“Be the light.” Prize Day keynote speaker Senator Kirsten Gillibrand appealed to the Form of 2022 in an inspiring talk, asking them to be courageous, serve others, and recognize the “exceptional responsibility to spread the light you carry.”
On June 5, 2022, eighty-five graduates celebrated their Groton education, cheering on prize winners, posing with diplomas, and launching their traditional straw boaters in the air with abandon. During the morning ceremony, they embraced the insights of Senator Gillibrand, as well as wise messages from Board of Trustees President Ben Pyne ’77, P’12, ’15; Headmaster Temba Maquela; and student-elected speaker Steven Pang ’22.
“Focus on being that one voice in every conversation who urges the right thing, the one who finds common ground, who eases the tensions of the moment,” said the Democratic Senator from New York. She pointed to achievements where she has found common ground despite a brutally divided U.S. Congress.
“I work with Senator [Cynthia] Lummis, a conservative from Wyoming, on creating a base regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies; I work with Senator [Joni] Ernst, a conservative from Iowa, on reforming the military justice system," the speaker said. "I work with Senator [Ben] Sasse, a conservative from Nebraska, on creating a national civilian Cyber Academy to train our next generation of cyber defenders tuition-free, in exchange for five years of public service.” Collaborating with South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, she recently helped pass a law eliminating contract clauses that prevented victims of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace from seeking justice in court.
“I can imagine all of you finding that place where you will make that difference,” she went on, urging the graduates to serve their communities. “...In its simplest terms, service is about love—loving your neighbor as yourself. If we all cared about one another, we would have much less stress, strife, and division and far greater happiness and productivity in society. It would revolutionize the economy and create a more hopeful future.”
Senator Gillibrand also advised the graduates to seize opportunity and recognize the value of failure, noting that Abraham Lincoln lost seven elections. That echoed part of the message delivered by Mr. Pyne, who shared one of the most powerful moments during his long career at Disney, when an ESPN president played a video of company successes, then followed it with a sobering video account of company failures.
The room of executives was braced for admonition but got a surprise when the leader said he was prouder of the initiatives that failed. “It showed that we were willing to try, to think out of the box, to go well beyond our comfort zone, and through it we learned and grew as individuals and as a company,” Mr. Pyne said, adding that the failings provided lessons that contributed to future success in a related initiative.
The board president counseled graduates to define themselves on their own terms, not someone else’s, and to be open to possibility. “Please, do not be timid about exploring new horizons or trying something because you think you may not be good at it or fail,” he said. “All too often we get bogged down with that word and fear stigma and allow it to determine what we should do or try.”
In the headmaster's remarks, Mr. Maqubela lauded the Form of 2022 for what they have endured and experienced—including COVID protocols that allowed in-person classes without interruption since fall 2020, the installation of busts representing women and people of color in the Schoolroom, and the opening of Groton's first net-zero building. He then asked them to use their Groton education to better the world. "Groton has equipped you to play your part," he said. "Impact starts with the individual."
Steven Pang ’22, elected by his peers to deliver the student Prize Day address, began his talk with a science lesson about mass, then explained that he considers all of the graduates scientists—who “spent the last four years of our lives studying one of the strangest, weirdest places on the face of the Earth, Groton School. Just like the scientists,” he said, “we’ve been given access to a special universe most people can only dream of.”
Steven went on to note the humility that comes from going to school alongside enormously talented peers. “If we didn’t have such an incredible group of gifted young students, what would have forced us to begin breaking down our instinct for self-deception?”
Acknowledging that many of his peers will be poised to assume positions of power, he reflected on the value of power itself. “Groton teaches us that it’s not the magnitude of power that matters, but the direction. That the greatest weapon a Grotonian possesses is not in our brain or in our wallets, but in our hearts. We, unlike most of the world, have been given the opportunity to shed our self-deception and set our crosshairs firmly on the pursuit of love and compassion.”
Love, he explained, has been part of the Groton experience: “Because our campus is situated in the middle of a magnificent forest, we begin to fall in love with nature. Because of our vast libraries and extraordinary teachers, we begin to fall in love with learning. Because we are all stuffed together into the same tight-knit community, we begin to fall in love with each other.
“You may not have felt all these kinds of love here at Groton,” Steven went on, “but I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has not felt any of them.”
After the speeches and the awarding of prizes and diplomas, the headmaster—like every headmaster before him—told the graduates to “Go well!” Then eighty-five straw boaters sailed skyward, hugs abounded, and off went the Form of 2022.