Senior Assembly: Class of 2024

Senior Assembly: Class of 2024

On Thursday, May 23, seniors, their parents, and the rest of the Burroughs community gathered in Haertter Hall for the annual Senior Assembly. Speakers included senior class president Rosalie Tasker '24 and Pete McKeown (College Counseling, Athletics). Mr. Abbott closed the assembly by sharing fond memories of the Class of 2024, both his own and those of other faculty members.

After assembly, seniors and their parents gathered for a short reception hosted by the Alumni Association. 

Rosalie's and Mr. McKeown's remarks are below.

*****

Rosalie Tasker's Remarks

Good morning, everyone, and welcome parents, students, faculty, and Mr. Abbott to the celebration of this year's graduating seniors, the Class of 2024.

Burroughs has been a special place for my family, as it has for many of us on this stage and many people in the audience. My experience at this school did not just begin six years ago — it has been my life for the past 14 years. Past Laughing Lake and through a small clearing in the woods lies my hidden house. My whole life, as I remember it, has been in that house and on this campus. Filled with faculty parties, bonfires, and graduations — I am so lucky to live this life and to be able to call Burroughs my home. 

Just outside in the Clayton lot is where I learned how to bike, and 10 years later, where I mediocrely learned how to parallel park for my driver's test (a skill I have yet to showcase in the real world). I remember in place of the STAR Building, there used to be an outdoor pool. My brother and I would swim in it all summer, and even one year, I remember getting screamed at by my mom for sticking my feet in Mr. Abbott's face when he was peacefully lounging in the sun. I'm so sorry, Mr. Abbott; I guess I didn't know who you were or something. 

Now, as I begin to pack up my closet, getting ready for the big move, genuinely in distress if I should give Potpourri my huge collection of Burroughs merch, it truly feels like our upcoming graduation is the end of my childhood. No more two-minute walks to school, a quick dip in Laughing Lake because of a dare. No more snowball fights in the quad, no more trips to the (vending machines) to see if there are oven-baked Cheetos, no more "Hallos" from Frau Stafford. And no more deliberately avoiding eye contact with my dad in the halls while my friends yell, "SEŃOR!" Our lives are about to become so unfamiliar — is it wrong for me to admit that I am not ready for things to change? 

Even though I might be the only one of our classmates who lives at school, Burroughs has watched each and every one of us grow up. Literally, we watched Cole Kniep grow from big to bigger and watched Mimi Taff ... stay the same height. But even this year, there has been so much growth. We have stepped up and become the leaders that our younger selves looked up to. Now that this school no longer seems so big and scary, we, as seniors, have embraced this place as our own and have officially left our mark. Maybe not the mark in the sophomore Commons, when Kai sat on the table and it broke in half, or the stains on the junior Commons wall from our attempted food fight. But we have also left our mark in other ways. We kept traditions alive and hopefully brought forth new traditions like trunk-or-treat and "family feuds" with Monét as Steve Harvey. Each and every one of us excelled academically, artistically and athletically. We have grown into better human beings. We are Montgomery leaders, sports captains, and 15 of us are National Merit Semifinalists. Our art is hung in the Bonsack Gallery and our plaques stand in the athletics office. In our six years at Burroughs, we have accomplished so much. The small things like hiding our phones when we see any teachers coming. To the big things like coming up with a quick excuse when a teacher actually does take our phones. All jokes aside, we have so many things to be proud of. We have all worked so hard to get up on this stage. 

To the juniors, to the kids who just began high school, to the 7th graders in the balcony, the people who you are surrounded by now are the people who accompany you in this sometimes complicated journey of growing up. Try to cherish even the small moments with them, because I truly don't know where all the time has gone.

In a few months, we will each be at a new school and have new friends ... but when I think about home, I will think about this place and the people I grew up with. I will remember the ambition we had as wide-eyed 7th graders, excited to start the next six years of our lives. In 9th grade, I will remember meeting a dozen new freshmen on a Zoom screen, and even with the craziness going on in the world around us, being able to make them some of our closest friends. Junior year, I will remember the newfound confidence we all developed as students, leaders in our community, and most importantly, in ourselves because, at that point, this wasn't our first rodeo. And lastly, when I think about my last few weeks as a senior at Burroughs, I will remember music in the Commons, celebrating the last of us deciding on which college to attend, and stepping out of our comfort zones, and sadly away from each other, to take on unique May Projects.

