Senior Co-President Address by Madeleine Lee

June 14, 2020

Good morning families, faculty, and my fellow graduates; the class of 2020.

Before Wheeler, Gordon was my home for ten years. Wheeler had stood tall like a beacon at the top of College Hill for as long as I could remember. Maybe it was because it looked like three separate buildings mashed into one; a funky conglomeration I would come to love. Or because of the playground, the colossal web of blue and yellow rope that little kids clambered up to go down the slide. The Gordon structure was no match for the acropolis on Meeting Street.

High school girl speaking at podium.

Eventually, the campus I’d once looked in on became my home. I have to admit, at times I took it all for granted. Back in March, the fact that graduation was inching closer had started to hit us, but still, we told ourselves we had time. I had time to plan club meetings. I had time to go to that shady psychic under Ben and Jerry’s on Thayer Street, to return my overdue library book, to finally learn how to drive. Our class had time to bond, to find that rare closeness that many senior classes struggle to unlock. None of us expected it all to come to a halt more than two months early. At what point did everything become uncertain? Uncertainty. It’s a word we can’t seem to escape from. For many graduates each year, uncertainty can be exhilarating; looking into a misty and uncharted future where the best is yet to come. What graduating class has had to face as much uncertainty as the class of 2020?

My latest quarantine passion has been gardening. I’ve become a crazy plant lady, tending to my seedlings as if they were my own children. At the beginning of March, we bought a planter and seeds from Job Lot. It was a time when you didn’t need to wear a face mask and brushing against a stranger in a crowded aisle wasn’t frowned upon. That afternoon, we planted the zucchini, squash, basil, lettuce, and cucumbers. It’s over two months later and each day they grow a little taller and their closed blossoms become more plump. Each day I care for them, propping up their gangly stems with wooden stakes and transitioning them in and out of direct sunlight. Gardening takes time and care. It requires resilience, patience, and empathy. During these “uncertain times”, what three words are more important than these? Every day, we feel disappointed that we can’t hang out with our friends. We feel heartbroken that we’ve been robbed of the senior spring on campus we’d been dreaming for years. We feel for our favorite businesses affected by the pandemic, and for the frontline workers who put their lives at risk each day to keep us safe.

Experiencing the end of our senior year from our homes, or for some of us, our beds, seeds of resilience, patience, and empathy were planted and they’ve been growing within us throughout this entire stretch of time. As someone who gets impatient waiting for water to boil, those who are quarantining with me can attest that I’m not always very “go with the flow”. For all of us, our patience is tested during a time we want to be as go-go-go as ever. We’ve endured and witnessed unimaginable circumstances, and remained resilient as a class. We are not pretending everything is okay. With racial violence rampaging the nation and beyond, economic hardship devastating families, and our suffocating planet crying for help, there is a lot to get angry about. We’ve found our moments of resilience, of strength, of solidarity, and an empathetic tug in our hearts. But most importantly, as graduates with an uncertain future ahead, we’ve found our voices.

What I want to emphasize is that the pandemic doesn’t define us. Finishing our senior year at home, having countless events and traditions canceled, and dealing with grief and loss on small and large scales will eternally connect the Class of 2020 around the country and the world. I want to remember what it was like to take Calculus over Zoom, have our senior countdown over a Youtube Livestream, spend every waking moment with my family, and graduate from my car, but the high school memories that I hold closest to my heart are those at Wheeler. Yes, I have learned to be patient, to be resilient, and to be empathetic. Most of all, I have learned to be grateful and not take the moments that make Wheeler special for granted. Being called “Beauty” by Candé at the café, scoring my first goal during our field hockey senior game. Having our feet trampled on in the mosh pit at winter ball. Getting kicked out of the Union by Doc. Random Senior Room banter, and our senior retreat. I think back to that night, where I saw the faces of the Class of 2020 aglow in the light of the fire. There was much uncertainty then about the future, but we looked onward to the rest of the year that stretched ahead of us. I feel thankful for our connection and for all the teachers who not only supported us on campus, but tackled online learning for the first time, never ceasing to entertain, support, and motivate us. I am forever grateful for what I’ve found at Wheeler; a community of creators and thinkers. A community where activism is not only welcome but celebrated. A community of love. I want to thank my family. Thank you to my Grammy, who continuously inspires me to ask questions and grow. Thank you to my Mom, who teaches me to be the best version of myself, and to my Dad who doesn’t like to be called a healthcare hero, but certainly is mine. Thank you to my amazing sister Audrey, who I’m jealous gets to spend three more years at Wheeler.

Class of 2020: I am grateful for each and every one of you, and today, I have a challenge for you. After the celebrations have died down after you’ve hung up your diploma, been congratulated by extended family over zoom, find a moment to sit down and write. Take out that journal that’s been on your bedside table collecting dust for months. Or find a scrap of paper. Or open up a google doc. Write about how you feel right now. Write to your future self. Write about your ambitions, your fears. Allow yourself to be consumed by uncertainty. How will this experience make you a stronger person? How will you use your powers to make the world a better place? Thank you all for your time, and to the Class of 2020, congratulations!!!

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