Commencement 2014 Student Address: Kate Ginna

Danae DiNicola – May 27, 2014


by Kate Ginna ’14

Freshman year, I wasn’t particularly put-together. I am not a disorganized person–few people at Deerfield are. And I arrived on campus confident. Not cocky, but self-assured. I had been a big fish in a small pond, but little did I know I had swum right into an ocean. Who would have thought that a mobile–yes, the kind of toy that dangles above a baby’s bed–could shatter that confidence so quickly. It was my first assignment of freshman year physics–make a mobile. I began that mobile project so many times I could not even tell you. I should have received some kind of rewards card from the Hitchcock house for how many wooden dowels, tubes of glue and paper clips I bought. You know how parents say no news is good news? Well, my parents were getting a lot of news about this project.

My fall midterm grade for freshman physics was a 76. And Physics was not the only field I struggled in. To give you a more complete idea of my freshman self, I looked through my old advisor reports and teacher comments–keep in mind teachers at Deerfield are incredibly kind so everything was phrased in the gentlest way possible. Let’s just say the word “potential” was thrown around a lot.

  • Mr. Creagh, physics: “It is clear that the methodologies used in inquiry-based physics are foreign to Kate.”
  • Mr. Meier, geometry: “[Kate] struggled to keep her energy and focus levels up during this time, and her marks suffered accordingly.”
  • Mr. Scandling, English: “…Kate’s analytical responses lack polish.”
  • Ms. Melvoin, spring advisor report, “As Kate learned, high school can be challenging, both academically and socially…”

But worry not, I did receive some positive encouragement, like from Mr. Silipo, my freshman history teacher.

  • “Kate had a solid fall.” Mr. Silipo is not a man of many words.

As you can see, I was not exactly scaling the peaks of success. Hence why I was so confused when I was elected graduation speaker. Me? The girl who might as well have been on academic probation freshman year? The graduation speaker is supposed to be someone who Instagrams views from the Rock and memorizes the Deerfield Value statement, of which I have done neither. In fact the only time I have ever been to the Rock was freshman year when you’re required to go with Dr. Curtis.

So how did I get from a shambly freshman to a graduation speaker? Am I just a late bloomer, or is it something about Deerfield?

In early April a candidate for a theater fellowship came to Deerfield and spoke to the cast of The Amish Project. She led a warm-up, then we had a bit of Q&A, which is always more awkward than you think it’s going to be, which is saying something considering I always suspect it will be pretty awkward. Then someone asked, “What’s your impression of Deerfield?” She thought for a moment, fiddling with her wool skirt. “I think it’s very easy to be impressed by the adults here, but I was more impressed with the students,” she said, “everyone was so friendly and conversational, people introduced themselves to me and asked if I needed help finding anything, if I was enjoying the campus, and I don’t think that’s something highschoolers usually do. I don’t know if the people are like that because the school can afford to be so selective or if the school makes you like that…. But I was impressed.” I should have directed our visitor towards a wonderful tool known as Urban Dictionary, which defines Deerfield as “One of the most highly selective boarding schools in the nation. An acceptance rate of less than 18% sets it apart from most other prep schools. Rival, Choate Rosemary Hall accepts all walks of life with a shamefully high rate of 28%.” Direct quote.

Just a week later, we had more visitors on campus–a group of science teachers from a private school in Chicago came to Deerfield to examine our science department and, I assume, to see if they would implement our design at their school. Visitors often come to my Biomedical Research class, which is understandable because it is an impressive class with an impressive name. In another dreaded Q & A session, one of the visitors asked what made Deerfield students so articulate. And I thought about the nature of our Biomed course: we pair up and do research about a topic we have chosen–research that has not been done before. Dr. C became more of an advisor than a teacher because more often than not, he didn’t have the answers to the questions we were asking. Our job was to find out the answers for ourselves. It struck me how funny it was that I was in this class, given how miserable “inquiry based” study had made me in my freshman year. Then it struck me that had it not been for freshman year and Deerfield, I wouldn’t be taking this class at all.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for all the things I have experienced at Deerfield, I surely would not be standing here as a commencement speaker today. So–although this is something I never imagined I’d be saying, when I was trudging to Hitchcock to buy some more dowels and glue–I am grateful to Deerfield for the wonderful things it has given and taught me

I am grateful for the health center nurses who always gave me ginger ale even when I wasn’t sick.

I am grateful for the talents of other students, like Bryce Klehm’s astonishing array of impressions that range from Ice T to Dr. Baker–if you haven’t experienced these I suggest you go ask.

I am grateful to the librarians who helped me locate many books because literally no one but them can navigate the Dewey decimal system.

I am grateful to Deerfield for exposing me to the different backgrounds and cultures that flow through here like the river. Admittedly, when I first arrived, I thought, hey, I’m from downtown Manhattan, I know all about culture. This was before I was introduced to a completely new species known as “republicans”, so I’m grateful to my friends to for arguing with my political beliefs.

I am grateful for all the things you would expect one to be grateful for from a beautiful New England boarding school. But I am also grateful for things that are less obvious, the things I didn’t especially enjoy at the time.

I am grateful to Mr. Creagh for making me stumble through that mobile project.

I am grateful to the Dining Hall for forcing me to second wait, toning my biceps along the way.

I am grateful for social problems I confronted, because they pushed me to branch out and join groups like the Improv club which turned out to be one of the highlights of my Deerfield career.

I am grateful to Mr. Marge, in retrospect, for his lonely one-man battle against grad inflation. In all fairness, he was always willing to meet for extra help.

I am grateful to my teachers and friends for telling me when I was wrong.

In other words, I am grateful to Deerfield for not making things easy.

Many of you had more subtle growth than I did, while others’ growth was more pronounced. And some of you probably can’t wait to get off campus, while others will only leave when security pries your cold dead hands off senior grass. But regardless of whether or not you are planning to write Deerfield into your will, I invite you to reflect on what you are grateful for. And I extend that invitation to the classes of 2015, 16, and 17. Believe me, I know it is hard to be grateful to Deerfield when you are still acclimating freshman and sophomore year, and drowning in work junior year because all you can think is, “wow, this place is prison.” …But I urge you to appreciate this campus, these people, and this school before it is too late.

Having said that I also beg you not to let that appreciation combine with complacency because an institution will not survive if it cannot progress. And change won’t happen quickly, it might not even happen efficiently, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Deerfield didn’t give up on us, so don’t give up on Deerfield.

Thank you Deerfield, and thank you to the Class of 2014. I can confidently say I would not be the person I am today without you.