Finally, to use a reference my 7th grade self would've wanted to make: in the words of the High School Musical cast, this is really the last time "we are all in this together." And although right now I want to stay 17 forever and continue to navigate through life with my classmates, the reality is that this is the end of this chapter of our lives. But we shouldn't be afraid. This school has prepared us to go out into the world and do so many wonderful things. We are taking a part of Burroughs with us in our hearts to wherever we may go. Even though Burroughs will no longer be in my front yard, I know that I am always welcome to come back — we all are. Thank you to my classmates for the best six years. Thank you, Mr. Abbott, for giving my old man a shot at being athletic director. Thank you to our teachers for nurturing our growth, celebrating our successes and having a lasting impact on our lives. Thank you to the coaches for pushing us on and off the fields and courts, by believing in our skills as players and helping us become better teammates. Thank you to the classes before us who have paved the way as leaders for the Class of 2024, and thank you to the classes below us who will carry on the legacy. Lastly, thank you to this place for all of the memories my classmates and I have made. I can't imagine what my life would be without this school, and I would not have wanted to spend these last six years anywhere else. Thank you.

*****

Pete McKeown's Remarks

Good morning, faculty, parents, students, Mr. Abbott, and, of course, a special greeting to the Class of 2024.

When I was told I would be speaking today, I was quite honored, though extremely nervous. I mean, if past classes of Burroughs are anything to go by, at least one or two of you seniors are going to be wildly successful or famous, so this might be my best chance to get into an Oscars speech or be given a few stock options for a futuristic tech company. So yeah, this is a pretty big moment for me, but I relaxed when Mr. Pierson told me I'd be speaking after Tasker. 

Don't get me wrong, Señor Tasker is a heck of a guy, but just like I feel when I tee off after him at Ruth Park Golf Course, he is by no means a tough act to follow. About 20 minutes after Pierson let me know, I realized it was Rosalie who would be speaking, not our outgoing AD. Panic immediately set in, and for good reason, too. It'll be nearly impossible to match what she just did. Amazing job, Rosalie.

I'm not going to lie, the thought of trying to come up with something consequential to share, some profound anecdote or piece of advice that you seniors could take away from this moment, was utterly daunting.

I wondered if I should channel my inner Gen Z and use language that you might understand. High Key? That could slap, but like this sentence, I'm pretty sure it's cringe. No cap. 

Should I swing the pendulum the other direction and wax poetically, referencing some of the amazing authors I've read, like Thoreau, Faulkner, Virgil, or Hemingway? If there's one thing I can guarantee, you didn't pick me so you could hear me channel my inner English teacher. 

It's understandable for me to feel torn between the side of me that's youthful and the one that has grown up; after all, last week, I turned 40. 

I know what everyone in the audience is thinking … there's no way this guy can be 40 … he doesn't look a day over 25, he can still absolutely school his players on the ice hockey rink, and he seems to have the maturity of a middle schooler. While you'd be correct about the second two parts, the seniors sitting behind me who have a front row seat to my male pattern baldness might beg to differ about me not looking middle aged. 

In reminiscing about the Class of 2024, it's challenging not to feel my age because it seems like only yesterday many of you walked into school as 7th graders, and in less than two weeks, you'll be making your way down Graduation Grove. What's even crazier is that I have worked directly with so many of you, and after all that interaction, for some reason, you still thought it was a good idea to have me be your speaker. I guess your reputation as the "troublemaking class" has some truth to it. 

In all seriousness, though, there isn't a single class that has come through this school that I've known this well, and I'm grateful for that. Seniors behind me, I'm going to need you to interact with me a bit here. Please put away your phones. I need you to give a little shout or acknowledgment if you fit into one of the following groups. Now I know you all quite well, so the ones who don't like to talk, please give me a little something, even if it's a partially raised hand or a noticeable eye roll, and the ones who are a bit extra, this is your moment.

  • Eight of you had me as a 7th grade advisor. 
  • A handful of you got away with murder in my middle school study halls. 
  • Thirty-two of you were in one of my classes during my first year teaching English 7. 
  • A majority of you had me at some point in 7th/8th grade PE. 
  • I coached a bunch of you in varsity ice hockey, C soccer, or JV lacrosse. 
  • I even interviewed a few of you to get into this school. 
  • I've interacted with more of you than I care to admit as the faculty sponsor of Student Court. 
  • Most recently, though, a third of you drew the short straw and were paired with me in my first year as a college counselor.

