the medium. I have heard from enough non-Lakesiders to appreciate that that is not the norm. We are truly privileged to be in this community.

My next story is from the first day of spring semester freshman year, when I sat in awe as all the seniors sprinted through our first period classrooms, screaming like crazy and chucking candy. I remember thinking they looked so big, so adult-like — and it looked like so much fun! Three years later, on our Senior Run-Through Day, I was one of the seniors trying to “crash” a freshman Zoom call. We sat in silence for a solid minute with our cameras off as we waited for the last person to be admitted to the Zoom call, while a confused and frightened freshman finished her Spanish presentation. And of course there was not candy to make it all better. Rarely have I been more embarrassed, and it was in front of a class of freshmen!

A staple senior tradition simply didn’t translate to a remote format. Student government also had its fair share of Lakeside traditions that were lost in translation.

Our goal has always been to build community, and we have traditionally followed a calendar of tried-and-true events that generally work well: Clubs Fair, Bite of Lakeside, Stressbusters, and of course, May Day — basically a solid lineup of large group gatherings and lots of food.

But this year was completely different. Our end goal was still to build community, but we were forced to come up with a completely new playbook. I learned that you simply have to experiment — a lot — in order to find the few things that work. And that process of experimenting includes a lot of flops. Some of our brainstorms turned out to be winners, but some really and truly were not. I have to admit, it was humbling at times. But I have heard that some of the deepest bonds are formed through common struggle, hard work, or even a little embarrassment. Well, Stud Gov had all of the above this year, and Jack, Annette, Sam: I am grateful for what we all learned together, and for your friendships.

Finally, I know there are a bunch of athletes, musicians, and actors here who all wondered whether they would get to have their final season, final concerts, final productions. But look what happened! Our seasons were abbreviated, but we did get to play. Musicians found ways to present their work. And drama moved from the theater to the green screen. It would have been easier for our coaches, directors, and others to use the pandemic as an excuse to avoid work that they hadn’t originally signed up for, but what I saw just floored me. With tennis, we had the most team-centered season I’ve ever experienced in our individual sport. And with drama, Alban managed to put together webinar productions that stretched us as actors, and Micky somehow pulled off what should go down in history as Lakeside’s first-ever two-hour feature film, a project that required hundreds of hours of video editing! They truly showed us what it means to go the extra mile, the extra hour.

And it’s certainly easier to convey emotion to another actor than to my bedroom wall! And don’t get me started on learning Zoom choreo. But I got to accomplish something I never even thought I would even try, and just as I saw that our school is committed to learning no matter the setting, I got to see that I love acting, not just performing, so much so that I’ve decided to take a gap year to give acting a real go.

So, thank you, Lakeside, for your commitment not only to our classroom development but to our extracurriculars. It’s truly humbling to know that some of my greatest memories stem from other people’s willingness to take risks, to try new things, and put in so many extra hours.

So, those are some of the memories that have been coming to mind as I think about Lakeside, what it has meant to me, and what I hope to take from this experience as I head into the next chapter of life.

I hope we will all leave this place living the lessons we have learned in this place. Let’s turn our cameras on and engage (though I hope that’s only figurative!). Let’s be intentional in finding ways to connect. Let’s take risks and feel free to talk about our hits and our misses, our strengths and our struggles. Let’s seek out life’s “oval tables” — even if that simply means putting the phone down to chat with the person next to you in line. And let’s continue unstructuredly problem solving: be willing to follow that uncharted road, because as we have all seen this year, that road might be bumpy and not always fun, but it can get you to your destination, and the detours can be very rewarding.

Parents and guardians, thank you for the things you have done and the things you have not been able to do so that we could go to this incredible school. PGA, thank you for the activities and memories you have given us. Teachers, staff, administrators, you are the reason this school is what it is.

And now, to my tennis teammates. To everyone I have been in a play or musical with. To the Kran-Pan Advisory, and to friends from each class I’ve taken. To the 986 bus squad, and to the greatest GSL group in Lakeside history! To the entire Class of 2021, thank you for giving me a place among you. Thank you for letting me grow up with you. Thank you for being my community.