Graduation 2014 – Sturgis West

Sturgis West GraduationCongratulations Class of 2014! May 31, 2014 was the perfect day for the first graduation of Sturgis West and the 13th graduation of Sturgis East. Both graduation ceremonies were held at Aselton Park overlooking Hyannis Harbor. The day of festivities began with Sturgis West graduation at 10:00 AM followed by Sturgis East graduation at 2:30 PM.

Our Nautical Traditions

Entering the tentSturgis graduations are a wonderful celebration of the achievements of our students. The ceremony incorporates several nautical traditions that reflect our maritime setting and connection to Captain William Sturgis (1782-1863) for whom our school is named. Decked out in the finery of robes and led by Eric Hieser along with bagpipers, Sturgis grads  march with faculty down Main Street and through the Village Green to Hyannis Harbor where they enter a shining white tent filled with people who love them and have traveled far to be present at their commencement. No graduation is ever complete without sounds of the harbor in the background – including an occasional blast from a ferry’s horn!

Ben Duncan Signs Out

Signing the Ship’s Log

After receiving their diploma, each graduate proceeds to a table displaying a ship’s log. When students first begin their journey at Sturgis, they sign the log.  Just as William Sturgis signed on board for his first voyage, students “sign on for a term of duty,” signifying their request to begin the voyage.  At the end of graduation, students “sign out” next to their original signature, signifying completion of the voyage.  The lucky last student in each class   (alphabetically speaking!) is given the honor of ringing the ship’s bell.

Below you will find the full text of graduation speeches along with a selection of photographs by Jarvis Chen and Marion Weeks.  We hope the speeches and photographs capture a bit of the spirit of the event.

Chelsea Crowley and West gradsSturgis West Class of 2014: Cameron Bass, Jennifer Belliveau, Mia Berger, Owen Bernstein, Robert Bucchianeri, Meghan Butler, Julia Cameron, Maggie Canty, Olivia Carr, Sophia Carr, Christopher Cifello, Cody Colella, Nicole Conklin, Wheeler Crowell, Chelsea Crowley, Thomas Cunning, Deikani Cunningham, Ciaran Dalton, Daniel Davies, Thaiana Deandrade, Noah Detmongkhonh, Christopher Dumont, Caroline Dundas, Eva Fahey, Tristan Ferris, Kailee Freedholm, Scott Glynn, Abigail Goldman, Keith Gonzalez, Charles Grossman, Rory Gwilliam, Shannon Hart, Gabrielle Healy, Lena Herbst, Kelsey Hoffner, Noah Johnson, Nicki Kastor, Sarah Kimball, Evan Kirby, Samuel Kooharian, Abigail Lilak, Haleigh Linehan, Dakota Linnell, Michaela Long, Emily MacDonald, Connor Mahoney, Aman Marfatia, Michael Marsh, Mackenzie Michaud, Olivia Milne, Ann-Drea Morris, Sophie Murray, Jacob Nelson, Sarah O’Brien, Brianna O’Rourke, Natasha Ouimette, Bernadette Palmer, Alyne Ramiro, Savanna Ramos, Cassidy Robert, Michelle Rogers, Michaela Ryder, Hannah Sabens, Ashley Seaman, Colin Shaw, Leanne Signoriello, Cole Silva, Bailey   Soderberg, Megan Standish, Amy Stanley, Chaunee Stockel, Kelly Stuck, Finn Swenson, Carl Tashjian, Jamie Thornton, Emily Toolas, Gemma Tracy-Burns, Christina Wahle, Alexandra Waithe, Tobias Way, China Weare, Carly Wilkinson and Bryce Wilson.

Welcoming Address by Eric Hieser, Executive Director

Sturgis West Class of 2014, Parents, Faculty, Board of Trustees, Relatives, & Friends:

Eric HieserWelcome to the first Graduation Ceremony for Sturgis Charter Public School—West Campus.  We are very happy to present to you this Class of 2014, the trailblazers who wanted something different, something more. They have challenged themselves and embraced the Sturgis Mission of “International Baccalaureate for All”.  They have brought their unique personalities, their passion, and their enthusiasm to create a very special school culture of rigor and caring.  The founders of Sturgis envisioned a unique public school that would challenge all students with academic rigor and would have many students achieve the IB Diploma. We are confident that the Class of 2014 embodies the traits that the IB envisions students to acquire, such as inquiry, caring, risk-taking, and international-mindedness.

