Whitefield Academy Blog
Valedictory Address to the Class of 2021
The following is the Valedictory Address from the 2021 Whitefield Academy Commencement Ceremony given by Valedictorian Emerson Claire Jones.
Hello, I’d like to join with Ruby Jane in welcoming you to graduation. As some of you may know, I have attended Whitefield Academy since kindergarten, and it has been my privilege to be a member of this class through the development of the past thirteen years. This time has given me a unique perspective on our class. As I walk into Whitefield every morning, I say goodbye to my sisters as we rush to morning Bible reading. Once I enter my first hour class, I feel the sensation of comfort rush over me as I know that I am surrounded by those who know and care for me. As I take my seat, I hear a sarcastic remark from Eli, the strum of the guitar from Brendan, and the roar of laughter from Eby and Kyla. I chat with those around me about my morning and the upcoming test or dance until we are called together to begin studying. This year, you would find us with Dr. Mac, reading the Gospel of John or Bonaventure, discussing the revolutionary ideas that these authors bring up, and allowing them to deepen our faith. In these few moments that I have described to you, I was enjoying the final product of what it took years to create. My class has persevered through so much, whether we were comforting each other through loss or laughing with one another over a joke. The end result that you see here today is what it took years to come to. Instead of seeing little kindergarteners coloring when you walk into our classroom, you now see young adults having conversations and sharing life with each other. “How did this happen?” you ask. There are many things that I attribute this change to and I believe the primary causes are the classical curriculum taught here, the teachers that have invested in us, and the time we have spent with one another. In addition to the passage of time, and the toil of our parents, Whitefield Academy has been the key formative force in our lives, and it has shaped us in many ways.
Firstly, Whitefield has shaped us through the classical curriculum that we have been surrounded by since we were young. Through this, not only were we taught to read, but we were able to engage with the minds of the past. We read The Odyssey, and we discovered the enduring truths about longing to return home. As we read and performed Antigone, we grappled with the authority of God over all, while struggling to learn our lines. Aristotle showed us the importance of discipline in the formation of virtues. We read Hamlet, which reminded us to announce when we die by saying, “I am slain.” As we reached Mr. Selby’s classroom, we examined John Locke, Adam Smith, and C. S. Lewis, seeing the ways that ideas have endured through the ages. Through all of these works, we have been shaped and formed into who we are today. Without reading these texts, we would not be the young men and women that you see here.
This has also taught us to have good conversations. In a world filled with cancel culture, easy offense, and politics, it is essential for students to be shown how to have discussions without flying off the handle. Through the labor of our teachers, we have learned how to do this. In any community, there is bound to be disagreement and our class is no exception. Whether we were disagreeing on where to eat before the dance or on the correct interpretation of Plutarch’s Lives, we learned through these experiences how to discuss and understand ideas. This skill that we have learned in the safe halls of Whitefield is crucial to the success of graduates because it allows us to engage in difficult conversations and leave them having made progress in our perception of ideas, not simply offending the other person.
Furthermore, attending a Classical school means that while we are fundamentally shaped by the language arts, we are also formed by the mathematical arts. Whether we were trying to understand the commutative property of addition, dissecting frogs and crawfish, or learning the graph of a log in PreCalculus, learning about math helped us all to understand the order and beauty of God’s glorious creation. Without learning these skills, we would not be able to wonder and delight in the consistency of God or in His creativity. By engaging the minds of the past, gaining the ability to have good conversations, and learning to delight in God’s Creation, we were profoundly influenced by Whitefield’s curriculum.
Secondly, my classmates and I have been shaped by the teachers pouring into our lives. Thank you to all of those who have poured their heart and soul into our class. It has not been in vain. Whether it was the Macs hosting a bunch of first grade girls for a sleepover, many teachers staying late after our last retreat to talk and eat pancakes, or simply the conversations that are had throughout class, you all have always been there for us and we cannot thank you enough. You have been a living example of what it looks like to follow Christ. Without these examples and the often spoken words of encouragement for us, I know my faith would not be where it is today and I think that I can say the same for many of my classmates. You have helped each of us to become the men and women that we are today. You have called us out on our shortcomings. You have stretched our minds to new lengths. You have loved us when we had late homework assignments and even when we did not want to come to school. Since you have loved us and been wonderful examples for us, our teachers have formed this class.
