Special Assembly

On Wednesday, September 2, a special assembly was livestreamed from the Quad where Andy Abbott, student body president Eleanor Hohenberg and senior class president Katie Xu addressed the senior class and the student body about the year ahead. At the start of the assembly, Madison Nelson performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

This is the assembly that traditionally occurs on the first day of school, and seniors were invited to campus for the occasion. (They were screened, masked and seated six feet apart in the Quad.)

Mr. Abbott asked seniors to think about people who have supported them up to this point—including friends and teachers—and about times when they have been their best selves. He said that we’ll all have to re-imagine Burroughs’ traditions in order to adapt to the present, and that he looks to the senior class for their voices and leadership as we do that.

Senior class president Katie Xu reflected on her class’s six years together, both the carefree memories of middle school and the challenges of the past several months, and how she and her classmates will have to approach their senior year completely differently. She said this spring, she felt bombarded by the word “unprecedented” in emails, including from colleges and the AP testing board. It means “never done or known before,” and while there have been some hard realities lately that have been unprecedented, she urged her classmates to also see the positives inherent in that word, and to imagine new opportunities and new ways of seeing the world. 

Student body president Eleanor Hohenberg spoke about 2021 being the “Year of the Present,” quoting Master Oogway in Kung Fu Panda: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it's called the present.” Because no one knows when the pandemic will be over, she urged classmates to stay “present,” and look at each moment as a gift, as a chance to do something with whatever is in front of you at that moment. The Class of 2021's senior year will be very different—which means students need to stop waiting, and deliberately create a great senior year based on what’s possible in the here and now.  

Katie's and Eleanor's remarks follow; find photos and video clips on Campus Candids.


Good morning!

My name is Katie Xu and I am truly grateful in more ways than one, to be standing in front of you today. To begin, I want to thank all of the people that helped the class of 2021 get to where we are. To the staff at John Burroughs, for the endless hours you spend keeping this school running, allowing all of us a beautiful environment to learn, to grow, and to make mistakes, we thank you. To the faculty, for showing up every single day to teach and inspire us, whether it be in person or on Zoom, we thank you. To the administration, for making the tough calls and taking all the heat, and for doing everything in your power to allow our class to come together today, we thank you. 

And last but not least, to our families, for putting up with our unpredictable teenage phases, taking care of us, and supporting us, through our passions, our successes but also our failures, on behalf of the Class of 2021, we thank you. 

Unprecedented. The dictionary defines the word unprecedented as never before known or experienced. To me, the word unprecedented is what every email I received in the months of March and April began with. In these unprecedented times, our college has decided to go test-optional, or in these unprecedented times, we regret to inform you, the AP test you have been studying for all year long has been condensed to two questions. And to the Class of 2021, the word unprecedented looms over our senior year. The unchartered territory of virtual learning and having all our plans for senior year thrown out the window is the epitome of never before known or experienced, and that can be unsettling, but before I get into that, I want to take you down memory lane. 

It seems like just yesterday we were back in 7th grade, grappling with the newfound freedoms of middle school. Friday afternoons were my all-time favorite. There was always a group of people ordering pizzas and everyone would always manage to get a slice in exchange for cookie book money. Walking to Ladue Market was another tempting option, and even more so if you had your own account there. 7th grade was also the peak of our fashion choices as a class. All the boys would wear that same navy sweatshirt with yellow Burroughs letters printed on it, while the girls sold out the JBS tutus during spirit week. Vineyard Vines’ Shep shirts had all the hype, especially on MICDS day. Adam Blumoff managed to be years ahead of the croc trend, and Sophia King popularized toe socks. We would also love to send uplifting messages to each other anonymously, through an app called Brighten, and an Instagram page called jbspositive. Our class made four different Instagram couples accounts, and we’d keep note of all the ship names on a secret chalkboard in the stairwell by the pool balcony. Wisa, Ithanoar, Seyton, and Jolly Dei. 

