The Lamp

A Holderness School journal committed to critical reflection and fostering conversation around issues connected to independent schools and education in general.

A Plea for Senioritis: A Lame Duck's Commencement Address

AJ Chabot '16

As part of the Holderness School Commencement, the President and President-Elect are given the opportunity to address the community and offer advice to the graduating class.  What follows are remarks from outgoing President AJ Chabot made during the 137th Holderness School Commencement held on Sunday, May 29, 2016. 

Minh, what’s the count? How much longer? Two weeks ago I get to my table for advisor-advisee dinner, and the first thing I hear are a few digits from Minh Tran: 18 days, 20 hours, and 32 minutes. I asked, “Until commencement?” No, until the end of commencement, he responded.                        


Minh might win the award for the worst case of senioritis, but I almost feel like he shouldn’t be included in the running. I mean, he’s had it since he was a sophomore. Emily Perkins doesn’t count either, she somehow does homework entirely on her own terms, but has maintained a good reputation with teachers - go figure. It might actually go to Maggie Cunha. Surprising right? She’s pretty under the radar, taking the route of overcompensation rather than under, constantly participating in conversations regardless of how much (or little) she read the night before.


For my Senior Thesis March Experience, I spent some time at the White Mountain Montessori School just up the road. In one of my conversations, I asked a boy what he wanted to be when he’s older. “First I want to be 5, then 10, then 15! …oh, and I don’t like when doggies woof a lot,” he added. Besides learning that dogs bark and age rounds exclusively to multiples of five, I was reminded of how unpredictable kids are - both to themselves and to others. I remembered what it felt like to be surprised by the simplest of things - like the concept of symbols, or a bright blue jay feeding right outside the window. Each day these kids surprised me, but, more importantly, they surprised themselves. 

To what extent is masculinity a social construct, and how does conformism towards current masculine standards affect boys’ relational, emotional, and social development into adulthood?
— AJ Chabot's Essential Question

The structure of Montessori education allows each kid to roam the classroom in awe of whatever strikes their attention. Whether it’s an easel awaiting a painter, a puzzle itching to be solved, or a lego set hoping to be built, the room is filled with endless options for the kids to investigate. On my way back to campus the first morning, I realized how our sense of learning has been somewhat distorted as we’ve gotten older. Our independence of interest seems to fade as our motivation to learn is clouded by college, grades, recognition, and rewards. I like to think Holderness would rather all of our learning be as independently driven as the March Experience, but that would be naive in the context of our objective-oriented structure of high school at large.  


Some of us will continue our liberal arts education beyond Holderness, and some will start next year already having declared a major, but all of us will be entering institutions with similar facets of high-school’s limiting structure. We think these structures exist because adults find thorough enjoyment in stressing us all out to no end. I would suggest a more two-sided argument. Adults like to make things hard for kids because we’ve forgotten how to make things hard for ourselves. Five-year-olds don’t see learning as a burden. They see it as an adventure. They don’t learn for the recognition, the excellent efforts, or the college apps, they learn for themselves, for their own interest, and to fulfill their own goals. I ask you all now: have you forgotten what it is to learn for no one else but yourself?


I think most would agree that I lost the senioritis competition - quite miserably at that. Sophomore AJ wouldn’t have questioned a teacher’s post-AP test assignment, slacked off on a Heart of Darkness essay, or skimmed just a few chapters of the Great Gatsby. Senior AJ, on the other hand, at least considered doing all those things. It may be obvious to you all, but only recently has it become clear to me why I have such a hard time with senioritis. I care too much.  Not like the awestruck five-year-old but more like the soon-to-be college student hoping to live up to others’ expectations, while struggling to even define what exactly I expect of myself.


To the Class of 2016, including myself, I propose a challenge. Maintain the senioritis we have felt this year into next year, but not for the reasons you’d think. Don’t turn in papers two weeks late or draw pictures on tests; I don’t see that working out too well in college - except perhaps for Emily Perkins. Rather, hold on to the mentality of senioritis, and use your carefreeness to your advantage. Go through the required motions, but try to do what you want to do as well. If that means banging out a paper so you can hike a mountain and write in your journal at its peak - go ahead. Finish a problem set, then go read that Grecian trilogy you’ve been dying to explore. Most think of senioritis as a complete lack of motivation to do just about anything regarding books, essays, or math problems - but what I see in Minh, Maggie, and Emily is a yearning for something personal, for some independence. We can each learn something from these three, but the first and the hardest question for each of us to answer is whether we can take that initial backwards leap in time to five-year-old land and dare to know all over again.


Thank you, and congratulations to the Class of 2016

For more Commencement and end-of-year photos, check out the Holderness School SmugMug: