Please note that the ceremony in this video recording begins at about the 3-minute mark.
The Wheeler School graduating Class of 2022 enjoyed a return to tradition Friday morning as family, friends, faculty, and staff gathered at Wheeler Farm for the school’s 133rd Commencement. In what has been a year that saw a steady restoration of various rituals and community experiences that had been greatly affected if not paused by the pandemic, the joyous ceremony was the culmination of the graduates’ hard work, struggles, and successes amid the uncertainty they faced during much of their time in Upper School.
In her welcome to those in attendance and watching online, Head of School Allison Gaines Pell P’23, P’25 thanked the Class of 2022 for inspiring both adults and younger students alike with “what resilience, fortitude, flexibility, and positivity could look like.”
“While at times, you may have wanted to put your heads in the sand, instead you turned around and led us forward,” she said. “You took what the world gave you and spun gold from straw.”
AGP spoke about the unique power of imagination and shared the story of the development of the first subway in New York City. Alfred Beach, whose idea for pneumatic tubes providing transport for trains between stations, had been unable to convince powerful politician William “Boss” Tweed to allow this project to go through. With his own creative approach, Beach created a proof of concept for a tube that would instead carry the mail, but it wouldn’t be until the blizzard of 1888 that the desire for a weather-resilient system of travel would be needed. By 1904, the first subway was finally ready.
She asked students to keep in mind the thousands of people that were involved in every facet of the subway’s construction, both above and below the ground, and the determination behind the idea itself. “That’s imagination, not only fueled by people with tenacity but also by the impact of a natural event that could have felt like despair and instead inspired possibility,” AGP said. “Consider that if it weren’t for that blizzard, the convergence of will and imagination may not have happened.”
The Head of School then called on students to use their imagination to better themselves and their communities. “Will what you imagine into being–whether it is manifestations in your life, with a friend or a partner, for a difficult moment you have to endure, for a new project or job or piece of music you know the world needs. Will your imagination of a kinder community, a deeper connection, a thoughtful and not reactive response, a supportive listener into being.”
Following AGP’s welcome, the Wheeler Concert Handbell Ringers performed “Reverberations,” and Board of Trustees Vice-President James Kase P’11, P’18, P’18, P’21 addressed the graduates. “This is your special day,” he said. “We are here to celebrate your achievements as well as the beginning of the next stage of your lifelong journey of making an impact on the world around you.”
“We must move past the idea that we are working on being ready,” Wehbe said. “We are ready. We have the tools and it is time to pay forward the investment our teachers, family, and friends have made in us. It is time to make our impact.”
“After years of growing up together, our class of 88 will be dispersed in new and unfamiliar places,” Rizvi said. “I hope that in moments of uncertainty, we will return to our instinctively kind and welcoming nature; that we will overcome our fears and create a new home by connecting with others; and that we will be brave and talk to strangers with the knowledge that you’re on the same team.”
Michael L. Littman PhD, The Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence in Computer Science at Brown University, gave this year’s Commencement address and spoke about how his research on artificial intelligence led him to adopt a life philosophy, which he calls “radical Boxism” after the influential statistician George Box. While Littman said he tends to think of statistics as being “pretty dry and alienating,” he emphasized that the field is “trying to do something quintessentially human.
“It’s trying to use the information it is given to figure out what might happen in the future. If our minds have one job, it’s that–take in information about the world, and turn it into insights that can help us achieve our goals.”
He said his philosophy comes with two essential lessons derived from Box’s statement that “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” The first, from “All models are wrong,” is a “warning to be humble” and to avoid having a narrow focus with one’s worldviews or interpretations of events. The second lesson, taken from “but some are useful,” is about empowerment, despite the vague nature of the statement. “It leaves it up to us to decide what ‘useful’ means. It reminds us that everything we try to do is a choice.”
Littman said the moral and ethical history of humans is one of “asking the question of what it means to be good, to be worthy,” and that we have collectively decided to become more inclusive and humane over time through sharing ideas, debating, disagreeing, and figuring life out together. “I don’t think that’s us slowly discovering the truth. I think that’s us changing our mind about what’s useful, what matters to us.” Due to the fallibility of individuals, major decisions on what society finds “useful” can’t be left to any one person, he argued.
“Without these conversations, we can’t work together. We can’t fulfill the radical Boxist philosophy and decide what’s useful. We can’t be human.”
He closed by sharing his hope that graduates would leave “excited, empowered,” and ready to engage the wider world.”
“We may have computers and power tools, but we need your energy and insights to figure out what they are useful for,” Littman said.
After Littman’s address, the 18 Wheelers brought their own energy to the ceremony with a performance of “For Forever,” and that excitement continued as each member of the Class of 2022 crossed the stage to receive their diploma.
Commencement finished as it began: with a strong sense of community and tradition. Dana Watkins P’19, College Counseling Administrative Assistant, gave the benediction on behalf of Marc Harrison P’16, P’21, Upper School Science Faculty and Upper School Unity & Diversity Coordinator, and finally, everyone joined to sing “Take Up the Song” and Wheeler’s Alma Mater, together.