Then as 8th grade came rolling around, so did our rebellious phase. Mrs. Harris was always holding a stack of our phones after assembly. We still don’t know who put M&Ms in the boy’s gym lockers, and let’s not forget the pantsing war, that got a little too out of hand. And to top it all off, we ended the year at Reza’s pool party, with an iconic photo, staged by our entire class. What an end to an era. 

Our first three years of high school have gone by in a blur. I would like to personally thank Delaney Frank for fueling our freshman year through your generous supply of Bread Co bagels every morning. I’d also like to thank Will Deplanty, for being the only person to successfully sell flowers during our Holiday flower sale. And props to Josh Antony, for still taking the long walk back to the buses during Bio Drey Land, even though you hallucinated multiple times after losing sleep over the dreaded packet. One of my fondest memories was March of  Freshman year. Mr. Abbott announced in assembly that the Westboro Baptist Church planned to protest our community, simply because we love and accept all of our students. As we walked out of assembly that day, I could sense the fear and anger in the air. But the morning of March 12, 2018, when they showed up to our campus, we showed up for each other. We were no longer scared or angry, and instead were filled with pride, joy, and love, and for that, I have never been more proud. 

And as the years went by, and we grew up, our impact on the Burroughs community finally began to take shape. Especially, during assemblies. Adam Zhao, don’t think we’ve forgotten about the time you made a disturbing announcement about 1000-year-old eggs on the day teachers from across the nation were visiting for Isaacs week.  And Thomas Dobbs, the student body will never forget the time you compared the school constitution, to North Korea’s. We’ve made our impact musically as well. Koan Morris, your songs will never be forgotten and the Disestablishment, we’ll be here to support you every step of your way to fame. Lastly, we can’t forget about athletics. What other grade can say they’ve crushed MICDS in field hockey for the first time in 10 years, brought the girls’ tennis team to win Missouri’s first-ever triple crown, competed in some of the most memorable soccer games to date, and helped the girls’ track team sweep state, winning the 100, the 1600, and everything in between? Class of 2021, we are talented, we are fearless, we are resilient.  

And what better qualities to have for a class approaching our last year together in the middle of a pandemic. For a class approaching the unprecedented. 

You see, the word unprecedented has been at the forefront of stealing so much of what I expected for this year, that I began to associate this idea of “never before known or experienced” with only negative circumstances. I lost sight of the beauty that the unprecedented can bring. Because what is unprecedented? Just because we've never seen or experienced it before, does this mean it has to be bad?

Whether you realized it or not, our entire Burroughs career has been unprecedented. The memories that stick with us, and the ones that we remember from 5 years ago, aren’t the ones that the faculty and Burroughs planned for us, they’re the ones we made on our own. 

So why not revel in that uncertainty? Why not charge into this year like we did that one March morning when those people came to protest. As I look back on that day now, I don’t recall the hate because we overwhelmed it with that Burroughs spirit. We tackled a lousy circumstance, with an unwavering love for our community and that desire to come together, and we can do it again.

There’s a saying, that every cloud has a silver lining, but what it fails to mention, is that you have to willfully go searching for it. It would be our greatest shame to watch our senior year blow past us, and these special opportunities go untapped, all because we lacked the enthusiasm to make the most of it. This year, our class, is going down in the history books whether you like it or not, so make sure that when you look back at it, there’s plenty to smile about. 

Class of 2021, we’ve been tasked with a situation no previous class has had to deal with. But that also means unlike in the past, our senior year isn’t lined up for us. We have the chance to redefine it, on our own terms. So In these unprecedented times, find new ways to come together. In these unprecedented times, create new traditions. In these unprecedented times, embrace all the opportunities you have, rather than the ones you don’t, because you’ve only got one senior year, and congratulations, because it will be unlike any other. 

Thank you.


Hello everyone, and thank you for being here. I feel very fortunate to be speaking to you today, and am especially grateful to see the senior class in front of me. Hopefully, your first virtual classes have gone well. And whether this is your first week of Burroughs or your last first week, you probably have begun to feel the amazing quality of the opportunities and people here.

