Brookstone’s Graduation held special significance this year since it had been two years since our last full in person graduation! While we celebrated the Class of 2020 to the best of our ability in COVID-style, we were thrilled to be able to celebrate the Class of 2021 in the traditional manner!
The Graduation festivities began with our Senior-Faculty dinner held at the beautiful Bibb Mill. Awards were distributed, honors bestowed, and the evening was the perfect way to kick off the weekend celebration. It’s always such a lovely evening showcasing the academic, athletic, and theatrical prowess of our students while highlighting the very rich relationship our teachers and students share.
Next up was Baccalaureate. which was held in our Illges Gym this year. The layout was different, social distancing was still in place, but we were grateful to have such a heartfelt ceremony celebrating the special bond this class shares.
Matt Lage, the Senior Grade Chair, addressed the class along with Dr. Alice Cellino, Class of 1998, who was our alumnae speaker. Special music by seniors Mia Vonsavang and Ayomide Oloyede.
In his remarks, Mr. Lage said, “Y’all are entering into a world that is heavily divided. But you guys know that. You guys have experienced that. This class is divided in a lot of ways. Not everyone in this class looks the same, thinks the same, or has the same interests. And that’s a good thing. When you leave Brookstone, you’re going to have more freedom and choices about the people you hang out with and align yourself with. Choose wisely. Hang out with people that you want to be like. As Grant Scarborough told us at the mentor breakfast, ‘you are the sum of the three people that you hang out with the most.’ But at the same time, be friends with others who look at the world differently than you do. If you are a conservative, make sure you have some liberal friends. If you are a liberal, have some conservative friends. Don’t get stuck in an echo chamber with people who won’t challenge you and your ideas. And when you inevitably disagree with others and their worldview, that is OK. Don’t demonize them. In a recent speech, George W. Bush put it like this ‘too often we judge ourselves by our best intentions and others by their worst behavior.’ Don’t be someone who does that. Don’t judge others too harshly. Hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold to others. And just as you should extend grace to yourself when you screw up, extend that same grace to others.”
He concluded, “I’m honored to have served as your Grade Chair for the past 4 years. To the parents, thank you for sharing your kids with me and letting me be a part of their lives. You’ve done well with them. To the soon to be graduates, please know that in me you have a friend for life. I love you guys and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Dr. Cellino had equally inspirational words to impart. She said, “Parents, they’re ready. Graduates, you’ve got this. The beauty of this moment is, it didn’t really creep up on anybody. For the last 18 years you have been blessed with the best environment possible to grow and learn and stand where you are now. You’ve been blessed more than you can appreciate because you don’t yet really understand the alternatives, and that unawareness is a part of the blessing. That teacher who made you redo some assignment three times and you still don’t think you needed to? That was really about practicing excellence. All the practices and games when your parents and coaches cheered you on like a champion even though you got smoked? That was really about practicing mental toughness. On this side of graduation, I now understand that when we parents and educators are at our best, we are doing things to support this very milestone.”
She elaborated, “Before you is a blue ocean of wonder. Do all you can to appreciate this part of life while it is happening. Go to bed exhausted because you were doing something you loved, not because you were down a rabbit hole on your phone. Choose the hard things; don’t tube when you could have water skied. Return it better than you found it; earn trust and build your network. Go boldly because I can’t think of a single failure that you can’t recover from. Not one. You will become the person your inner voice says you will become, so keep that voice healthy and positive and surround yourself with people who have a genuine investment in you. Create space away from the crowds so your instinct can thrive. Create opportunities through a bedrock of hard work and kindness. Congratulations to you all.”
Later that evening, we celebrated with our beautiful Commencement Ceremonies. Since these had not been held in person since 2019, they were even more meaningful this year.
As the sun began to set, Marianna Branch, one of our class selected speakers, shared highlights from the past four years with heartfelt humor and warmth. In her remarks she talked about COVID-19 and the impact it had on the class. “While nearly 55 million students were affected nationwide by school closures and disruptions Brookstone schooled on. By the end of what felt like a summer that lasted forever, everyone in the cougar family was eager to start the year and especially in person. We were masked-up (even our bronze cougar in the rotunda was encouraged to wear one). Due to unbelievable efforts of our leadership we only missed four days of school. We carried all of our sports seasons to completion, hosted a prom, won a few championships, and got us to this moment. Before we part one last time, we ought to tell it like it is, we ought to set down simply what got us here, as a class ready to push off. I think my classmates would agree that the chief ingredients that got us to a successful celebration like this are, beyond the intelligent ideas that guided us, were in the people around us.”
She continued, “My favorite part of high school and what has honestly shaped who I am to day is the relationships I’ve had with my teachers. Day in and day out you make an exceptional effort to meet each of us where we are and help us grow from there. Academically you know our capabilities so you push us, encouraging us to reach new potential always. But more importantly, and what we always remember is the way that you selflessly love us. You take time out of your day to be there for this class in immeasurable ways.”
“So to get us here tonight, it took work, grace, love, grit, and a special kind of people. You can see how those around us have impacted our lives and made any time spent on this campus just that, special. In our final moments as we look around at everyone here, we can strongly agree – people matter.”
Ayomide Oloyede, our second student selected speaker, also addressed his peers in a rousing speech full of personal touches, tributes to fellow classmates, and inspirational moments. He said, “For so long, we’ve equated our A’s to achievements, our grades to great ness, and our statistics to success. This school year, more than any other, we were merely a sum of numbers, and that can take its toll. Many of us have had an experience, if not multiple, where we wanted to get into a school so bad, we tried to get an athletic offer so bad, we needed to get that scholarship so bad that we got into our head and started thinking about every number that we could’ve made better: our ACT score, English grade, AP Macro exam. All these thoughts bouncing in our heads to the point of exhaustion. We are not just our numbers, and if these number-based metrics alone do not define our success, then what else should?”
Ayo talked about the importance of “being humble, not letting your ego hinder you from making an impact in your community.”
He talked about passion. “Passion is the fuel that inspires us to achieve our goals, no matter how unlikely or intricate they might be. It’s what generates the drive needed to plow through the most daunting obstacles and overcome the largest challenges in pursuit of success.”
And he talked about commitment. “When I think of commitment, I think of the Brookstone Staff. This Cougar Crew was committed to making this year, filled with uncertainty, as normal as possible, especially for us Seniors, and look where we are.”
In closing he said, “I would like to propose that we strive to cultivate the values that underlie these metrics. In essence these are, humility, servant leadership, enthusiasm, commitment, and love. Class of 2021, Thank you for every lesson you’ve taught me, I am today, a product of my interactions with all of you and I’m better for having been with you.”
At the conclusion of their speeches, diplomas were awarded, pictures taken, hugs given, and we all basked in the moment. Graduation at Brookstone is something special indeed. We are so grateful we were able to experience it this year. What a beautiful community we are blessed to be a part of.
Congratulations to the Class of 2021! We know you will go far!! You already have!