This Class of 2014 has helped Sturgis once again gain recognition across the Cape, Massachusetts, the U.S. and around the world.  This class helped Sturgis to be ranked by the Boston Globe as one of the top high schools in Massachusetts.  This ranking demonstrates how Sturgis students have sought out academic rigor and have gained the best preparation available for success in university.  Of course, our students can gain a sense of affirmation from this achievement, yet we know that it was only through the collaboration and support of our students, parents, faculty, and Board of Trustees that Sturgis is able to realize such a high standard of excellence.  In reviewing the graduation speeches submitted by the members of this class, one theme mentioned throughout virtually all speeches was a tremendous admiration and respect for their teachers.  I now ask the Sturgis West faculty to stand to be recognized by the class and the audience

The Class of 2014 has had a very successful year in college admission with many of these seniors receiving significant scholarships and grants.  Their success has increased student and parent interest in attending Sturgis as we now have our largest waiting list ever, including more than 650 students still seeking admission to Sturgis despite the opening of the Sturgis West campus.

Peter Steedman sittingI would like to digress a bit now so that I can recognize one person will be leaving us but who have meant so much to what Sturgis West has become.  He is someone who has shown outstanding leadership, judgment, commitment, and interpersonal connection to ensuring that Sturgis West has become a vibrant, challenging, and welcoming IB for All experience for students and faculty.  Please stand and be recognized for your outstanding service, Peter Steedman.

While we have a few faculty who will be heading off to distant corners of the world, it is difficult to say good-bye to someone who has helped guide young people and the school even prior to when I joined Sturgis 11 years ago.  Travis Andrade arrived at Sturgis when we were a very different school!  He helped build the school culture and guided so many students in their journeys through Latin and athletics.  For his dedicated service and commitment to the Sturgis mission, Class of 2014 and audience, please recognize Travis Andrade!

As I noted before, many of the Class of 2014 submitted excellent graduation speeches, but we were only able to choose two to be given today.  As our students live the Sturgis experience every day, a few years ago I started a graduation tradition of sharing with the audience some of the ideas and perspectives from speeches that are not being delivered today.

DakotaFrom Dakota Linnell:  “Everyone who doesn’t go to Sturgis doesn’t really understand what it’s all about.  They brush us off as the “smart kids”, or the ‘weird school’, and to an extent that may be true.  We worked really hard to get to this point; whether we went for an IB Diploma or the certificate, we strived to learn and be open-minded about things, and we probably are slightly weird, but that’s what makes us unique.  Going to a school with such unique individuals helped shape who I am today.  I am happy to say I went to Sturgis, no matter what others may say!”

From Scott Glynn:  “When I was writing this speech, I thought to myself “what did Sturgis teach me most?”  Of course, some key things went through my head, like Winning doesn’t matter?  No, we don’t stress that here!  Then the word came into my head that described perfectly what Sturgis has taught me, Failure.  Now I’m sure at Sturgis we have all experienced failure.  For some of us, failure meant a B+, for others an F in CAS was simply a suggestion to get out and do something.  No matter how you failed here, I am sure you did at something, anything no matter how small.  That is OK.  Now that may seem a bit odd, and I’m sure you’re all thinking “Failure is OK?  My parents should have been talking to me!  But I think that failing is OK.  What Sturgis taught me is that no one cares how many shots you miss, no one will remember that.  What they remember is the ones that you hit—the ones that make you who you are–tell your story.  That is what Sturgis has taught me.  That if I live my life afraid to fail, I will never succeed.  We all have been given the opportunity to succeed, after all, we went to Sturgis.”

From Abi Goldman:  “Isn’t it odd how sentimental we feel towards our high school experience?  The stress, the pressure, the struggle to juggle the expectations hoisted upon our backs and all the other aspects of our lives as we trudge through the halls from subject to subject.  But this class is fortunate—standing here on the edge of our former lives, there is a part of us that mourns over the loss.  Each of us came to Sturgis with a similar storm in the pit of our stomachs.  With the guidance from our teachers and the aid from our peers, we navigated the storm and acquired skills that have prepared us for life’s conundrums.  The fact that we are sitting here today is proof that each of us has grit and that success will not elude us.”

From MacKenzie Michaud:  “We all took a risk coming here in our sophomore year, starting off as the first class of the new Sturgis.  I was shocked as I first walked into our “new” school Sturgis West to discover that it was an “old” furniture store.  But not long after I had started at Sturgis, I knew it was the right decision.  At a small school like Sturgis, you really get the opportunities that you would not have at other high schools.  Not only with great academics, but also with friends and teachers who cared greatly about each other—and that I will remember for the rest of my life.  Although Sturgis is physically a small community, the caring, loving people are bigger than imaginable.”