Like I felt before this speech, I was equally nervous to step into this new role. I had really found my stride teaching 7th grade English, and let's be honest, the stakes felt a bit lower when some of my biggest challenges revolved around making sure everyone wrote their name on their papers, trying to stay civil when 12-year-olds tell me the New England Patriots cheated, and convincing students that "rizz" isn't an acceptable noun for a part of speech quiz. I also loved being able to transition to an outdoor classroom every afternoon to coach middle school PE and then three high school sports. It was an extremely fulfilling and gratifying role — to be able to connect with young people in and outside of the classroom didn't feel like coming to work. 

Stepping into the college counseling role, a job with more consequential outcomes and stress management, required a massive change in mindset. Change can be scary, especially when moving on from a good thing. On the flip side, change can also be invigorating.  

I imagine every one of you seniors, in one form or another, feels those very same emotions in varying degrees as you prepare for the transition to college. It can be unnerving to move away from home, away from your family and friends, routines, creature comforts, and all the things that make home, home. At the same time, there's freedom. Sweet, glorious freedom. You will be making choices for yourself each day without the guidance of an adult. You're the adult. 

You can justify having ice cream for dinner after a particularly tough exam, especially if you represent a few more food groups with your toppings. You can binge an extra four to nine episodes of your favorite show on a Tuesday night because you may have purposefully scheduled classes to start on Wednesday afternoon. You can go on an impromptu road trip to visit a friend at another school or be one of those college students in the quad who will never be found without a hacky sack or frisbee. Your experience will be undeniably your own.

It might also be nerve-racking for some to step outside of the bubble of Burroughs, where relationships with teachers are as strong as anywhere on the planet, classes can resonate and connect in such deep ways, and you can feel safe being you in all your quirky glory. At the same time, you might be fired up at the chance to really dive into a specific discipline in college, explore something we don't teach here, or enter a world in which you are truly a blank slate. While you are finishing a chapter here at Burroughs, the pages of the next chapter are unwritten. You are the author, so you have the freedom to write what you want.

With any new endeavor where you step outside your comfort zone, you are going to have so many opportunities to learn new things. In my first year as a college counselor, I learned that I have coworkers who are kind enough to field between 20 and 60 questions a day. I learned that when dealing with an admissions rep from Boston, it's beneficial for me to talk with a wicked hardcore Boston accent and bribe them with some Dunkin' Donuts. I learned to wear outfits that don't revolve around Burroughs athletic gear and how to use a beard trimmer. Of all the things I have learned, though, probably the most valuable was the realization that of all the roles I've carried out in my time in education, coaching sports is by far the one that prepared me the most to be a college counselor. 

In coaching and college counseling, there are so many crossovers. There's unbelievable joy and inexplicable pain. High fives and tears. Hopes and dreams and the onset of reality. In both, participants share a significant amount of vulnerability. In any endeavor with a discernible result at the end of it - win, loss or tie, acceptance, rejection or waitlist - you are putting yourself out there, knowing that the result may not go your way. The social stigma of success or failure in each arena can feel overwhelming, and in both of these worlds, there is so much outside of your control.

In sports, you can't control your opponent, the refs, or the bounces of a puck or ball. In the college process, you can't control a college's institutional priorities, the admissions counselors who are reading your applications, or the other applicants from our own school or elsewhere. You can do everything possible to set yourself up for success, and fail.

It might be shocking for many of you to imagine, but I am a connoisseur of failure. For instance, in these last two years coaching ice hockey, I've had some truly epic fails. Two seasons ago, I was suspended for a game after a one-goal loss to the school down the road due to my team being a bit too "spirited" and spending enough time in the penalty box to owe the rink rent. And this past season, the Bomber hockey squad was knocked out of the playoffs without ever losing a game. You heard that correctly — we won two games and tied one, and our season ended because another team scored some meaningless empty net goals. We figured out a way to lose without losing ... it's actually pretty impressive. That's only scratching the surface of one facet of my job when, in reality, I've had failures in pretty much everything I've ever tried.  

With that in mind, I want to tell you something that you've definitely heard before. It's ok to fail. Not every season is going to end up in a championship, and not every application is going to result in an acceptance letter. It is for this reason that I want you to listen to my next words, as they are the crux of what I hope to impart today: De-emphasize outcomes and control what you can control.

There might be some old-school members in this audience, young and older alike, who are groaning at the implications of this message. "If McKeown mentions participation trophies, I'm walking out." I get it, and I want to be very transparent with you. As a hockey coach, I want to win every single period of every single game by multiple goals. Genuinely, I want to crush every team we play, every time we play them. As a college counselor, I want every one of my students to be accepted, with massive bags of scholarship money, to every single school they apply to. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that. I'm that competitive.