I believe that the seniors are especially well equipped to explain how diverse everyone’s experiences at Burroughs can be, because this grade is all over the place. If you want me to explain the class of 2021 in one word, that word would be ubiquitous. We are ubiquitous, meaning we are present, appearing, or found anywhere. In 7th grade, you could find us all over the school. Obviously in our classes, but also in the band lockers shrieking in excitement after Christion Wynn’s whip, in the senior commons talking to and crushin' on our Drey Land counselors, on the side of Price road headed towards Ladue Market, and on the swing where the pool is now being built. As we’ve grown, we branched further out, going on trips to the Grand Canyon, Dominican Republic, Netherlands, France, Greece, and Spain, while also opening up our class to exchange students from Germany and Ghana.

Not only are we physically present all over, but we are found in every aspect of the Burroughs experience as leaders of its clubs and teams, musical and theatrical talents, top competitors in every language and math competition, members of service organizations, and much more. I believe that this class captures one of the most valuable gifts JBS offers its students: the opportunity to exceed in any endeavor, academic or otherwise. 

And this year especially, in the “Year of the Present” as I called it on the first day of school, I wish for everyone here to take advantage of the opportunities this school offers daily. Nobody here can pretend to know for certain when this pandemic will end, so instead of waiting for that day to come we should do what we can with each day we have. As Master Oogway said in the hit 2008 film Kung Fu Panda: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it's called the present.” So not only is the Year of the Present about ‘present’ as in a place in time, but about taking each of those moments in time as a gift, as a chance to do something with whatever is in front of you at that moment. If we could merely press the ‘pause’ button on life until we find a solution to today’s problems and then resume our schedules, that would be magical.

Unfortunately, that is not the way time works. As much as we’d love to, and as much as it hurts that we can’t, it’s impossible to rewind and hold last year’s prom, field day, or summer sports preseason. All we can do is focus on what is possible. This situation demands more deliberate action from each of us to create a great year. Take the initiative. Stop waiting, and focus on the present.

This year is like any other in the fact that we should strive to be our best selves. But unlike other years, now it is more crucial than ever that we reach for that goal. And I don’t mean to say that you all have to be straight-A, varsity athlete, debate-winning students. I mean that attending school during a pandemic will demand much more of us than expected in a regular school year. For these first few weeks, be patient with your teachers and classmates, as everyone will be working out the kinks associated with starting a new class in an online format. And then as we make the gradual return to school, each of us will be endowed with great responsibility. The protocols will provide us with a safe environment in which to learn, but we all must hold ourselves and others accountable to those guidelines. I’m sure you’ll get used to them, however, it’s important that we continue to follow them throughout the year, even if you want to take off your mask or scoot closer to your friends. And when you notice someone stepping out of those bounds, I hope that you can ‘correct with care’ as Mr. Abbott says. I know that it will be hard, but we’re all in this together. If we cannot adhere to the rules, we may forfeit the opportunity to attend school in person.

This year will undoubtedly continue to leave behind a monumental change in the world and the Burroughs community. So if we want to be a part of that change, and make sure that it’s for the better, hold nothing back. Let’s not waste another minute waiting for what ‘might have been’ and just go make something happen! A lasting difference at this school and in this world will come from you, from the students. As the seniors begin to set their sights outside of Burroughs on their first year of college, I hope we don’t lose sight of what we still have to offer to this school. And as this whole school navigates the complexities this year presents, I hope we all continue to give our best effort, whether we meet in person, virtually, or in a combination of both.  

So, no matter the circumstances you find yourself in over the course of this year, take every moment as a gift—an opportunity to better yourself, others, the community, or the whole world. At the start of this speech, I described the class in front of me as ubiquitous. This year my goal would be for that adjective to apply to the whole school. If we are involved in all aspects of this community, and at the same time we are working to better ourselves in those areas, then I have no doubt in my mind that the students here can create positive, sustainable change.
Thank you for listening, and seniors, I’m excited to see you again in person soon. This moment has been a gift.