OliviaFrom Olivia Milne:  “Webster’s Dictionary defines “cliché” as beginning your graduation speech with a definition from Webster’s Dictionary.  And at Sturgis, cliché and contrite are not the norm.  We don’t do that here!  So instead, to begin, I will offer an unusual statement:  the Sturgis graduating class is everything other schools say about us.  We are a group of weirdos and freaks.  People think we are strange, and they’re absolutely right, in the best way possible.  One of my best friends said that what influenced her decision to attend Sturgis were the last words of poet Francois Rabelais, “I go to seek the great perhaps.”  I think that’s what Sturgis represents–a great perhaps of an opportunity to become something remarkable.  I say to my fellow graduates—the great perhaps of your life lies before you.”

And finally, from Bennie Palmer: “The use of bees as a metaphor for academics and intellectuals seems like a valid relationship.  This graduating class reminds me of bees.  It takes a hive to make honey and a colony to support the effort.  Our hive is Sturgis.  Bees come together and do individual work for a common purpose.  They also live in such close proximity that they can barely move (just as renovated furniture stores make “interesting” classrooms)!  Above all, bees never give up.  They work to their full potential for the greater good until they can’t work at all.  It’s in their nature, but also in ours.

The work we did became our common thread, and the harder we worked, the closer we became.  The weight of it all became a sort of peer therapy.  The support from our fellow students brought a sense of normalcy to our lives, and solidified our connection.  We needed each other, just like we needed Sturgis.  Although not the typical high school experience, the past three years changed us and we are eternally grateful for it.  We all know that we would have had a completely opposite experience if we had teachers who didn’t care wholly about us and our growth.  I never before had a teacher who made me realize that I didn’t do my best work or was slacking off, but only so I realize how much better I can be.  I can honestly say that I didn’t even see myself graduating from high school before I started here, but when given the respect and encouragement, a student can blossom.  The biggest thing that I take away from this experience is simple; do not spend your life searching for what comes easily to you.  Spend your life searching for what you love and appreciate enough to get past the difficulties you face.”

Words of wisdom and reflection from the Class of 2014!

At graduation, I like to take a minute or two to reflect on some of the individuals that I will remember from this class.  I do so, knowing that I surely won’t be able to mention everyone who deserves recognition.  I will remember:

  • The motivation, determination, and perseverance of Chelsea Crowley in becoming all that she can be;
  • The amazing grace, energy, and talent of Carlo Tasjian on the soccer field and basketball court;
  • The tremendous writing and theatrical talent of Olivia Milne;
  • The patriotism and commitment to do the right thing, and the strength of character of Finn Swenson;
  • The outstanding softball talent of Haleigh Linehan in almost leading the team to an undefeated season;
  • The drive and focus of Bennie Palmer and her insatiable quest for learning;
  • The depth of insight and inquisitive curiosity of Cole Silva;
  • The significant transformation of Mike Marsh, who found that he could be role model to younger students and a much better student that he thought that he could be;
  • The high expectations for deeper learning that Gabi Healy has for herself and her teachers;
  • Eva Fahey and Ann-Drea MorrisAnd finally, the daily reminders that I gave Ann-Drea Morris (and her brother Andre) that it is OK to be early to school!!

Class of 2014, we gave you wings—wings to soar, to question, to contribute, and to care about one another and making the world a better place.  Giving you wings to ensure your success was our goal, and we know that a piece of whatever you do, will come from your Sturgis roots.

I will end my words with my favorite quote about The Essence of Success:

“Successful is the person who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of children, who leaves the world better than one found it, who has never lacked appreciation for the earth’s beauty, who never fails to look for the best in others, or give the best of oneself.”

Congratulations to the Class of 2014!  Sturgis is proud of the wings that we have given you and– what you have become.  We hope that you cherish your roots in Sturgis.  Thank you.

The next speaker on the program is a representative of the Sturgis Board of Trustees, Greg Ryan.

Gregory Ryan, Sturgis Board of Trustees

Good Morning:

Gregory Ryan

Gregory Ryan

My name is Gregory Ryan.  I am a member of your Board of Trustees and the Finance Committee. Each year a member of the board is given the opportunity to speak at graduation, to provide you with both insights into the work we do for your education and more importantly to congratulate each of you on your achievements.

My involvement with Sturgis spans a decade. It began simply with my youngest daughter’s enrollment in 2004 – two parents pushing their daughter off the beaten path of a public educational system that had in our opinion, failed our two oldest children.

The Sturgis, that you know today, is different from the one I was introduced to ten years ago. But Sturgis is and always will be about providing the very best educational experience possible.  Eric once told me some 9 years ago after I so politely poked fun of the school’s appearance.  He said that the look of the building did not matter.  Our original campus today is not far more much esthetically pleasing than when we began.