I have spent a large portion of my life, and I still struggle — identifying a win as the only signifier of success or a rejection as an ostensible marker for failure. It's extremely challenging to change that perspective, even if I know it's in my best interest. Just because we won doesn't mean we did everything right, and just because we had a negative result doesn't mean we did anything wrong. We cannot control outcomes, therefore we can not and should not be bound to wins or losses as the sole reasons to consider ourselves a success or a failure.

A win in a game or an acceptance to a school is no more than a byproduct of a sound process, and the process is something we can all control. In ice hockey, for example, the team can practice diligently, giving 100% in every possible drill. Individual players can put in extra work in the weight room, shoot on a net in their driveway, or study film. They can listen to every single word their coach says, because he's always right. They can work on their team chemistry and communication, or breathe life into the group with their work ethic and positive attitude. These are controllable factors that will undoubtedly put a team in a better position for the coveted win at the end of a contest. 

In the college application process, a student can work on multiple drafts of a personal statement to perfect a message. They can finish their activities section early so that they can highlight every last aspect of their high school experience. They can listen to every word their college counselor says, because they're always right. They can build strong relationships with their teachers so that they have strong, personalized recommendations. These are controllable factors that will undoubtedly put a student in a better position for the coveted confetti email when being accepted.

Life is going to be full of moments like these - situations where you have little control over an outcome and total control over the process. Whether you're interviewing for a job, taking a final exam, asking someone out on a date, or applying for grad school, you will absolutely be put in this position again. In those situations, all you can do is control the controllables, give everything you have, and hope that's enough to achieve a positive result. 

In a perfect world, we all would feel successful before the actual competition or college decision. We could have a sense of accomplishment before walking out of the locker room for a big game or clicking the "submit" button for an application. 

For me, this is a goal that is hopeful at best. I know for a fact that after a loss or a rejection, I will feel crushed. Too often, I have stayed up long after leaving the hockey rink following a loss or hearing of a student's rejection, wondering what I could have done differently to achieve a positive result. No matter how many times I say to myself that I need to de-emphasize outcomes, these emotions are ingrained in me. This is a fundamental part of my makeup as a person, and for many of you sitting behind and in front of me, this may be the case as well. 

Where I've grown in this area, and where I hope all you will grow if you're not already there, is to allow yourself to have a window of time for this disappointment, for this feeling of failure, and then, quite simply, give yourself the grace to realize you can't win them all. Use the loss or rejection as motivation to create an even better process, one that addresses the potential areas for improvement. Don't dwell on the negative. If you truly put forth your best effort, celebrate that, and if you didn't, own it and make a commitment to bring it at the next opportunity.

And when you doubt yourself, lean into others for support. That's the secret ingredient to a strong process - connection with others. Right now, sitting in front of and beside you, are parents, faculty, and peers who, frankly, think you are freaking amazing. Win or lose, accepted or rejected, we are all here celebrating you. 

At graduation, Mr. Abbott is going to ask each of you to look out at the audience and find a faculty member who helped guide you, but right now, I want each of you to find someone from your family who came here today to support you, or if they couldn't be with us today, close your eyes and think of them. I'll do the same, because here for me are my wife and my mom. I think they're sneaking out after I speak, so my guess is they're in the balcony. 

At the risk of winding up in the dog house, I feel compelled to acknowledge how much my wife does to support me, so thank you, Jen, you rock, but I want most of my words right now to be about my mom, who flew out from Boston for my birthday and stayed long enough to watch me speak today. She's also a lifelong educator, and when I had my first substitute teaching job at her school in Medford, Massachusetts, I'm pretty sure she went into each classroom I would be in and used her uncanny teaching voice to scare the kids into being on their best behavior for her favorite son. All joking aside, I am here today working as an educator because of this woman.

It's funny; regardless of the mistakes I made or the frustrations I may have put her through, when my mom introduces me to someone, I can always sense her beaming with pride. What once may have embarrassed me has now become a real source of comfort. I feel emotional acknowledging this, because when I've been at my lowest, my mom has always made me feel like I'm a success, regardless of the outcomes of my life. 

So when you lock eyes with that special person or think of someone important in your life, I hope you can recognize that it would be impossible for them to view you as anything but successful. 

Here you are, on the precipice of graduating from John Burroughs School, with so many amazing opportunities in your future. Just like they did with your performances on stage or in athletics, or in watching you open decisions from colleges, your loved ones will be there, watching with bated breath, unconditionally rooting for you. 

You are their greatest success stories, and if you remember that and just put your best effort into everything you do without the worry over the result, there's no telling what you might accomplish.

Thank you for your time this morning, and let's give a massive round of applause for the Class of 2024.

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