An Independent School • Grades 5-12

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

It’s an honor to welcome you to this new school year. I came to Lakeside in 9th grade, and I remember how it felt to look around at my first convocation, feeling totally aware of how few people I knew.

But let me tell you, you are at the beginning of an incredible journey! I love this place. I love these people! And I want to be part of you coming to love it, too. I hope today is a first step in that direction.

Like everyone here, it was hard for me to feel so distant from friends this summer, and one thing I realized was that many of the friends I missed the most came from my GSL group. For those of you who don’t know, GSL stands for Global Service Learning, and it’s a program where you disconnect from technology, travel abroad, and spend time serving a foreign community. I went to Peru as a sophomore with my World History class, a truly incredible experience, and I really ached to know that around 120 Lakesiders had their GSL trips canceled this year.

Now, I don’t want to make light of the huge disappointment that that is, because it is a big loss, and I feel for all of you who had your trips canceled. However, in thinking about GSL, I also thought more about what it means to serve. Because service doesn’t have to mean travel and isn’t always a plane ticket away; service is a mindset and a way of life, and service can be right here, right now in our community. The heart for service should be the same at home as it is abroad, and today, it takes the form of learning, un-learning, speaking up, listening… and yes, staying home more than most of us would like.

And so, my main goal this afternoon is to encourage you all to go into this school year with a Global Service Learning mentality, because at this moment, our generation is being called on to actively serve the community specifically through social distancing, wearing a mask, and yes, staying home.

This is less fun than a GSL trip, and it’s certainly less exotic. The people you live with are not a foreign host family but your actual family, and instead of no technology, we have way too much of it. But think about it: in many, ways we’re being asked to do something similar to what we would willingly embrace with a GSL trip: we are separating ourselves from our friends and learning about other people’s lives and struggles…all in order to serve.

I know that none of us would likely volunteer willingly for this “stay-at-home” version of GSL, and it’s hard to see the fruits of our efforts, but true service is not about what feels fun or what makes us feel good about ourselves; it’s about putting others’ needs first.

Now, while we are called to serve the global community through social distancing, we are also called to serve the Lakeside community while we do so. This requires sensitivity to what others are going through, understanding, and deliberate effort. The person to the right of you on the screen may be scared silly — as I was — about being the new kid in class. They might be experiencing the reality of family unemployment… or grieving a loss. And many will have had the wind knocked out of them in terms of assaults on the core of their identity. We need to give each other the grace to navigate some pretty heavy emotions, and we need to give ourselves the grace to simply have a bad day, because even though we tend to be a community of achievers, life without community is not something any of us should be “good at.”

I want the new students here to feel not only welcome, but to feel that there are people who are excited to get to know them. I want everyone to feel they’re not just learning, but that they’re building rapport with people that will be their friends for life. We are going to try many things aimed at building community this year… and we’re not going to get it all right. But all I ask is that you please be open to innovations we try, that you take risks, and simply want to be part of the process. Make a deliberate effort to maximize the good you get from this situation, and I believe most of that will be in the form of how you engage with others, how you help, and how much you learn from them. We all need to do our part in building a vibrant Lakeside community, rather than just wishing it could exist or complaining about how it falls short.

No matter what we do, our classes are going down in Lakeside history. So, embrace it! Be the first president in Lakeside history to give a speech in pajama pants — just because you can! This is our moment in history, and just like we might ask our parents and grandparents about life after September 11 or Vietnam or maybe even World War II, our children and grandchildren are going to ask us about The Year 2020. I hope that we will all look back at this year and say that, yes, we did our part.

So, I challenge you to make these coming months your own personal GSL, a time of service learning. Let’s accept the challenge, and for the rest of our lives share the special bond of having navigated a crazy out-of-my-comfort-zone experience together as a Lakeside community. Welcome to Lakeside, everyone!

And now, to introduce Mr. Noe... the man who, in his last convocation speech, challenged us to take time to do nothing… and with COVID, got exactly what he asked for.