Speeches from the Class of 2015:
GRADUATION SPEECH BY MARCO KAISTH ’15
Class Representative to the NJSP Board of Trustees
Hello board members, scholars, friends and, of course, family. In fact, even though I just spent the best and most enlightening five weeks of my life with this wonderful group of students, it’s family I’d like to address right now, more specifically parents:
Hello parents of activists, of hipsters, of poets and dance violinists and bhangra queens. Of humanities geniuses and science whiz kids. Of politicians and globe trotters, of once and future communists. I have something to tell you: Your children are amazing.
Seriously, wow. Whatever you did, A+, fantastic job. I’ve learned more from them in these past weeks than I have through the rest of my life. I’m still in awe of the concentration of tremendously intelligent, hardworking and genuinely kind individuals I’ve had the privilege of spending this time with. I feel like every time I interacted with any of the other scholars here, I left the conversation with a little more knowledge, a little more love and a little piece of them, of their totally unique and inspiring worldview, and that’s something I’ve never experienced in anything close to this magnitude or community before.
These exchanges, of course, would’ve been impossible without the incredible teaching present at this program. To be on level with your instructor, able to ask and confer about anything is a wonderful gift, and we took full advantage of it, talking to all our teachers whenever possible, inside or outside of the classroom. The ability to have a 3 hour discussion about whether the way we teach children language in the family unit promotes capitalism is so beyond anything many of us ever dreamed of academically. And for that we have our amazing teachers to thank: Dr. Ibrahim, Dr. Westerman, Dr. Westervelt and Mr. Figueroa-Ortiz have all irreversibly changed both the character and scope of our thought, and that is something we will be forever indebted to them for.
The facilities provided by the program were also jaw-dropping. I personally, every day, walking to class had to remind myself that all this is a high school. For which, we have especially Mr. Sauerman, Ms. Calvert, Mark Scerbo and Libby Cunningham for facilitating and providing for the amazing times we all had at this program, as well as, of course, the fantastic Board of Trustees.
It’s hard for me to describe the New Jersey Scholars Program, just as it is hard to pin point when, along the evolutionary chain, we became human. One does not just wake up changed, it overwhelms us wave by wave, its gentle brush and stroke calming and cool to the touch. All I know is, what I consider NJSP in my head is a hazy collection of wonderful moments and the soft ocean noise of kindness and truly loving what you’re doing filling the gaps in between. I’m sure I won’t forgot any of it.
And it pains me, to some degree, to speak this way in the past tense, in terms of ‘forget,’ as if all our little moments simply happen and then freeze, like stars, still in time, hanging just too far away. But this isn’t the truth. Every touch, every feeling, every experience changes the people we are and the people we will become. Late night conversations, seminars, ice cream runs, group naps, all these little beautiful things mark us indelible. Love, friendship, beauty, memory does not fade away. It helps us become.
And that’s what these five short weeks have been: a little spark. A little compassion. A little hope. All to help us become. Become activist organizers, hipster intellectuals, poet laureates, accomplished composers, ground breaking choreographers. To help us become humanities professors and cancer curing doctors. To help us become world leaders, and to help us stay dreamers.
We leave here today with new mindsets, new experiences, new passion. With 38 vessels of caring, 38 lifelong friends, 38 brothers and sisters allied behind us. Most importantly, we leave here changed, together. We leave here with the knowledge that, wherever we go, there’s a field of stars above us, and somewhere up there is a constellation of 39. It takes no definite shape, only drifts through the cosmos, but it forever points towards all we can be and all we will become.
Today we are going home. We are also leaving it. But I know, the things I leaned here, the people I met, the experiences I had, will never leave me. Thank you.
Marco Kaisth ’15
GRADUATION SPEECH BY KEERTHANA ANNAMANENI ’15
Class Representative to the NJSP Board of Trustees
A few weeks ago, I asked a number of scholars to describe this group with one word. A few responses: “talented, exciting, curious, ambitious.” And then one scholar said, “stardust. We are star dust.” Stardust is this cosmic dust found between stars, millions of light years and life times away. It’s the particles left over from massive explosions that occur when a huge star dies. From the eyes of a physicist, it’s true. Stardust can be found in all of our bodies right now – quite literally pulsing through our veins. And that’s what we brought to this program, on day one, when we unloaded on that Sunday in Kirby. We brought this raw, passionate energy, and we brought the stories of our explosive, but exciting environments. And because of all of the qualities we brought to the table—not mere intellect, but also a set of irreplaceable stories—there is something trend-setting, even iconoclastic about all of you—something that will change the world we begin to grow into and the world that we will inherit tomorrow as its trustees.
