Commencement Speeches: Looking Back and Looking Forward

June 01, 2017


Valedictorian Maureen Murphy ’17 and SSM-Forest City Head of School Graham Gamble dispense wisdom during speeches at Commencement 2017.

On Friday, May 26, Shattuck-St. Mary’s proudly recognized its senior class during Commencement 2017. Below, insightful speech excerpts from Class of 2017 Valedictorian Maureen Murphy and SSM-Forest City Head of School Graham Gamble have been shared from the event.

“Over the past few years, I’ve realized that often we get so caught up in a given moment that we forget to to be appreciative of the little things that bring us joy. A smile. A wave. A friendly hello. Looking back on my past three years here, I wish I would’ve known some of the helpful hints that I know now. If I could, I would write a letter to our younger selves, and hope that our inexperienced, less sophisticated selves would listen, and maybe even follow my advice.

“Dear Self, one day, you will take your first step onto the Shattuck-St. Mary’s campus, and go under the Arch for the very first time. Cherish this moment, because it will always feel like it was just yesterday.

“Dear Self, one day, you will wear your first SSM polo, your first school uniform, and experience your first real day as a part of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s community. Later, you will look back on these moments and realize that everything felt so foreign. Treasure these seconds, you will eventually wish you could go back in time and experience them again…

“…Dear Self, one day, you will realize that as much as you’ve eagerly anticipated this day, you disliked the thought of these precious moments ending, because you can’t get them back. The last day of school. The last chapter of your favorite book. The last time you’ll ever see a close friend. You’ll realize that you tend to forget to cherish beginnings, because you get so caught up in the diminutive stress of each individual day. Before you know it, you will no longer be at the beginning, and the past will only be a memory. However, you’ll realize that Shattuck-St. Mary’s gave you the opportunity as a student to grow up and succeed under the Arch.

“Dear Self, you might be sad. You will probably feel nostalgic. But will you be regretful? No. SSM has given you lifelong friends, a great education, and the chance to pursue your dreams. You will be grateful to have received this opportunity of a lifetime. It is time to give back to your younger peers, and open the cover of what will hopefully be another favorite book.”

- Shattuck-St. Mary’s Class of 2017 Valedictorian Maureen Murphy

“What’s my nugget that I hope will last with you at least until the end of today? I asked you to have fun with my accent for a while – and it may be good for a few laughs for many moons to come. And I asked you to do that so you could get all that out of the way. If you needed to. Because, my two pence or two cents worth to you when you meet people is always, always to ignore the accent. In fact, ignore everything about the speaker’s background – his or her gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, religion, even what you think are his or her politics – if it gets in the way of you paying attention to what that other person has to say to you.

“Of course, you can’t always ignore the impact of context, which can give the same words entirely different weights of meaning. “I’m hungry” means something very different when it’s said by a child in a refugee camp in South Sudan than when it’s said by an adult about to enter a fast food franchise in a Madrid shopping mall. But, in general, and, for a moment steering dangerously close to those political waters Mr. Stoneman and Mr. MacMillan told me to avoid, I’d say we might have some of our problems in the world today because we’ve isolated ourselves in our own bubbles of self-reinforcing prejudices. It’s all too easy to cut yourself off from people whose appearance, whose religion, race, gender orientation or, again, whose accents you don’t like.

“The world may be getting poorer in that regard. At times, it seems we’re no longer benefitting as we did from the free exchange of views between widely differing peoples. And, yes, some free movement of peoples is part of that. Being a refugee or an economic migrant who has no choice is a fate no one would welcome. But, if you can move to a very different part of the world, get past different accents or even different languages, you can gain a lot thereby…

“… As you graduate from Shattuck-St.Mary’s-Faribault, you become part of what is already a worldwide community of alumnae, numbering in the 1,000s. Yet, with graduates and leavers of SSM-Forest City and SSM-Suzhou gracing the scene in a few years’ time, you will become part of an American school community with a truly global reach. What will unite you all, as graduates of SSM schools, is your shared association with ideals of liberal thought, creativity, friendship, tolerance and teamwork that originated here, inside the Arch but will soon become ideals taking root in many centers in other parts of the world.”

- Commencement Speaker and SSM-Forest City Head of School Graham Gamble

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