Attending Baccalaureate and Commencement for the past two years has been even more meaningful for me, as I recognize names, faces, and recall fond memories from years ago. I've just completed my seventh year as a Middle School teacher at Randolph School, and this was the second graduating class in which I taught a majority of the seniors.
When my former student, Liddy Malone, took the stage to deliver the Salutatory Address for the Class of 2017, I remembered being proud of her quiet leadership and hard work. I remember her as a gentle presence with an underlying fierce, competitive edge.
Liddy is a bright, reflective, and talented young person, and I have not been surprised to watch her excel in her years since my class. In her speech, she recalled entering Randolph as a 7th grader. Then, she mentioned my Geography class and described my classroom and the omnipresence of the big blue world map. She was kind, gracious, and articulate about her experience in my class with me as the teacher, but then she described a moment in which she was not at her best.
In a self-perceived moment of social pressure, she thought that decrying the assignment I gave her group would provide her the foundational ice-breaker she needed to impress her new classmates.
“This is stupid.”
I thought that’s what I heard from across the room. To be honest, I thought that I might have misheard her in class that day, misinterpreted what she labelled “stupid,” or even projected my own self-conscious 7th grade self, as I would have attempted similar language to prop myself up against the fear of displaying nerd-like qualities.
My latter instinct was correct, as I just discovered in Liddy’s public confession.
According to her, I asked her if she had any issues with the current assignment, a question she remembered in a vivid and perhaps indelible way. Liddy told all of us that she shrank back to her seat, but never quite got the courage to apologize, even five years later. “Mrs. Andrews,” she said, “I am sorry. I was a little punk.”
After Baccalaureate, I sought her out to tell her that my memory of her is not at all what she described in her speech. We are all, at some time in our lives, “little punks.” It is a fact of life that we over-analyze, over-think, and subsequently regret an action, statement, or reaction to some situation during the course of our adolescence, young adulthood, or beyond. The ability to reflect upon and recognize these moments as they happen, and learn from them, provides personal growth. It takes immense courage to recognize our missteps and correct them.
Liddy’s speech reflects the essence of the intrinsic moral compass that lies at the core of Randolph’s culture. The very fact that she held onto that memory of 7th grade exemplifies the antithetical nature of rejecting learning and personal growth at Randolph. Learning, in all forms, is exciting, challenging, and uncomfortable in the sense that it should take the learner outside of previously accepted levels of comfort.
Liddy’s speech provides a snapshot into the culture of Randolph that I love and appreciate. This story was not about me or my class, but rather a celebration of core values that all faculty, staff, and administration seek to instill in all who walk the halls at Randolph. Liddy is right; Randolph is a place where we celebrate learning in all forms. Lovers of learning are welcome here.
Liddy, no apology was needed, and I am so proud to see that your years at Randolph have served you well. I know that you will continue to excel at all the new challenges ahead of you.