Commencement 2023 Speech

Joshua Neudel, Head of Upper School

The following remarks were given at Commencement on June 2, 2023:

A few Saturdays ago, I was out for a run and as I finished, I felt a familiar buzz from my fitness app. I opened the app on my phone and saw a new badge with a big 3. A rush of excitement filled me, as I knew I was coming up on a big milestone: the three-year mark.
You see, since the spring of 2020, I logged into this fitness app every day for my workout. The consistency helped bring some sanity to my life during those uncertain times.
But, as I looked a little closer, I realized it didn’t say 3 years—it said 3 days. And at that moment, it hit me: A few days earlier I had forgotten to use the app to track my workout. Which of course raises the essential question: does the workout even count if it wasn’t tracked in the app?
For 1,063 straight days, I logged a workout, but just like that, the streak was over. For me, this daily routine of working out and tracking it with my fitness app was about gaining structure and routine during a time of uncertainty. Logging those workouts was paramount for my own personal mental health. It wasn’t that I had a strenuous workout every day—there were plenty of days where a short walk or meditation was what I needed, and those counted, too. It was that idea of counting that brought comfort by creating consistency and routine.
I want to ask you all to take a moment now to think about the small things you do to bring comfort to your life; things that help you feel balanced and grounded. The daily routine of a workout and keeping track of each one was one of those ways for me. What is it for you? Perhaps you have your own daily ritual—reading a book you chose, a drawing you create, recording your BeReal, or FaceTiming with your friend while doing homework. Whatever it may be, it is usually something we have direct control over, and without it, we feel a little less accomplished.
These are the things that we count on for ourselves. They have a positive impact on us and bring us a sense of accomplishment. These are the things that keep us grounded, and without them, we may feel unsettled. These are internally driven actions that are focused on the self, important but created from within. To another person, missing them may seem trivial, but to you, they are critical. We are in a time right now when the concept of self-care is rightfully being elevated, and as you move forward, I urge you to think about what actions and routines will help you prioritize your own well-being now and in the future. These may change over time, but recognizing their importance is critical to understanding yourself and your needs. A year ago, I would have had a much worse reaction to missing that workout, but today, I’ve found balance with other things, as well.
Yet, life isn’t all about what you count on. We can flip the statement and ask what will you do that counts for others?
In January of 1962, James Baldwin penned an essay in the NYTimes about this particular idea, sharing thoughts on the responsibilities of writers to use the power of the written word to improve the world. At the end of the essay, he shares the following, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Class of 2023, how will you use your education and your ideals to make a difference? What causes or problems can you show up for to take on?
While today, we are here to celebrate you as a class, we are also here to honor you as individuals. The earlier speeches are just small vignettes of how you contributed to the school while you were here. You each hold the power to make a difference, to challenge what does not seem right. The world needs problem solvers and agents of change, those that will take on the biggest challenges of our time and equally as important, those that will help solve the small daily issues that come up and make a difference in their local communities. You will each find your way and figure out what counts for you, and how you will make your own indelible mark on those around you. I would suggest to you that as much as doing something for yourself will help bring you balance, using your strengths to face a change will bring on its own measure of happiness and fulfillment.
As we come to the end of the program, I have one final requirement for you. There are few times in our lives when we are surrounded by friends and family for the sole purpose of celebrating the moment that has arrived and today is one of them. At this moment, I want you to stand up and look around the tent — capture a mental picture of those that are here for you. Family members and friends that you’ve counted on look on with immense pride and adulation on their faces, and classmates that have been part of your daily lives for a year or 14.
While you entered today as the Class of 2023, today you leave as individuals filled bursting with potential. Class of 2023, the world awaits each of you. What will you do with your opportunity?
I can now officially say you are 100% done, congratulations!
As an inclusive private school community, Brimmer welcomes students who will increase the diversity of our school. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, gender, gender identity and expression, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, or any other characteristic protected from discrimination under state or federal law, in the administration of our educational policies, admissions practices, financial aid decisions, and athletic and other school-administered programs.