The Class of 2016 received a grand send-off at yesterday’s commencement exercises, held at the beautiful Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Graduates, students, parents and faculty came together one last time for a special evening of inspiring words and lifelong memories.
In her speech, valedictorian Anika Mohindra confessed that she found it “ironic that they ask the person who has presumably spent the most time holed up in a room studying to give you life advice.”
After cleverly enumerating all the possible nuggets of academic and career advice she could give, Mohindra remarked on the many talents of her classmates and how they’ve likely been reminded of those talents many times. However, she added, “Talent doesn’t breed success or, more importantly, fulfillment. Talent simply means that you have an inherent knack for doing something—a natural skill.”
It was passion, however, that truly set her classmates apart, she said: “We can be good at things—talent—but not enjoy doing them. We might not be so good at other things but still enjoy doing them. And that’s a much better place to start because if you’re truly passionate about something, you will be able to push yourself to work hard, to improve, and to attain success by our traditional standards.”
“When I think back on my Harker journey, there are definitely things I would have done differently,” she said near the end of her speech. “I would have spent more time exploring new activities, discovering my passions, and talking to more people.” Focusing on those things might have meant making sacrifices in some academic areas, “but that’s perfectly fine. That’s not what matters at the end of it all.”
Most of all, she said, “I’m going to remember the things I loved doing and the people I loved spending time with you. I hope you do too.”
Commencement speaker Priscilla Chan, co-chair of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (which seeks to promote equality in health, education, scientific research and other areas) and a former Harker teacher, recognized some of her former students among the graduates. “You guys are so tall,” she remarked, eliciting laughter. Calling for recognition for the families of the graduates, she said, “Parents, family, you have done an excellent job. This is your moment in reward for the past 18 years of parenthood. You deserve a round of applause.” The crowd gladly obliged.
Allaying the anxieties typically facing high school graduates, Chan told the class not to panic in response to questions about college and careers. “The answer isn’t necessarily the path towards a specific job or title,” she said. “The world changes too fast for that. Rather, focus yourself on the change that you want to see in the world. Take on what’s most interesting to you. Take lots of risks. Ask for help. Believe in yourself and ask others to take a bet on you.”
Toward the end of her speech, Chan presented the elementary school yearbook from the last year she taught at Harker and read a few heartwarming messages that some of her students – sitting before her now as almost-graduates – had written for her as she left Harker to begin medical school. “Good luck. I really, really hope you graduate. (You probably will.)” wrote Namitha Villian. “Too good to be forgotten,” scribbled Naomi Molin.
“Class of 2016,” said Chan, choking back tears, “you are too good to be forgotten.”
The final speaker of the event was Head of School Chris Nikoloff, who in his typically humorous and engaging fashion, promised to keep his speech to “one page of single-spaced size 12 font. I will continue, however, to make no promises about the size of my margins.”
Nikoloff encouraged the graduates to “drop any concept you have about who you should be in the future,” and to make plans and set goals, “but just don’t get too attached to them. Use them, but do not let them use you.”
He delved into what he called the “take and make” model of life. “By ‘take,’ I mean accept, and by ‘accept’ I do not mean resignation. I mean a more active acceptance, the way a Warriors teammate accepts a pass from Steph Curry,” he said. “I promised my boys I would sneak in a Warriors reference.”
To illustrate this concept, he asked the adults in attendance to raise their hands if their lives had gone the way they imagined they would when they were 18 years old. When, inevitably, no hands were raised, he told the graduates to look around. “Your life will take unexpected, unplanned, unnecessary, unfruitful and even unpleasant turns, and there is no way you can know where you will be or what you will be doing,” he continued. “This is a good thing. Start with being born; you didn’t know what would happen, did you?
“In philosophical terms, making your life is an existential point of view. Taking your life is a fatalistic point of view,” Nikoloff said. “I say both viewpoints are true. You make your life, but only after it is handed to you.”
Nikoloff went on to explain that the students’ contributions to the world will be revealed to them as they continue their journey through life. “You are taking and making your life as you go, and who knows what ripples throughout eternity you will create?” he said.
Following Nikoloff’s speech, the graduates walked to the stage one by one to receive their diplomas, greeted by joyous applause when each name was announced.
After the last name had been announced, the graduates flipped the tassels on their caps to commemorate their accomplishments and all at once threw their caps in the air, chanting: “Twen-ty-six-teen! Twen-ty-six-teen!” The ceremony officially ended with released doves rising to the sky to symbolize the graduates’ trek into the wide world beyond high school.
See Harker’s Facebook page for more photos and a short video clip!