To you, parents, I thank you. I thank you for raising thirty-eight brilliant and passionate, but even more importantly, compassionate people. Whatever you did, you did something right. Because, oh my gosh. Here, I have met Thirty-eight new brothers and sisters who know how to get ahead, but also know not to leave someone behind in the process. That balance is what separates this group from thirty-nine other intellectuals, thirty-nine other driven students. It is our desire to see our own growth alongside the growth of our peers. We sit around and listen to each other’s stories at three AM in circles that lead to lots of laughter and lots of tears. We decorate each other’s doors with post-it notes, laden with compliments, because we want our peers to know their worth. We take the time to get to know each other, individually, to challenge each other, and to help each other grow, be it in the common room before Mrs. Calvert pops in, or at dinner when we are the last ones to leave. That community, that feeling that I’m part of a team, is what I’m thankful to have found here, at Scholars, and it’s what I’m most scared of losing tomorrow, when I wake up, and I’m not in Kirby, and when I don’t have lecture at 8:30, and when there’s no more check in to worry about or miss at night, when I come to dinner and I realize that I’ll have to share my meals with different people. This community is what we’ll all miss most and it’s what we’ll most remember, fifteen years down the road, when we’re telling our kids about everything we shared.
But how could I describe this community without talking about some of the world’s greatest mentors, the adults in the program who shared our space and treated us like equals from day one. Mr. Sauerman and Mrs. Calvert, you were a constant source of help and comfort along the way. Keeping us organized, keeping us from sleeping three hours every night, helping us get where we needed to go, in the literal and figurative sense. Thank you. Mark and Libby, you are both just two years older than us, but we idolize you all the same. To the Lawrenceville School—the dining staff, the exceptional librarians at Bunn, the Infirmary—thank you. Day in and day out, you were guiding lights for us.
And to our faculty—Fig, Dr. Ibrahim, Brother Dan, and Dr. Westerman—we owe you everything. A faculty member here once said, “If I’m doing my job right, then I am obsolete. I am no longer necessary, because you will know how to challenge yourself and your peers.” Wow. Thank you to all four of you for putting such a high premium on our growth, even if it meant being willing to put your own role aside to watch us challenge each other and ourselves. Thank you for indulging us in the most thoughtful, self-revelatory five weeks of our lives.
When we came to Scholars, there was this immense sense of potential. Every time Dr. Westerman asked us to think of which cultures we were forcing to be forgotten, every time Fig begged us to disagree with him, every time Dr. Ibrahim got us to think about the happy marriage of fiction and reality in our own lives, and every time, Dr. Westervelt made us see what we were doing to our own planet, every time, you four helped us see that potential for ourselves. Like I said, we owe you the world.
So what do we do when that star dust crumbles to nothing? When all of this, what we have here, is gone? When we don’t have check-in, when we don’t get to play twenty questions at midnight, when we don’t get to hear Axel’s smooth jazz at 11 and Becca’s trap music. No ottoman in the bathroom, no more ‘Nikhil Please,’ no more ‘Never Have I ever’ at the bottom of the staircase that really become crying sessions, sessions where we tell each other ‘I love you, I love you’ until our lungs hurt, and know that we mean it.
Tomorrow, I’ll have to walk onto an empty porch. None of Bobby’s music, none of you. Tomorrow, I’ll have to have my coffee in the kitchen, just me, without a good morning poem from John. Tomorrow, I’ll have to sit on an empty couch, just me.
But really that’s not true. We all hold a piece of each other in our hearts – a little bit of dust. In the words of Hubert, “We each came here with one story to tell. We leave with thirty-eight more.” I love you all, and thank you.
Keerthana Annamaneni ’15
Speeches from the Class of 2014:
GRADUATION SPEECH BY TOM ABEL ‘14
Class Representative to the NJSP Board of Trustees
Let me let you in on a little secret: this program is not about climate change. Now to you parents out there who just double-checked the bulletin to make sure you didn’t send your kid to the wrong program for five weeks, fear not; I mean it in a different sense. The goal of this program was not to go off and start hugging trees. (Besides I’m probably one of the only ones with the wingspan to be able to do that anyway.) It’s not about Harkness tables or the wonderful facilities here at Lawrenceville. And it’s most certainly not about being able to enjoy the lovely food at the Irwin Dining Hall. Although who doesn’t love it when Thursday rolls around and we can all reminisce about being on the sandy beach three weeks ago just by enjoying some of Irwin’s scrumptious macaroni and cheese?
