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For Sarah Stoe, what Covid taught us

AHS graduation speeches

Faculty speaker Sarah Stoe, who teaches social studies/history, was introduced by Amelia Schizas, treasurer, class of 2022. Stoe presented these remark at commencement on Saturday, June 4, 2022.

Thank you for the introduction, thank you to all of the previous speakers, and thank you to the class of 2022.

It meant a great deal to me to be chosen to speak here today by the senior class. It meant a great deal partly because I know a lot of you. I know I don’t know every one of you personally, but I know many of you quite well, so thank you for this honor. It also meant a great deal because this has been a difficult year. It has been difficult for me personally, and I think it’s been difficult for all of us in this community.

Aimed to stay positive

When I was considering what to say here today, I kept thinking that I wanted to keep the message positive; that I didn’t want to harp on all the hard things we’ve been dealing with this year, or all the different ways in which your high school careers have been derailed. I didn’t want to talk about Covid and the abrupt cancellation of all of our normal lives near the end of your sophomore year.

The isolation we all experienced, the missed events we’d been looking forward to, the stress of trying to avoid getting sick, and for some of us, the grieving of loved ones we’d lost.

I didn’t want to talk about the chaos of your completely reimagined junior year. I mean everything about that year was different. We flipped the very structure of the school year on its head with the semester based schedule. We fundamentally changed the way we delivered and consumed education by doing it remotely using Zoom, and then we were abruptly forced back into the building by the powers that be, with almost no notice or time to prepare. That was really hard, and I didn’t want to talk about it today.

I also didn’t want to talk about the scary and distressing realities of the world we live in, highlighted by tragic events in the news over the past few years. We have seen countless stories about inequality and injustice in this country. We have seen mass shootings, some motivated by hatred and prejudice, and some taking place in schools.

We have seen a war break out, and with it, the destruction of communities, livelihoods, and human life. We have seen the fragility of the world economy, with labor shortages, supply chain issues, the rising price of oil and other interruptions having devastating effects. And we have seen worsening natural disasters and other environmental catastrophes as our climate continues to change.

But like I said, I didn’t want to talk about any of that. I wanted to focus on the positive. So first, let me congratulate the class of 2022. Despite that very long list of difficulties, you all made it to graduation. Give yourselves a round of applause! You have all dutifully fulfilled the academic requirements of Arlington High School, and you’ve received a well-rounded education in math and sciences, the arts, the language arts, and the humanities. 

What you have achieved

But especially because of that very long list of difficulties that I didn’t want to talk about, you’ve arrived at this moment with a very valuable new skill set. Covid has taught you how to be flexible, how to roll with the punches and how to live with uncertainty. It has proved how quickly you can adapt to new circumstances. And it has taught you how to live as part of a community, how to make your choices based not only on your own needs and desires, but on the health and well-being of those around you. 

You are all about to transition into the unknown. Whether you are going on to college or taking a different path, you are all embarking on a new journey in your lives, and these skills that you have mastered are going to help you succeed everyday. They are going to help you adjust to new surroundings, they are going to help you manage complicated emotions, they are going to help you deal with the failures we all experience in life, and they are going to help you be valuable and active members of your new communities.

You may be disappointed that your high school career didn’t exactly follow the trajectory you were expecting, but I hope you can be grateful for the strength and the wisdom this experience has imparted to all of you. Take your newfound emotional fortitude and use it! Use that strength to muster the courage to make new friends. Use that adaptability to live in the moment when life gets chaotic (and it will). And channel some of your anger and frustration into tackling the institutional problems that trouble you.

You are an incredible group of strong, thoughtful, and compassionate people. Go make your mark! Use your talents to make this world a better place for the next generation of high schoolers. And for those inevitable times when you are facing difficulty and all else seems to fail, remember this: If you can make it through Pandemic High 2022, you can make it through anything. 

Thank you again to the senior class for the connections we’ve made over the past four years, and for the kindness so many of you have shown me. I wish you all the very best of luck, and congratulations!

This expression of opinion at the 2022 Arlington High School commencement was published Monday, June 6, 2022.

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