Eric went on to argue that, what did mattered was providing an excellent education and that we didn’t need to look like a conventional school to accomplish this goal. Well, he was certainly correct.  It’s not a wonderful build that makes a great school.  It’s the people.

It is teachers who are eager to teach.  Students who desire to learn.  And parents who can support those two premises. That is the bases of a great school.  That’s Sturgis!

Our Board is comprised of 17 individuals.  There, from the Administration, one teacher and 13 are elected members.  We are without a doubt the true leaders of the school and yet for the most part we remain relatively unknown to the very people that we serve, namely you. You are our constituents.  So, if you don’t know us and what we do.  Then we, like the school must be doing a top notch job.  Right?  And so we persevere and continue on serving and do it gladly.

Grandmother and ChildThe responsibilities of the Board are quite simple.  We set the policies, create the standards and provide the goals for the school.  Then we monitor the schools progress quite closely.  We are continually updated of any hard data, such as standardize testing and where we rank by campus.  We pay close attention to our coveted national rankings of the various lists of who’s who in American High Schools.  We help push the school forward. But this is where our responsibilities end.

We do not interfere with the actual management of the school.  That is responsibility of Eric and his staff.  How they implement our directives and manage the daily operation of the school is their business.  The amazing part is they do a phenomenally great job on a recurrent basis.  They have never let us down. They hire incredibly skilled and gifted teachers.  Then they help build those teachers up, so they in turn can build you, our students, up.

Sturgis has changed tremendously in the years since I first became acquainted with it.  When my daughter began going to school, the building still resembled the furniture store it once was, most of the staff were brand new and the class listings were much more limited. The IB program was just being whispered about.  In the time that has passed, we have updated the original building in every way possible and we have added a second campus, increased the admission rates, and cultivated a superbly skilled and dedicated staff.

Most importantly of all we have adopted an “I.B.program that is unique.

We are simply “IB for All” and we are the only school in the world offering this program.  There are many schools which are     “IB for Some”, as well as many others that are “IB for the Well To Do”.  But when we say we are “IB for All”, we truly mean it.  Right down to paying the administrative costs of the IB Exams that you all just took, ($160,000).

All of our students receive the same education regardless of whether they taking on the IB diploma program or not.  They all lean on one another.  Sometime they carry one another, to push through the rigors of the IB working as a community.  Our students are not short changed!  They are supported, they are challenged and they always rise to meet that challenge!

I want you to know, that the members of your broad of trustees are a group of gifted, caring and dedicated individuals of good caliber.  Like you, each one brings their own unique qualities to the Board.  Each member has repeatedly fought for the students benefit.  A board meeting usually lasts 2 to 3 hours.  One night debated an additional hour, discussing whether or not to raise the athletic fees by $25 per sport.  In the end I believe the motion was defeated.  We did not want to disenfranchise even child from participating in sports.

The Board has two guiding principles which lead us and guide us:  We must to stay true to our charter, for we are a charter school.  And whatever else we may decide, the yard stick we use is:  will it be good for our kids?  Notice how possessive we are.

As I stand before you today, I have no doubt that the families and students before me, chose Sturgis, much like we, the board have chosen Sturgis.  You chose to be challenged and you chose to take your future into your own hands –sometimes that can be a very difficult decision to make, even uncomfortable, yet here you are at the end of your journey and most of you are smiling.

I hope that each of you sitting here today is proud of how much you have accomplished. To receive a diploma today is a true measure of success. And we know,-because we have worked so hard bring it to fruition, that you are beyond “prepared” for your life paths following this commencement. Once again, congratulations and we wish you luck and good fortune with your next life adventure.

Cole Silva, Class of 2014

Cole SilvaGraduation is a really overwhelming time in the graduate’s life. You have all of these family members and family friends coming up to you, offering advice about life, asking about your future, asking if you’re excited for college. And amidst all of this, you’re just standing there thinking “…I’m in a robe. Usually this means that I’ve resigned myself to a day full of Netflix, procrastinating, and completely-irrelevant-but-still-entertaining YouTube videos.” But writing this graduation speech has taught me many things, mostly about the difficulty of writing a graduation speech. There’s so much you have to incorporate:  humor, inspiration, advice. Neither of which I’m exactly a prime source for. While reviewing other speeches, I turned to our world’s greatest figures, namely people such as Winston Churchill and Neil Gaiman (…and, admittedly, Oprah). And if there was one thing that I learned, it’s that you will fall asleep without humor unless you are one of my parents Facebooking about this or some stranger that showed up with nothing else to do. And if that stranger is here today, props to you for making it past our airtight security. And just one more thing before I start, remember: I am about to give you all a speech, on one of the most important days in our lives so far, in a robe. So if you don’t want to take my advice, no worries. It came from a guy in a robe anyway. Fasten your seat belts because here we go.