It’s about diversity: diversity of people and of thought. I think Peyton, whose perfectly fantabulous voice you heard, got it right in one of our closing seminar groups when she said that, before this program, she thought that diversity was just about skin color, it’s truly about much more. And why not? More than fifty years ago, Martin Luther King outlined his dream at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in a line that most here could recite by heart, a vision that holds true to this very day: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” And while I would never posit that all racial problems, or even most, have fallen to the wayside in America, I do feel comfortable saying that for these five weeks we have made it work. Though we did more than make it work; we succeeded. We figured out what it means to be truly American, to be truly human. For these five weeks, we sought to embrace the differences in others and learn from their experiences. For me, that is what this program is about, for what divides us should never take precedence over our common purpose as human beings. I learned that everybody, no matter who they are or what they believe, should, in the great words of Aretha Franklin, be given some R-E-S-P-E-C-T. For all of us deserve dignity. All of us deserve respect, as long as we are giving respect in kind.
We live in one state, yes, but a state that has been known for its diverse population for the longest time. We are great New Jerseyans from many different exits, counties from Cumberland to Bergen to my home in Morris. But our experiences transcend borders; from China and Korea to Cuba and Colombia, our class has a wide breadth of culture and ethnicity, meaning that we had first-hand experience of the global problem that is climate change.
There are many things people will take away from this program. For me, as someone from an all-guys school, it was learning what girls are and how to talk to them. T.J. will take away Diana’s hummus, Keshav a few more fork wounds than he bargained for and Ayush the newfound wisdom that when the grass is wet in the morning, it does not mean that it rained the previous night; it’s called “dew.”
Above all else, NJSP gave me the experience of the melting pot that America truly is. It’s sometimes difficult to see that when you are surrounded by people almost exactly like you day to day. Inspiration abounds, from Felix and Mateo working hard in scientific research to Ida, who showed me that “disabled” people are oftentimes simply able to do things in different ways.
I would like to thank all of our beloved faculty members, Dr. Westerman, Mr. Collins, Dr. Ibrahim (#TeamHuma) and Dr. Mattingly. Dr. Mattingly, I especially thank you for being here despite your allegiance to a 7 p.m. start time for everything. You all were much more than simply teachers from 9 to 5 (or 8:30 to 3, as it were); you strove to engage us at all hours of the day and night, helping us reach our potential in research and homework. Most of us came in with a basic understanding of the subject material—or as Miss Chi would say, an understanding with a pH level above 7. But we came out, at the very least, with a better understanding of how to find the answers that we seek. For it’s not about the answers you give but the questions you ask. It is through questions that we strive to learn more about the world.
Of course, we could not have made it without our Director, Mr. Sauerman, and our housemaster Mrs. Mary “Lights Out” Calvert, with Libby at the helm making sure that we were on task. We are forever in your debt for all you did for us and for your patience through it all.
I will cherish this experience for the rest of my life, and I hope that in 36 years, we all will be able to say with the same passion as Dr. Westerman and Mr. Abbott have that this program was a point of transition that provided opportunity to think, live and learn. I am going to miss you all. You all are marvelous minds, mind-blowing musicians (as we have heard from Peyton, Caroline, Aaron and Anthony today) but above all fantastic friends with whom I have truly enjoyed spending every minute of every waking day. We bonded over policy, sardines, capture the flag and, most importantly, spinach; simple, old-fashioned talking held the day. Many of us learned more about each other in these five weeks than we had about our friends in five years. We learned to appreciate each other not in spite of our differences but because of them; diversity of people and of thought allowed us to truly realize a greater empathy with and understanding of other cultures across this state, across the nation and across the globe.
I sincerely hope we all meet again, but until then keep in mind what the great Dr. Seuss once said; “Remember me and smile, for it’s better to forget than to remember me and cry.” As I see it, smiles, like laughs, are contagious, and with enough of them we can change the world. I will not say goodbye because goodbye is forever. Instead, I will bid you adieu until we meet again. So long, my friends. Or in the words of Miss Chi, deuces.
Tom Abel ‘14
GRADUATION SPEECH BY CAROLINE LIPPMAN ’14
Class Representative to the NJSP Board of Trustees
As we stand here now, in the company of scholars, parents, professors, and mentors, I think back to our first lecture five weeks ago, when the majority of us stumbled wide-eyed out of the lecture hall, grappling with Mr. Collins’ mind-boggling questions. Where does our worldview stem from? How do we explain our existence, the world around us and our place within it? Why are we even here? And then the question that silenced the room: how does any of this relate to climate change?
