Student Leadership Co-President Edward Galts at Commencement 2020
if the video embedded above does not play, please go directly to YouTube
The full text of his remarks are below.
More on the entire event at www.gordonschool.org/commencement2020
Thank you Dr. Thomas Lopez, teachers, parents, trustees, friends, family, and fellow graduates.
I think we can all agree on the fact that these are strange times we’re living in. Times no one has ever experienced, and the one thing we need the most seems impossible to obtain. A feeling of togetherness, a way to feel and know that we are all in this together despite being locked in our houses. These are, however, the circumstances in which this class excels. We don’t just admit defeat and say that we won’t be able to be together, we didn’t even let this pandemic get between us and our connections to each other. This is what makes Gordon special, and this is what makes the class of 2020 special.
Near the end of fifth grade, my plan was to go to Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence, and then on to Classical. It was my mom who first realized that Bishop might not be the best fit for me and thought that I might do better somewhere… different. I visited Gordon and was blown away. All the space we had to run around outside, the way that people welcomed me into their school as if it was their home, the warmth and how genuinely happy they were was truly astonishing.
Gordon is a school built for children. It’s a place that feels like a second home to us. From the warm glow cascading through the skylight in the well, to the Nelson Field House where I know every single one of us has cheered on our favorite teams.
Even though I had a great first impression, I was still nervous when I came back in the fall of sixth grade. I walked in through the front entrance, and down to Ms. Reenan’s room in Middle School. I passed by kids saying hi to friends they hadn’t seen since the spring, teachers smiling at all of them, and finally I reached the stairs leading down to my sixth grade advisor. I didn’t think that anyone would have remembered me from when I visited, I didn’t think of myself as particularly memorable.
I looked around at my new classmates, and one pair of eyes found mine and I knew then this would be different than what I expected. Andrew Song, one of my best friends to this day, looked up and said “Hey, it’s Edward!” and everyone started to look up and one by one started to recognize me and say hello. It was this moment that I started to believe that Gordon was the kind of place that would change my life. Just the feeling of being known and respected, knowing that you’ll never meet a stranger at the Gordon School, that’s the feeling and the kind of community that Gordon creates and nurtures, and that’s what sets it apart from everyone else.
The class of 2020 is exceptional because we do not fear stepping up, and filling shoes more commonly filled by people who are much older. Our talent, experience, and love of life let us become larger than life, and larger than anyone expects us to be. In seventh grade, there was a perfect example of this stepping up.
The musical this year was the Wizards (yes, plural) of Oz. Lead roles are most commonly filled by eighth graders, but one seventh grader took on the mantle of the Wicked Witch of the West for herself and stole the show. She gave a performance that we all had incredibly high expectations of, but wow. Josie Harrison accepted the challenge with grace and elegance, and demonstrated to the entire Gordon community that a member of the class of 2020 doesn’t shy away from opportunity. We seize these opportunities and thrust ourselves into the spotlight, whether it’s in the classroom, on Engle Field, or in the Wales Theater.
These times are strange ones, extraordinary ones, as we can clearly see looking at each other through our car windows, but isn’t that when the Class of 2020 thrives? When we see an injustice, or people in need, isn’t that when this class steps up as the leaders of the world?
For instance in sixth grade, the story that you know was going to be told, about the trip to New York City and the UN. We woke up at four in the morning and drove to school ready to go to the UN to visit the place we’d been studying for so long. But when the bus driver didn’t show up and we found out that we woke up so early for what felt like no reason, there were tears, yes, there was plenty of anger, and we could have admitted defeat at that moment, but we didn’t.
We hopped on a school bus and drove to somewhere infinitely more beautiful, cleaner, and nicer: Downtown Boston. We ended up having such an amazing time on that trip. We went to the Boston Museum of Science, we had Shake Shack right by Boston Harbor, and we really made the most of that experience. That trip showed the perseverance of this class. The talent we have of constantly looking on the bright side, looking for ways to make our experiences and our lives the best that they can be.
When I first came here, I was blown away by how open and connected this grade was. Time and time again, we show how much we hold each other above everything else. Now that’s not to say we never get in fights or get mad at each other, because that would just be a lie. But at the end of the day, what matters to us is each other. We prioritize having fun and having a good time over, well, pretty much everything else sometimes, and that can have good and bad effects. For example, during the basketball tournament this year, when the girls team faced Wheeler.
I watched this game with my dad, and he pointed something out about the game. We were ahead by something like ten points at a certain point in the game, with the Gordon strategy of constant rotations so everybody has equal playing time. Wheeler crept up behind, and started to score more and more, and as the game got closer the girls never wavered. They kept rotating people in and out, so everyone could have a good time and play. Wheeler eventually caught up and ended up winning the game. By a single point.
My dad mentioned afterwards that it seemed like the Wheeler team hadn’t made many substitutions during the game even though there were plenty of players on their bench, but everyone on Gordon’s team had played the whole game. Did this cost them the game? Maybe it did, but I saw what really mattered to them. It was working as a team, cheering on their friends, and, at the end of the day, being able to have a great time with the people they love.
Before I came to Gordon, I was at a place that was incredibly different. I was one of few white kids in a class of almost sixty. I didn’t know then how to talk about race, or privilege, or even how to be aware of who was around me in that sense. Then, when I came to Gordon I learned so much more. I had talked with my family about things like this a bit, about racism and the history of our country, but being at Gordon I learned and experienced so much about how to talk about race and racism and how to be aware of privilege. At Gordon I found an interest in social justice. In trying to better the world and better understand my place as a white guy.
When we went to see the movie about Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative a few months ago, I found something that I knew I wanted to pursue. When we got back from the movie, I decided to read the book Just Mercy, and began researching the criminal justice system and how to help those in need. If it wasn’t for Gordon, I never would have found this interest in the law, and I believe that without Gordon and this class of 2020 I never would have found this thing I deeply care about.
I am privileged. I am a white male born and raised on the East Side of Providence, my family has never really had to worry about money, and I get to go to private school. I can’t pretend to know how people today who are not like me are feeling. I can’t know what it’s like to be African American. I can’t pretend to know what it feels like to be unjustly treated by law enforcement. I can’t tell you that I know what it’s like to have a target painted on my back simply because of the color of my skin.
But what I can tell you, everyone here today, on Engle Field or watching this online, is that always, despite the odds, despite what anyone might say or believe, I and the rest of the Class of 2020 will stand up for what’s right. We will lift up others, lift up ourselves, and most of all, we will know that each and every one of us has the other’s back. This class has changed my life, and it will continue to do so for the rest of it. I love you guys.