audienceIf someone had told me three years ago that I would be giving a speech at my high school graduation, I would’ve been pretty full of doubt. Would I really come to care about this school that much? Did I fail the IB math exam and they’re letting me talk anyway? I know I’m not alone when I say that coming into this school was a pretty big leap of faith. After having already spent a year of high school with one group of people, we decided to try something new and head on over to Sturgis. And not just Sturgis, but a new Sturgis campus in another former furniture store! For those of you here today that did not go through this experience, let me give you a quick recap of the joys of Sturgis West’s first year. For one thing, distractions were never a problem – we only had about four windows! I remember when I would have classes in my one room with a window and I would treasure whatever natural light was pouring in. Lunch was a blessing, walking on Main Street, you would see the coolest people, too. Does anyone here remember the man with the parrot on his shoulder? And let’s not forget the general proximity of everyone to each other. Breathing room was hard to come by; with about two hundred kids in that small space, we got very, very close to each other. We came to be a very touchy class of 2014 and I can’t help but think it must’ve come from that minute space. And of course there was the asbestos thing…but I think that’s another story for another time. The point is that despite Old West’s imperfections, we loved it anyway. It was that building that shaped not only our class, but future classes and Sturgis cultures to come. And in all honesty, even though it wasn’t the most pleasant experience at the time, I feel a little sad for future classes that can’t share the same unifying experience we did. In fact a few months ago I was talking with one of my friends and saying that it would be so cool if the freshmen and sophomores at Sturgis had to spend their first two years of high school in that tiny, potentially condemnable building, because the bond that was formed between the members of our class as a whole cannot be accurately explained, and a bond of the same caliber would be very hard to find by staying in the Palace on West Main, by comparison, that we have now. Even though we’re aching to get away from each other now, we’ll (hopefully) look back and see the truly special bond that was formed between us, thanks to that formerly decrepit building.

Sturgis as a whole is a really hard thing to define. It’s academia, it’s motivation, it’s really incredibly weird. There’s really no way to define it. But as an IB student, I came prepared (haul out dictionary). Unfortunately, we’re not in the dictionary. But the closest word to Sturgis is sturdy, defined as “strong enough to withstand rough work or treatment”. Now I’m sure a lot of you are already laughing at the irony of this and already pulled out keywords such as “withstand”, or “rough work or treatment”. But I have no doubt in my mind that this definition speaks to and applies to all of the students in this graduating class. In the past three years, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all had our fair share of breaks stemming from school. Whether it be an internal assessment, that damned extended essay, or Weimer sending you back for a pass, there has been a point in all of our Sturgis careers where it’s seemed like we can’t go on and we want to just abandon the IB and live in the wild, where society and all academia are a long way gone. But this is where the irony comes in. Despite our breaks, despite our falls, we’re still able to stand back up and continue riding the IB bull. It’s a ride that forces us to endure long and hard, and at times it seems too much for us to handle. But we keep going; we don’t stop until the job is done. It was only a few weeks ago that we were staring into the heart of darkness that is the IB: we were face to face with the IB exams. And let me tell those who did not take those exams: it was no doll’s house. Those exams were bulls that tried to buck us off with every chance they had, to throw us up in the air and bash us against a wall.

Cole's AudienceBut we survived! And here we are today, united not in our futures, but in our pasts. Some of us are going to college, some of us are taking gap years, and some of us are forging a different path.Though we may differ in that respect, we stand united through shared experiences. Whether it be our very first year here, taping teachers to poles, or our completely just and expected win over all the underclassmen (especially the juniors) during this year’s Spirit Week, we did it together. And to whomever you are or whatever you’re doing, I’d like to offer you some advice. There’s usually some conventional and out of the box advice that’s given around graduation time, and it’s time now to offer you all a mix of both. So, here we go. Step 1: Do not academically kill yourself. Now I know this may sound a little bizarre for advice one can give to graduating students, but hear me out. There are students around the world who work to the point of exhaustion and severe fatigue. You know who you are.You need to get that history IA done, you need to get that literary commentary in, but depriving your body of the sleep and general maintenance it needs will help no one, especially yourself. Take care of yourself, pull a few all nighters, treat your body like a rental that you have to return the next day. Step 2: As cliché as this has become to us, be open minded. I know, for example, that I’m planning on studying French and international studies in college, and if I wanted to I could probably map out the next 5-8 years of my life, but I try not to. If you’re not open to changes that come your way, you may be content with your life, but you’ll never know what could’ve happened, the unknown amount of happiness you could’ve experienced. I know you’re probably all dead tired of poetry at this point, but hear out this one T.S. Elliot quote: “Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never opened.” Don’t let your regrets rattle around your head; take risks and go with the flow. And finally, Step 3: Do more of what makes you happy. Isn’t happiness all we’re looking for anyway? Take the hour long bike ride right before the sunrise, keep writing that book on the side, or spend more time with your loved ones. You only have so much time, and even then it’s unpredictable when you may have to get off of this ride (I also think the addition of ‘in moderation’ goes without saying). So take advantage of the time you have here, and within reason, just enjoy life. I’d like to end with a quote by a poet who I personally think the IB should most definitely take more of an interest in: “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way! So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s a great balancing act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed). Kid, you’ll move mountains.” Thank you. Congratulations to the class of 2014.