I’ll be honest: these questions scared me. At school, we’re taught to look for concrete answers. I came into this program expecting to talk about incandescent versus fluorescent light bulbs, solar panels and reusable canvas shopping bags: solutions to the global warming crisis. But in Dr. Mattingly’s first class, he said, “You’re going to leave this program with more questions than answers.”
We spent weeks in his room, swirling around in those colorful think-tank-designed chairs, asking question after question. Is climate change even happening? Are humans the perpetrators? And most importantly, so what? How are we going to make a decision in the face of uncertainty? There lay the essence of Dr. Mattingly’s point: climate change is not a question of science. It’s a question of ethics. It’s a question of how we see ourselves and the world around us.
This program is about approaching how to think, learning how to learn. Learning how to recognize biases and contexts, caveats to arguments and alternative points of view. We stand on the other side of this program as ready as we can be to go to college and beyond, to think critically in the strong sense and contribute our insights to the communities in which we find ourselves.
None of this would be conceivable, of course, without Mr. Sauerman, Mrs. Southerland, Mrs. Calvert, and the Board of Trustees. I thank you all for your dedication to this program, for working so admirably to bestow this gift to everyone here.
I’m not sure I even have the right words to properly thank our professors, Dr. Westerman, Dr. Ibrahim, Dr. Mattingly, and Mr. Collins. Between their individualized attention to each one of us in class, tangential discussions that forced everyone to think beyond the reading, and challenging questions about global ideals and human nature, these four professors helped each one of us tap into our reserves of potential.
And even amidst our intense intellectual inquiries, our charged morning lectures, and our long nights writing in the air-conditioned bliss of the library, we managed to find time for each other. The Human Experience. My connection to this amazing group started in my interview, where Kelsey and I clicked and realized we could continue talking for hours after Mr. Sauerman called time.
From Maggie and I trying to line dance at that first Saturday night party, to Katie getting an NJSP Henna tattoo in Seaside, to Swanee teaching me how to golf, to seeing each other one by one lose our “chill”, we’ve all bonded incredibly quickly. We’ve become a cohesive group of extraordinarily diverse individuals: apart from writers, debaters, leaders, and listeners, we are painters and runners, musicians and badminton players, dancers and poets. Who knew we had so many playwrights in this group? Aaron as Robert Carter versus Tuvalu was certainly unforgettable. But really, we shouldn’t have expected any less: they were writing that play for weeks.
This group is spectacular. I will never tire of seeing the countless sides of the entity we have come to know as Chi. I will cast my vote for Tom as president in 2048, and I know Jack will be turning heads in Washington D.C. within a few years. I will clap the loudest when Peyton wins a Grammy for her unbelievable singing talent, and when Grace and Rita enact their plans of world domination, no one here will be surprised.
This is the most diverse group of people I have ever been a part of. We represent a diversity of experience, of schooling, upbringing, religion, and most of all, thought. I’ve sat in seminars or lectures, listening to all of your brilliant remarks, and found myself thinking, “Wow. I never would have thought about it that way.” That’s the power of this program and of the people in this room. And honestly, that’s part of what made this program hard, too. We were stretched to think in ways we never have. Our minds had to work to sift through the insights of a room full of 39 incredible thinkers. But that’s what makes New Jersey Scholars intellectually eye-opening, and I thank you all for that.
As we leave this afternoon, we should remember our dinner with the Board of Trustees, when the panel reminded us that this program does not end today: for many of us, our future journeys of intellectual pursuit and collaboration will be rooted in the experiences we’ve had this summer. This is not the last we’ll see of each other. In this room are 39 future leaders and innovators. Here is a group of people well equipped to tackle the problems of climate change and so much more. I don’t know what the future will bring, of course, but I have faith in and an immense amount of respect for everyone in this room. At the very least, we’ll see each other for reunions, or at the premiere screening of our favorite made-for-movie cli-fi thriller, Darwin’s Paradox.
These five weeks were unlike anything I have ever experienced. This is more than a nerd camp or a session of summer school. As the mission statement of NJSP reads, “There is no program comparable to the New Jersey Scholars Program.” I am honored to represent our NJSP group today, and it has been my privilege to share my summer with all of you. Thank you, and best wishes.
Caroline Lippman ‘14
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