Of course, since we have two ways that we have been shaped by Whitefield, we have to have a third because, as Mr. Laney reminds us, “All good things come in threes.” The third way is perhaps the most valuable of all. I have been greatly influenced by you all, my classmates and friends. Each of you changes the class dynamics dramatically, and you have each taught me different lessons along our journey through school. Virtue is valued by Classical education as one of the chief ends of education. All of you have manifested different virtues, and by growing up with you all, I have seen these firsthand. I truly believe that I am a better person because I have been friends with you all for so long.
Andre, you have led this class in more ways than you know. The way that you throw yourself wholeheartedly into what you believe can be a powerful force for good and has been for our class.
Belle, your vivacity and love of conversation lightens the mood of any class period. You can easily transition from being excited about your iced coffee to being an understanding confidante, which is always needed in a good friend.
Brendan, once you were described as our resident philosopher, which is a fitting title. Your capacity to think deeply about a topic and share these thoughts with the group is something we can all learn from. I hope that we have shown you that we truly do want to hear these thoughts so you don’t have to say, “Never mind.”
Cameron, your loyalty to your classmates, teammates, and friends is one of your most valuable attributes. Whether you are on the basketball court, the soccer field, or in the classroom, you are loyal to what you know to be true and those who have proven themselves to you.
Eby, your joy in all circumstances is almost tangible. I cannot explain the ways that you often know just what to say and when. Thank you for always being willing to laugh and for knowing and understanding how to be serious.
Eli, you desire to stretch others alongside you. Your probing questions ensure that we have thought through our claim and that we not only understand it, but wholeheartedly back it.
Hope, your gentle smile, your easy laugh, unforgettable facial expressions, and your joyous quirky noises, fill our classroom with joy. You possess the ability to direct the tone of a conversation in a beautiful, uplifting way.
Kyla, your curiosity reminds me and all around you to return to the wonder of childhood. Each time you say, “Isn’t that so cool?” rings with the reminder of the awe that we should be in of our Creator.
Lauren, I would never have expected to get to be in class with you again once you left in sixth grade, but I am so glad that God saw it fit to bring you back to us for a year. You have been courageous and confident this year by being involved and creating roots when you could have just coasted through. Thank you for displaying this bravery.
Nick, you have shown me the virtue of humility. You never seem to be too concerned with yourself but are engaged in an others-first mindset, whether it’s seen in your jokes or in your cooking.
Olivia Chace, you have a passion for justice and a desire to understand. This has led to your wisdom increasing exponentially and your love for people reaching far beyond the walls of the classroom.
Paige, you have an eye for what is beautiful and a love to help the downtrodden. Whether I am having a bad day, or I have just had a stressful experience, I can always count on you to lift me up with a sympathetic smile, hug, or word.
Lastly, Ruby Jane, you are the encourager of our class. No matter what we are doing, if we are repairing the boat dock at Sagrada, taking a physics test, or playing a sport, you are always there to cheer us on.
Thank you all for displaying these virtues to me countless times over the years. All of these traits that I have just listed are an essential part of what made each of us who we are today. I am sure that I am a much better person since I have grown up with you all. Whether we are working through a difficult text, working on a math problem, or presenting our theses, we have been there to support each other through the thick and thin. And now we have made it to graduation. At this moment in our lives, after being shaped by the seven liberal arts, our teachers, and each other, it is now time to take these virtues that have been formed in us the past thirteen years and go out into the world. As much as it breaks my heart to know that when I go to school next year, I won’t be sitting next to any of you, I know that we have been well prepared. Not only have we been well prepared, but I am excited to see how all of you influence the lives of those who you meet in the coming years. I’m sure that you all will do the same for them as you have done for me, and I am certain that you will help them on the path to become better individuals than before. Now that we are moving on, I want to urge all of us to continue encouraging, being loyal, joyful, courageous, and loving. These are the most valuable things that we leave Whitefield with and this is what we are called to share with those we meet. I am so grateful that God saw fit in His infinite wisdom to have each of us here for however long and I cannot imagine who I would be without all of you. I will miss you all next year. Thank you.
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