VIth Form Commencement Address by Ben Berg '17

About two and a half months ago, in my psychology class, we were doing a debate and it was my job to deliver the closing arguments. I have pretty bad stage fright so, as I’m giving my speech, I got so nervous that I literally forgot how to speak. I lost the words mid-sentence and sat in silence for about forty seconds until my time ran out. So it turns out that the silent treatment is not the best strategy to win a debate. It was a bold move that didn’t quite pay off. Again, I get very nervous in front of large amounts of people. Also, I should note that this was just in a class of about 16 students and 1 teacher and by my rough estimations, there are at least twice as many people here today. For the most part, I’m a pretty quiet guy. For my aunt and uncle who are here today, this might be the most they’ve ever heard me speak. And I think that the problem on that day, the debate day, is that I didn’t have much to say. But when I woke up today, something was different. Today is the last I day I’ll ever get to wake up as a student of Millbrook School. And after being chosen by my classmates to represent them on this day, I feel compelled to speak. I feel an urge and an obligation to finally raise my voice as we celebrate what we’ve done, who we are, and where we’ll go. So before I begin I’d like to say thank you to the people in my life who paid for my education and to the institution that provided it, because it’s been incredible. And lastly, I’d like to thank my classmates. I’m going to do my best to deliver a fitting conclusion to a four-year experience that has made me so incredibly proud to be a member of the class of 2017.
A little over a week ago, I asked Mr. Cassertano what makes a great commencement speech. His reply was that it has to be authentic. So, to anyone who wants this speech to blow your mind, it will not. I wrote a graduation and not a TED Talk. However, my speech will be authentic. My goal today is to celebrate the countless memories we’ve made as a class, to inspire the underclassmen to appreciate and make the most of the fleeting time they have left at Millbrook, and to show the people who don’t already know, what makes this place so special. I want to make you laugh, and I want to make you cry. Should be easy enough.

Last night we heard a lot about the various academic, athletic, and extra-curricular successes that this class has had, and deservedly so, we are a school and these achievements are outstanding. But to me and many others, Millbrook is more than our school, Millbrook is our home. Though I am a day student. Actually hang on sidenote. People throw around the term “day trash” a lot. But, the politically correct term is day treasure. But anyway, though I am a day student, that’s okay, because though Millbrook is not my house, it is still my home. Home is not where you sleep, home is where your heart is. And I know that my heart will be at Millbrook for a very long time. This is pretty high praise, and I admit, not every moment of my Millbrook experience has been a magical drop of sunshine. A wise man with a controversial last name once said “sometimes love don’t fit like a shoe.” And he’s right. But I think today should be about what’s to love about this place.

I arrived at Millbrook a terrified little guppy. I was 13 years old and I stood at 5 foot 4 inches. I was scared of my teachers, upperclassmen, and girls. Now, I’m now a respectable 5’10”, 17 years old, and I’m not scared of teachers or upperclassmen anymore. Still scared of girls though. Going in, I’d heard awful rumors from my brother that everyone at prep school dressed like they owned the Hamptons and had egos the size of Kanye West. However, my brother went to Canterbury, which explains why he thought all that. But to my surprise, within a week, I knew this was not true of Millbrook. I was on my way to class in MASC and as I walked in, I saw a Junior, Christian Arntzen standing and talking to his girlfriend. I tried to keep my head down but a funny thing happened as I walked by. He said “Hey, Ben how ya doing?” I thought, “well this is an interesting development.” Why would he associate himself with this peasant? It turns out, like pretty much everyone on this campus, he was just being a nice person. Christian may have been one of the first people I met here who showed me that you can be cool and nice, but he was far from the last. From this point, Millbrook set a near impossible standard of community that made me literally redefine what it means to be a true friend. I doubt I’ll ever be a part of a community as strong as Millbrook’s, but it’s what I’ll always strive for. I hope I’ve painted a picture of what makes Millbrook Millbrook, because to me, it has always been the people.
In my junior year biology honors class, AKA “Bohnors” we learned about something called vestigial structures. Vestigial structures are body parts left over from past ancestors that have no use anymore. Like the wings on flightless birds or the pelvic bone on snakes. And at my old school, my middle school, you were supposed to bottle up your feelings. You never had a great outlet to talk about what you were struggling with. So, when I arrived at Millbrook, I did the same thing. I held it in. And let me please explain that this tendency is a vestigial structure. We don’t need it. Not here. Here, when we have problems, we don’t have to go it alone. So any time you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain. Don’t carry the world up on your shoulders. Cause well, you know that it’s the fool, who plays it cool. By making his world a little colder. I wrote that. Nobody’s perfect and I stand accused, so I’ll be the first to admit I bottle up my feelings more than I should, even still. But, I wish I knew I didn’t have to be that way when I first came to Millbrook. There’s too many wonderful, caring, and attentive people to count, and they all want to hear about your problems.
Another thing I wish I knew when I first came here is that it’s okay to be yourself. In the age of social media, it’s easy to be self-conscious. It sets a standard for how you must talk, how you must look, and how you must be. And I truly believe it matters what other people think. But it’s a problem when all your doubts are someone else’s point of view. You have to be your real self, because, even if you’re weird, your true friends will love you anyway. That’s actually how you tell they’re your real friends by the way. I admit I am a weirdo. But there’s nothing wrong with me. This is how I’m supposed to be. And all my closest friends know who I really am and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lastly, I want to talk to my classmates. We are a special class. I truly believe there isn’t another grade’s worth of kids I’d rather be in. We’re one of a kind living in a world gone plastic. We started out as a bunch of hooligans who absolutely abused our dorm parents. People wonder why Mr. Siegenthaler doesn’t run the freshman dorm anymore. We were delinquents. But now, we’re mature, we’re kind, we’re academically driven, we’re fierce competitors, we hold ourselves the right way. A lot has changed. But the one thing that has never changed, no matter who entered or left our class, is that we love each other. As I imagine is true for a lot of us, my classmates are my best friends, and I love you guys. But what’s special about Millbrook is that, for the first time in my life, I know my best friends love me back. And sometimes… all you need is love. Another Ben Berg original. 

I was texting my dorm leader from freshman year, Brett Supinski, and he said something that stuck with me. We text sometimes, whatever, it’s casual. But he said to appreciate the days we have left here, because they’re numbered and they might end up being the best days of our lives. This was about a month ago, so graduation wasn’t really real yet. It feels like yesterday I was just a freshman. But the days into years rolled by, and here we are. It’s a tough time to know how to feel. Some people want to feel happy and some people want to feel sad. But I think, like the ending of toy story 3, it should be both. While this is the last day we’re apart of Millbrook, the future is bright. This is the dawning of the rest of our lives. There’s so much to look forward to that we don’t even know is coming. Home is where your heart is, and I’m scared to leave, but I’m thinking about a brand new home, one I’ve never known. I believe that my time here has taught me enough to make the most of whatever lies ahead, even though I’ll be doing it without my best friends. And I still can’t believe this is the end for our class. So I’ll spend the night living in denial. But someday, maybe later this week, maybe later this month, maybe later this year, I’ll look back on this day and finally be able to appreciate it for what it is.

This is the last time we’ll have food from the dining hall.
This is the last time our wifi will ever go out at 11.
The last time we’ll ever have to tuck our shirts into pants that aren’t jeans.
The last time we’ll ever see a quirky MOD announcement at assembly.
The last time we’ll ever talk football with Charlie from the dish room.
The last time we’ll ever spend our free periods sitting on the senior throne watching the underclassmen scuttle to class.
The last time we’ll ever play frisbee on the quad after school.
The last time we’ll ever hike down to the stream behind the eco hut on a spring free day.
But most of all, this is the last time we’ll ever see some of the best friends we’ve ever had.

This is the closing of one door, but it is also the opening of another.

I understand that a small number of us are just going to get in the car right after the ceremony and never look back. I respect this decision, honestly, I did it at my old school. But just remember, that the night won’t remember the ones who went to bed at 8:15. But it’s not over before it’s too late. So please, take in what we’ve done, and the waning hours we have left together, because they’ve meant the world to me.

To close my speech, I’d like to read a passage from one of my favorite songs. It recently took on a new meaning as we got closer to graduation.
I said, remember this moment.

In the back of my mind.
The time we stood with our shaking hands the crowds and stands went wild.
We were the kings and the queens.
And they read off our names.
That night you danced like you knew our lives would never be the same.
You held your head like a hero.
On a history book page.
This is the end of a decade. But the start of an age.
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