Sturgis Faculty – John Newcombe, Mathematics


John Newcombe

John Newcombe

I’d like to welcome all of the parents and families of our graduates, my fellow faculty members and of course this outstanding group before me – Sturgis West’s FIRST graduating class!

So let’s talk about “firsts”.  They’re really special aren’t they?  I’m willing to bet this is a first for all of our graduates out here today – and from the looks of some of our more emotional parents – a first for you as well.

This is actually a first for me today too– after 9 years at Sturgis, this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to address our graduates at a Sturgis commencement, and I am truly honored and humbled to share this special day with you and your family.

You tend to remember your firsts, don’t you?

The first time you try something new, willingly or not, it sticks with you.

Whether your firsts turn out to be amazing –or not so amazing –you always remember those moments.  Those firsts in life, big and small, are moments in time when you truly put yourself out there – and, you’ll find — THOSE are the moments that define you.  THOSE are the moments when you draw upon every ounce of internal fortitude you possess to take that big step into the unknown, and whether you reap the benefits, or learn an invaluable life lesson – firsts are special – and memorable – and important.

Remember the first time you road your bike without training wheels?  That moment when you (or maybe your parents) decided it was time to throw caution to the wind, strip off those training wheels, and dive into the world of two wheel travel?

As your parents ran down the road with you, slowly loosening their grip, and eventually letting you go – ready or not – you were experiencing a major first.  Some of you may have seamlessly glided down the road, barely noticing that you were precariously balanced on two wheels, big smiles on your face, and wind in your hair.

Or others, like my son, went careening down the road, crashed into a bush, and blamed us for letting go too soon.

Either way – at that moment — you took a leap of faith.  Good or bad, you all learned from the moment, and I’d venture to guess that all of you can now ride a bike like a pro.

John Newcombe's SelfieAnd how about that first day of kindergarten?  Most likely, it was far more traumatic for your parents than it was for you (I know it was for me).  That first day of school waiting at the bus stop with the fear of the unknown hidden behind false smiles.  And then when you hopped onto that big yellow bus THAT was a major first — for both you and your parents.  Both of you wondering

Will your teacher be nice?

Will I make new friends?

Did Mom remember to pack my favorite snack?

Whether your first day was a walk in the park, or a scene from the walking dead – you remember it — you learned from it — and you went on to experience 12 more exciting and anxious first days of school.

And then there’s that all important first kiss. Come on, I know you all remember that.

No matter what age you are, you always remember that first kiss. Whether it was sweet and tender with the girl or boy you’d been mooning over for months, or sloppy and awkward (like mine with…………..)  Regardless of how it happened, that’s a first you’ll take to your grave. And deserving or not, that girl or boy’s name has been forever tattooed on your heart.

And how about the first time you drove your parents’ car?  Either sweating with fear or cool and confident, you took a huge leap of faith that first time you checked your mirrors, took a deep breath, and slowly pulled into traffic.  Ready or not you chose to tackle that monumental first.

And, of course, we can’t talk about firsts without talking about what brought us to THIS special day – this day started back in August 2011 — your first day as a Sturgis West student.  Now THERE’S a major first.

As sophomores, each of you had already started your high school experience somewhere else.  Whatever the reason that compelled you to make that change; you took a chance on yourself and a chance on Sturgis, with the hopes of embracing a more positive and compelling high school experience.  You had the courage to know it was time for a change — to embrace the unknown — to put yourself out there and meet new friends —  and to become Sturgis West’s FIRST graduating class!

Like you, I left a known situation that year.  I had been teaching at Sturgis East for 6 years, and had become pretty comfortable in my roll at that school.  When offered the opportunity to move to Sturgis West to create a new school, I had to give it some serious thought.   Could we replicate what we’d created?  Was I the right person for the job?  Did I really want to teach in a hot, smelly basement?  But, just like you, I took a chance on myself – and on all of you – and dove into yet another of life’s firsts – and I’m so happy I did.

You see, firsts don’t end when you graduate – they become a way of life.

