2022 Commencement Address
by Amy Bannon '14
It was nearly a decade ago when I sat where you are now, as someone who could barely muster up a single word for “pass the book”— affectionately known by my friends as “awkward Amy.” I was a shy kid, someone who was desperately trying to align my voice with what I cared about.
Standing before you today all of these years later is a welcomed challenge. Not only because I’m nervous, but because when you google “commencement speeches,'' you quickly realize how high of a bar and how wide of a spectrum you have to write these things — and it's hard to compete with the ranks of Taylor Swift, Barack Obama, Abby Wambach, the list goes on. On top of that, I am addressing one of the most resilient classes in the Schools’ history and I would be remiss not to acknowledge the many ways in which these past two years have impacted your learning, growth, and patience.
But here you are. And here I am.
I’ve accepted this opportunity as a challenge to speak clearly, knowing that the worth behind my words, paired with a space to share them, is a great privilege –especially as a young woman. Terry Tempest Williams, a favorite author of mine, shares that one must “begin speaking from the place where beauty and bravery meet--within the chambers of a quivering heart.” The White Mountain School has been a crossroads of both beauty and bravery for me over the years, and I can’t think of a greater honor than to return and speak from that quivering heart, even if it comes with a shaky voice.
While my voice may shake today, my whole body was trembling with nerves 12 years ago when Hiapo taught me how to tie a retraced figure-eight knot for the first time. I could not have anticipated the impact that moment would have on my young adult life that followed. I went on to become a student here, and then an intern, I even accepted my first job here after graduating college. I wasn’t sure what all of that meant at the time, but I do remember walking these halls and feeling the gentle nudge of my younger self. A nudge from the kid who sat wide-eyed during one morning meeting, learning about adaptive sports for the very first time. While White Mountain was familiar to me, that nudge encouraged me to seek new places where beauty and bravery met.
I work for an organization called Wasatch Adaptive Sports, serving on their executive leadership team as the Development Director. Wasatch Adaptive Sports was founded in 1977 to encourage people with adaptive needs and their families to realize their potential and engage in active living through recreational, educational, and social programs.
What does it mean to have an “adaptive need”, you might ask?
Consider this: Each evening when you go back to your dorm, you go up the stairs, turn on your light, and sink into your bed after a long day of class and sports. If you were a student who relied on a mobility device, such as a wheelchair or crutches, you would have to transfer to the ground, butt scootch up each stair, somehow get your chair up those stairs, transfer back, wheel to your room, and if you’re lucky, the light switch isn’t quite out of reach from your seated position — and knowing Bethlehem NH, you might be doing the aforementioned in -10 degree, crisp north country air.
While that is an obvious example, the simple truth is that all of us are adapting every day. In my work, I can’t problem solve in a way that would reverse paralysis, cure a traumatic brain injury, or spontaneously grow limbs back. And it is an ableist mindset to make an assumption that those disabilities are the barrier to entry between them and what they want to do in the first place. In many cases, the barriers go beyond perceived physical limitations and are placed on them by an ableist society.
If I’ve learned anything from my many years working and playing alongside people who recreate, communicate, and live with different needs from my own, it is that we are all overcoming something.
You might run into my friend Trevor in his wheelchair at your local ski resort and think his paralysis is his biggest barrier to the skiing, but it is often staff at the resorts who question whether his sit-ski equipment is appropriate for the chairlift, despite being a better skier who can not only ski circles around them but also backflip over them if he wanted to.
Then there's my friend Bill who is blind. You may think his blindness is his biggest barrier to competition climbing, but it is the Uber driver, who sped away from the curb after seeing him and his guide dog, instead of transporting him to the gym.
These are real people, and their perceived limitations are only made greater by those who decide they can’t before they do.
The world puts people into these boxes. You belong here. You belong there. And sometimes, we even put ourselves into those boxes on our own.
I was told I was too quiet and lacked the confidence necessary to succeed as a leader in outdoor spaces. And there is nothing more paradoxical than being told you are too quiet by someone actively speaking over, and for you. And for a while there, I believed them. Then, I stopped talking and started doing.
I started working directly with the people I wanted to help and my voice followed. I stand here now, 25 years old after leading a non-profit from infancy into a year-round operation with a substantial operating budget that enables hundreds of people with disabilities to lead active lives.
In my first two months at my current job, our team of primarily quiet women raised over one million dollars for adaptive recreation in Salt Lake City. One million dollars. That value equates to enabling over 25,000 people with disabilities to get outdoors and active — while increasing their independence and enhancing their quality of life.
You see, I have adapted to my introverted and quiet nature by staying busy and communicating through action and initiative. I have adapted to my anxiety, to be able to walk up to this podium and deliver this speech. I’ve adapted to inequities, as a woman who has been told to smile more than I have been asked to sit at the table. I have adapted over and over again, through hardship, loss, uncertainty, grief, and doubt. And because I have adapted, I have become more resilient and prepared for that next step— even if the floor gives out under my feet.
As White Mountain alumnae/i, you are joining the ranks of some of the most driven, loving, passionate, and goofy people I have ever known. I hope you carry that identity with pride, and be sure to return to this important place that helped to shape the person you are becoming.
Congratulations, Class of 2022.
2022 Senior Commencement Address
by Sylvie Cromer '22
Words remind me of who I am and who I will become. They ground me while lending me the ability to create something outside of myself. I believe my love for language was passed down directly from my parents, who have both instilled in me the necessity of poetry, literature, and all things that provide illumination.
Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 125 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.