We all begin our relationship with the school the same way. We traded in our nuclear family and a social safety net cultivated delicately over almost a decade, and found ourselves in a system where we had less time to rebuild but greater agency to do so.
In the last few years, you've navigated challenges, developed skills for "survival," and likely wondered from time to time what things would be like had you taken a different path.
I would have attended four different high schools in a four-year period. I would have driven myself to school, just like my siblings had. I would have gone to prom and Friday night football games. I would have gone on more dates and road trips. I would have been present for the first precious hours after my nephew's birth.
But I never would have read anything by Italo Calvino. I never would have been on stage, gone zip-lining, or discovered a strange love for the state of West Virginia. I wouldn't have had my character tested in the ways it was by teachers, coaches, advisers, friends, and adversaries.
Before graduation in June of 2010, I wrote my friends break-up letters, which was my way of giving everyone in my circle with whom I had made some sort of connection the permission, and encouragement, to dart off in whatever direction life pulled them, be that by choice or unforeseen circumstance.
Change is inevitable and I didn't want to make the same mistake I had made four years prior — clinging to the friendships and systems "back home" when I could have been in lower Ford, cutting my teeth on awkward, but necessary, first interactions with classmates.
In my 10 years since leaving the Academy, I have been to Venice, Amsterdam, and Dresden. I have also been to therapy. I took a break from undergrad to wait tables and pull espresso. Today I own a house in the same city where I went to college and I work for local government crafting policy on women's health and reentry programming. (Note: I did finish undergrad and went on to earn a master’s in business administration.)
This is not a message about the "road less traveled." This is an ode to the fact that there is no road.
By some miracle, my classmates and I found ourselves at the same place at the same time before continuing on in our own unique fashions, be that forward, backward, zigzag, or even nowhere. You can't begin to fathom the difference one, two, or 10 years away from campus will make, for better or worse. I know these are unprecedented times and the pandemic has robbed you of the chance to formally "break up" with the Academy. But I learned very quickly that a graduation ceremony is not closure — it's a formality. But I'm encouraging you not to dwell on a ceremony as the be-all end-all of your time at Mercersburg. Take comfort in the fact that you have agency of when and how you close this chapter of your life.
I walked across the platform in June of 2010, but it wasn't until the summer of 2014 that I sat in a former instructor's kitchen and fully felt a transformation from student to alum and friend. My relationship with the school has evolved, the memory of my days in its tutelage hazy, almost like a dream, but no less impactful.
The Class of 2010 recently had a virtual reunion, and I'll admit I forgot that some of my classmates "exist," having forgotten their names or lacking a fully formed memory of our interactions together at school. And that's fine! If everyone and everything had meaning, nothing would be important, which is why what is yet to come is so exciting. You've yet to discover your core values, to prioritize accordingly, and, most crucial, do damage control. Change is inevitable, and so are mistakes.
I taught at a semester school in D.C., and in the closing ceremony I spoke to my students about Kintsugi, the method of repairing broken pottery with a gold mixture, resulting in an entirely new and uniquely beautiful piece of art. (No, I'm not a Japanophile — I'm just a big fan of Death Cab for Cutie, whose album Kintsugi had been released that same year.) The greatest form of learning is the process by which we unlearn — tearing down everything taken as truth, and rebuilding in the context of a world better understood through personal experience. You've already done this — you're a different person now than you were when you first stepped foot on campus.
We are all the sum of pieces that will fracture and be rejoined, over and over again, each new shape more magnificent than the last. Keep going. Continue to build beautiful things.
I wish you all strength, courage, and luck on your journeys in the years to come.
— Hannah Miller ’10