Little did I know how many firsts I would encounter at West…


Watching you and our juniors survive classes in the “dungeon” or what Ms. Weimer had to pawn off as a classroom in our old building.  Or for that matter, watching you survive Ms. Weimer.   (Tonja, I say that with nothing but respect.)

How about those first days in late August and finding out the air-conditioning didn’t work as well as we had hoped, and those first days in January when we found out the heat worked TOO well.  Those are character building firsts —

And then there are the firsts that year that I will always remember.  Like the first time I heard Michaela laugh and the first time I caught Sarah and Olivia using their cell phones.  Me asking Olivia to text Sarah to meet her at the bottom of the stairs – and the surprised look on Sarah’s face when she found only me waiting there for her.

And what about the start of those new friendships.  This past week while attending senior day at Camp Burgess I was reminded of our first trip there your sophomore year.  I clearly remember how two students in my group, Noah and Monty, strangers at the beginning of the day, became a united force —and have gone on to become the closest of friends.

I know many of you had similar experiences here at Sturgis.  Little did you know that some of those nervous new faces seated next to you in class, would go on to become one of the best parts of your high school experience.

Firsts are all about putting yourself out there.  Don’t be afraid to take a chance on yourself – or on someone else, because you never know where that next best friend, business partner, spouse, might come from.

Elisabeth Moore and ChoirYes, firsts are scary, but they’re also magical.  They’re at the heart and soul of Sturgis.  They are one of the many things that set us apart.  Firsts are what keep you growing, and learning, and open to new people, ideas and opportunities.

The day you walked into Sturgis, you established yourselves as leaders.  You’ve already defined yourselves as courageous and committed trail blazers, and with what you’ve learned at Sturgis, I know that you will continue to seek out life’s firsts – not just today, not just tomorrow, but as a way of life.

We’ve created a graduating class full of individuals that will continue to ask “what if?” and “why not?”.   You will not only accept life’s changes — you will seek them out.

Trust in what you’ve learned.

Trust in the person that you’ve become.

Trust that you have the skills and fortitude you need to do ANYTHING you choose to do in life.  As faculty, administrators, and parents, we know that you have the courage and commitment required to fearlessly and unapologetically push the envelope;  to strip off those training wheels and ride out the consequences, good or bad; and to place your indelible mark on the world – much like that first kiss on your heart.

I know I speak for the entire faculty when I say that I am proud of each and every one of you. I’m honored to know you as a teacher, as an advisor and an administrator —- and most importantly, as a human being.

So, here’s to your firsts at Sturgis, and the many more to come in your life!  I will always be honored and humbled to be a small part of THIS first with you and your parents. May many more follow!  Thank you and God Bless You ALL….

William H. Burke Scholarship – Pam Burke, Guidance

Pam Burke and Chelsea CrowleyThe William H. Burke scholarship is given in honor of my father-in-law.  He passed away 2 years ago of ALS.  Bill was a veteran of the United States Army, graduated from Notre Dame University, and went on to join and grow his family’s business.  He was known for his generosity and philanthropic endeavors that touched the lives of many.

This scholarship will be given to one Sturgis West graduating senior who exhibits an entrepreneurial spirit, contributes positively to the community, is concerned with the well-being of others, and whose determination and tenacity helped them overcome obstacles.

Although there are many deserving individuals, the scholarship committee had to pick one who best embodies the spirit of this award.

This student has contributed to the school community through her involvement in the STAGE productions.  She has been the stage manager for all of the productions at Sturgis West in addition to providing photography for these events.  She is an equestrian and dedicated rider.  Having an entrepreneurial spirit, this student created her own business and takes photographs at equestrian shows.

Ms. Botsford shared with me that she has watched this individual “very willingly help other students struggling with a homework assignment, lab or a set of performance lines.  Even when she, herself, is trying to keep up with schoolwork, she wants to help others.  She has a genuine and kind nature and approaches life with a positive attitude, a sense of humor, and a commitment to do her personal best.  When faced with challenging or stressful situations, she will persevere and push herself to keep moving forward.

It is with great pleasure to present the William H. Burke Scholarship to Chelsea Crowley.

Gabrielle Healy, Class of 2014

Gabrielle HealyHi. My name is 001518-0049, and I’m a member of the Sturgis West Graduating Class of 2014. Just kidding, my name is Gabi, and I’m honored to address you today.

I’d like to start today  with a vignette that’s typical of graduation speeches.

