Margaret Wolff, Lake and Park School alumna and 2022 graduate of Bard College spoke at the School's Graduation Celebration on June 15, 2022. Her remarks are reprinted here.
I would first like to give a big thank you to Camille, the Lake and Park school, and all of you for having me as your graduation speaker this year. I was so surprised, and honored and incredibly happy when I got the email asking me to be here today. I have never given a graduation speech. So, not knowing what I was doing, I started out by doing some research, reading past graduation speeches. In that search I found a lot of great speeches and I also found an essay on graduation speeches. That essay begins with the idea that every adult should write a graduation speech, just to write down their own advice about life, and what they feel like they’ve learned since graduating. The essay begins with this line, “Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out”. In my case I don’t know if that speaker is “dying to get out” so much as they are trying to stay inside at all costs.
But nevertheless that graduation speaker is coming out today, because as I said, I am so happy to give this speech. I would do this and so much more to repay The Lake and Park School even just a fraction of what they gave to me so many years ago. I started out at the Lake and Park when I was 4 years old. I began my education here, in Pre-K, about eighteen years ago, which feels crazy to say. When I started out this school was just one room, with me and a small group of other students, Camille, and two other teachers. That was during the school’s second year of operation.
Margaret, at school in the early years.
But after that, Lake and Park quickly began to grow as students and parents had a chance to see what an amazing place Lake and Park was. The school gained more students and more space every year. And now I’m back and looking at a graduating class of fifth graders. Which is a really remarkable achievement for all of you, and for the school itself.
Looking back now, I remember my time at this school very fondly. Lake and Park taught me a number of invaluable lessons. About learning to cooperate in a group, how to express myself, how to be creative, and how to understand the world around me. But even more than that Lake and Park taught me to be curious about the world around me. Lake and Park taught me, and this is going to be a cliché, it taught me to love to learn.
To many of you graduates here today that might not sound like a huge deal, because at your age everything is really new and really interesting. But sometimes, as you get older, the world can lose some of that magic, and some of that lovely mystery. I think you will all reach
a point in your lives, probably when you reach the dreaded teenager-hood, when it starts to feel like you know everything. But the really important thing to remember is that, you never know everything, there is always so, so much more to learn, there is always infinitely more to learn. And that is when a really essential part of your Lake and Park education will come in handy. Because Lake and Park teaches you how to love to learn.
All of you graduates here have been given the particularly special gift of a really wonderful education, at a small school, with dedicated teachers who love what they do, and are committed to helping you learn and prepare for the next chapter of your lives. I am sure you all have experienced the difficulty of school. Whether that be a hard math problem, or a difficult chapter of reading. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention how you have all managed to survive the rigors of learning and attending school during a pandemic. I had the experience of trying to study during the pandemic, and it was not at all easy for me, as a 20 year old college student, to do that. The fact that you all made it through attending school during a pandemic at such a young age is a very real, and very impressive achievement, and a testament to your hard work and commitment. But, to that point, as you all know, school can be difficult. And there will be more moments, many more moments, in your academic careers when school gets hard.
I am so willing to do anything for this school, because Lake and Park, through the basic facts of my education here—reading, spelling, arithmetic etc…— gave me the ability to get through middle school, and high school and college. But more than that, so much more than that, Lake and Park gave me the ability to actually enjoy middle school and high school, and college. It isn’t every elementary school where you get to study such a wide range of subjects with such significant depth. In my time here I remember doing units on the microscope, Greek mythology, Norse mythology, and even one unit on Light Sabers. Some of these subjects stuck with me more than others. Learning about the microscope clearly worked for me, as I went on to be a Biology Major in college. But most of all what stuck with me, not from any one unit in particular, but from the cumulative effect of learning about such a wide range of topics, was the belief that every subject has something interesting and worthwhile to offer, even if it doesn’t appear that way at first glance. This gets back to what I mentioned earlier, a love of learning. If you love to learn, and if you believe that every subject has something valuable to add to your life, I think you will all genuinely enjoy the rest of your educational career. Because when you are in middle school and you are working on writing your first essay. Or when you are in high school studying algebra and calculus, or trying to finish your chemistry homework, a love of solving problems, a love of learning, will make all the difference in the world. The harder the work, the more rewarding it will be. And the more you are committed to the value that can be found in every class or subject you take, the more enjoyable and successful your academic career will be.
I have had my fair share of late nights in the library, working on projects or problems that seem like they will never end. But the difference between giving up, and going home, or taking a deep breath and trying, just one more time, is loving what you do. Even if it’s hard, and you’re tired, and frustrated, a love for what you are learning will always tip the scale towards success. And more than that, more than the simple success of collecting good grades or diplomas, loving what you do will make school something genuinely enjoyable for you. It won’t feel like something you have to do, it will feel like something you want to do. And that will make all the difference, for the quality of your work, and for your personal happiness, which I hope none of you ever forget to value.
Margaret with her sister, Sally.
The last thing I want to say to you before I let you go, and this is going to be another cliché: don’t be afraid to try new things. Over the next few years you will all gain more independence, and more freedom to choose what you want to do and how you want to spend your time. Each of you will find out that you’re very talented at certain things. Some of you might turn out to be wonderful musicians, or gifted athletes, or talented actors and artists. But I hope you will all use these next few years to, yes, spend time doing what you’re good at, what you love to do, what you find fulfilling. But I also hope you all set aside time to try new things, try something you’ve never tried before, something that scares you a little bit. Many of my best memories from my childhood came from trying new things. In middle school I auditioned for my first play, after years of being on the soccer team. I was not the best actress, and no I never joined a play again. But I have so many great memories of hanging out with my friends learning about what acting is and how much fun it can be. My first year of college there wasn’t enough space in the intro to fiction writing class, so begrudgingly I took the intro to non-fiction writing class instead. As a graduate I can now say, I think that was my favorite class I took in my four years of college. So please, take time over the next few years to audition for a play, try a new sport, go to a summer camp, make a new friend. Now is one of the best times in life to try everything that you can.
Graduating from elementary school is a fantastic achievement. Like most journeys, I find the beginning to be the hardest part, and you all have just finished the beginning of your education. You all have my sincere admiration and congratulations. As you all venture out to different middle schools, remember to enjoy your classes, enjoy your art, your sports, your plays, whatever it is you choose to do, cherish your friends, be kind to your siblings and to your parents. I wish each of you all the luck in the world.