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Senior Oration by Xavier Wright ’16

Roots and Wings

Good morning, classmates, parents, teachers, family, friends, and people who took a wrong turn and should be at Pioneer Valley’s graduation. It is my honor to be on this stage this morning.

Allow me to begin with a saying that is significant to my family.
“There are two things we should give the ones we love,
One is roots, the other is wings.
Roots to remind them where they’re from,
Wings to show them what they can become.”

I first walked onto this beautiful campus so nervous my trembling legs could barely support my five-foot-six, 130-pound build. Now, four years later, here I proudly stand. A bit taller — still 130 pounds — and currently my legs are violently shaking behind this conveniently placed lectern. But (nonetheless) I am humbled with the honor of addressing the greatest, most amazing, and “thickest” class I have ever been a part of. Congratulations to the Class of 2016.

Classmates, today is a big day. Today is bigger than big. Today is huge! Graduates, if you look out at the chairs behind you, you can see your parents smiling, smiling because they are overwhelmed with joy. Today is the day they've been looking forward to since they kicked you out of the house at 14 years old.

Today represents the beginning of a plethora of opportunities for us. Even more important, today presents an undeniable opportunity for each and every one of us to ask them for money.

But seriously, today our parents couldn't be prouder. Remember, to say thank you to your parents. Also, remember to thank your teachers and everyone who made your partnership of 12. Because we’ve had “more than just a support group, we've had a support network.” (#FormerStudentAmbassador.)

In light of my time spent as an ambassador, I’d like to read to you our school’s mission statement: “Education for the head, heart, and hand. Northfield Mount Hermon engages the intellect, compassion, and talents of our students, empowering them to act with humanity and purpose.”

By those standards, one would think that I am about to give you life-changing, possibly reality-altering advice. I will not attempt to do that. Namely because I am an 18-year-old boy who has yet to earn his driver's license. But I will try to share my personal story, and my personal understanding of how NMH has nurtured our heads, our hearts, and our hands.

I was 11 years old when my dad died. I had my role model, the mighty man of my childhood, taken away from me by the unpredictable turns of life. I stress unpredictable because, like every child, I expected my dad to be there to watch me grow up. More than just expected, I wanted him to be there to teach me what it means to be a “man.” I wanted him to meet the date I would take to my prom. I wanted him to be able to see me get married one day. … I wanted him to be here, seated next to my mom and brothers, watching me graduate from high school. But my expectation for my life changed from the one I wanted it to be. And that is okay. But as a kid, I didn’t understand that.

When my mom called my brothers and me out of school to come home, I felt excited. Then she sat us down, mustering all the strength she had, to tell us our dad passed away, I felt my world slow down. I felt numb. Seconds turned into hours, which then became days and months.

For a while, this unpredictable turn in my life stopped me from experiencing, enjoying, and living it because I had these expectations for myself. About how my life would be, who I’d become, and seemingly most important, whom I’d have to help me become that person.

Mom, despite losing a husband and the father to your sons, you were determined to keep my brothers and me together. You have shown us that the extent our futures will not be hindered by the trial of our past. For that, I cannot thank you enough. You have always been my strongest root.

But my roots have grown. I thought roots could only include my nuclear family, but my expectation has changed and expanded to you all: teachers, parents, and most importantly, my classmates.

As peers, you all have helped me ... grow up. Delaney and Maddy, you told me to study harder. Ned and AJ, you tested my Smash Bros skills. Will and James, you inspired me to give my all playing lacrosse. Circle Table Guys, you helped me construct plans to get rich quick like "feb-BRO-ary." Each of you has given me back the fulfilled sense of “family” I thought I had lost when my father passed away. You all have taught me that an unexpected turn in life does not define who I am. That is my personal story.

In our own individual and unique ways, NMH has nurtured our heads, hearts, and hands. But looking back, as a class, it’s easy to see how we have been through it all together. We persevere. We’ve endured the trials of a closed weekend on campus. We learned humility from the 7 am workjobs. Many classes instilled in us a healthy work ethic, and struggling through the highs and lows of high school has made us like family. And for that, classmates, I want to thank you all for being a part of the greatest family I have ever known.

“There are two things we should give the ones we love,
One is root, the other is wings.
Roots to remind them where they’re from,
Wings to show them what they can become.”

The next step for us, as we go on to tackle the “real world,” is to act with humanity and purpose. To take the lessons we’ve learned here at NMH and work towards improving the communities we will go on to become a part of. Whether we are headed off to become doctors or lawyers, artists or athletes, I urge us all to remember who we were during our time on this hill. Stay as curious as we were the day we stepped on campus and as proud of our accomplishments as we feel right now. Remember to help others, wherever the future may take us. Strive to live our lives with “humanity and purpose” and inspire others to do same.

Surround ourselves with ones we love, and love them passionately. And when the day comes to give back to the ones we love, give them two things: give them roots, and give them wings.

Thank you, Northfield Mount Hermon, for giving us ours.


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