2013 Commencement Student Address

May 31, 2013

By Emma Witherington ’13

I thought that it being our last day together at Deerfield, it would only be fitting begin by talking about my first day of school here. For me, and I’m sure for many of you as well, my first day was some blurred combination of excitement and uncertainty. I remember my first sit down meal, a sit down breakfast, Monday morning, 7:30 am, September of 2010. It was a pretty quiet meal. For some reason at 7:30 in the morning my table companions and I weren’t exactly brimming with conversation, but this silence, though mildly awkward, gave me time to think about the day to come. I wondered what my first classes would be like, what my teachers’ first impressions would be, and how much homework I would get after my first day. My thoughts then traveled to the upcoming weekend, as I grew anxious about my first soccer game, and debated what to wear to my first DeNunzio disco. As the second waiter hustled our dishes back into the kitchen, I looked around the dining hall at the expressions of the then strangers around me; I wondered if anyone else shared my new-student anxieties. Watching the waiters load their trays with glasses and plates, I too loaded myself with new questions and concerns,and I felt uncertainty creeping up on my initial excitement as I prepared to plunge into my first day as a Deerfield student. 

Flash forward three years to spring of 2013. Last Tuesday, I sat down for sit down lunch at my senior table with seven other senior girls and Connor Sullivan. Our table head, Mr. Dickinson, soon arrived. Mr. D carried with him to the table a little pink diary for all of us to sign in honor of our last sit down meal together, sort of an ending tradition for his sit down tables, with signatures dating back to 2002. Soon after we had all signed the book, we figured out that our last sit down meal together was in fact on Friday instead, but for the sake of making a point we’ll just continue thinking it was Tuesday. As we passed the little pink book around the table and signed our messages, we started talking about all of our other “lasts” at Deerfield—our last spring day approaching on Wednesday, and our last school meeting coming up on Friday, among others.

This talk about “lasts” has come up more and more throughout the spring. It felt like with graduation day growing closer, everything became numbered. A Sunday brunch, a dinner at the Deerfield Inn, or a hike up to the rock, all of a sudden became our last. Despite the presumed reputation of senior spring, in which we spend every waking moment at the river, while the library, desolate and forgotten, becomes home solely to the juniors, there is a certain sense of urgency that comes with the spring, as well. This urgency drives us to appreciate every moment to its fullest before it’s gone. Whether an athlete relishing your last time competing on the field, or a performer coveting a final performance on a Deerfield stage, these moments, once relatively ordinary, suddenly feel fleeting. As the final moments pass, it dawns on us that our time to leave this campus has finally come.

It’s too easy for us to dwell on these “lasts” as we finish our time here at Deerfield. Whether having been here for one year or for four, Deerfield is what we know, it is what we’re used to, it is our home. We’re caught in a strange state of being as seniors on graduation day, trying to look forward to what’s to come with summer and college and what not, but not wanting to fully relinquish our hold on what we must leave behind. The same sensation of excitement and unease returns.

In his Baccalaureate address last Sunday, Mr. Heise said to us, “Don’t let nostalgia hold you hostage.” I thought about this as I sat at sit down lunch last Tuesday. Though we had spent the early part of the meal talking about our last days and last special moments here at Deerfield, I knew that these would not be my last days with these friends, not just those sitting around me at the table, but those friends in my dorm, in my classes, on my teams, and beyond. Though our time together at Deerfield has come to a close, I know that the relationships we forged here will not end when we receive our diplomas and depart.

It’s true that Deerfield provides a sense of place unique to anywhere else. Just in having been here together, we will always share something indescribable. However, when teachers and parents ask us what we will miss the most, I think that the majority of the senior class would echo, “the people”. In the end, it is the people that make a place. Of course there are the little things around campus that we will miss: floating in a raft down the river, talking in the dining hall, and even just hanging out in a dorm room. But again, it is the people that give this place its life, and those that we share these ordinary moments with that make them memorable. So yes, it is our last day here as students, but it is not our last time together. While we must leave Deerfield, the place, behind, we will carry these relationships and memories made with us onto our next step and beyond. Through these shared experiences and more to come, we will always maintain an enduring connection to the place where it all started. Thank you.