So.  There’s this river. It’s pretty wide, murky, lots of reeds. And there’s a person on one side who wants to get to the other , so she decides that the best way to get across is to build a canoe. It’s sturdy, but has some limitations, as all methods of aquatic transportation do. He gets into the boat and begins to paddle. At the beginning, it’s challenging, but the rhythm of the strokes soon becomes manageable, and before she knows it, the boat is in the middle of the river. However, now things start to get tricky (I bet you know where this is going). The current starts to spin the boat, the paddle gets stuck in some tall, pesky weeds from the bottom of the river, and to cap it all off, it starts to rain. Things seem pretty darn bad, but staying in the middle of the river is simply not an option; this person has places to go, people to meet, and the person must paddle across using whatever is available to him or her. Even when it seems too hard, even when it seems challenging, this paddler is still going. The paddler isn’t entirely sure what’s over there on the other bank of the river, but it has to be better than the middle of the river, and exponentially better than the side from which she came.

I’m sure that you’ve guessed by now that our determined paddler’s experience is representative of our graduating class. Yes, we are the first. Yes, we’ve broken new ground on Cape Cod’s educational landscape. And yes, now we’re dispersing into very different locations.

It started when we were sophomores, we got to know each other by sharing our misery in the rain at Camp Burgess, and signed up for our journey in the  inaugural Sturgis West logbook. We meshed together in that small building on Main Street, and then moved onto junior year. There, things got a little more challenging in terms of academics and balancing our social life, and things seemed to reach the tipping point our senior year, between applying to college, the endless stream of tests, sports games and theatre competitions, it seemed like the stress and tasks would never end.  It hasn’t always been easy, but here we are at the finish line, breaking the tape and moving out into the wider world. Congratulations are in order.

But I’d like to propose something, if you’ll bear with me a moment. By attending Sturgis West together, we chose to partake  an educational movement; one that (for the most part) rejects the passive memorization and regurgitation of facts and figures but values engagement and individual, informed, thought.  A complaint I often hear about my generation is that we’re passive, we’re weak, and we’re “out of control.” Some of these assumptions may be true.  However, I believe that even if it doesn’t seem apparent at this moment, our education at Sturgis West has given us the tools and  opportunities to undermine these claims about our generation and turn into a group of active, resilient individuals. We have muddled through all the assessments, managed our time, and managed to come out on the other side, even when it seemed impossible. Almost no other system of education thinks about its students as whole people, and not just teenagers who take an exam. The knowledge that we have finished an educational experience  that is so much more than average, while at the same time cultivating a community of love and respect is empowering, even though it might not feel like it at this very moment.

facultyEmpowered people make change, or contribute to change, or reject change, when they know it’s not the right direction. Along the same lines, critical thinkers evaluate the information presented and make their own judgements, and don’t just blindly accept the opinions of others. These  individuals have the power to take a position on an issue, and to have informed opinions about concepts or events. They work together to understand the experiences of those around them, and and they have confidence in their ideas and abilities.  They aren’t always politicians or protestors, they aren’t always teachers or truck drivers; being empowered is a state of mind, something one can hold inside themselves no matter who or where you are. It’s clear that our world is facing is a spectrum of challenges the likes of which human history has never seen before, and I firmly believe that empowered people will be able to work together to allay these crisis in whatever way we can contribute . We, the Class of 2014 at Sturgis West have been offered the opportunity to become these types of people on the sports field, at mock trial, during Theory of Knowledge debates about ethics. But most importantly, we’ve already started to become active citizens by taking a risk and coming to a brand-new school, started for the purpose of offering an excellent education to more students.

The cumulation of our time together comes with a great deal of gratitude to those who have helped us along the way. We have some of the best teachers in the state of Massachusetts, and I know that they have all worked extremely hard by encouraging us, making themselves available at all hours for extra help, being cognizant of our lives outside of school, and for some of them, learning to teach a very challenging curriculum for the first time. Personally, I’m so grateful to them because at my old school, there was very little interaction between students and teachers besides the necessary ones in the classroom. We were mostly herded from lecture after lecture, an experience I know many of my classmates shared. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our faculty and staff for their guidance and knowledge, the humor and goodwill that they bring to the classroom, their passion for their subjects,  for taking a risk on us and our school, and for being absolutely extraordinary. Additionally, our friends and family. Straight up: you all are awesome people. Through it all, you’ve been the ones that we count on when we’ve reached the end of the rope, when we need a kick in the butt, or a fun, necessary, distraction from academics. It’s challenging to put into words how much you have done for us during this crazy journey, but we are thankful for your support at all stages.

The German physician Martin Fischer said that “a conclusion is the place you go when you get tired of thinking,” so, let’s go back to the paddler and the river. Although my knowledge of all things outdoors is extremely limited, what I do know is that when you’re canoeing across a river, the current will not take you directly to the other side of the bank, you may end up in a different place than where you thought you’d be. I can certainly attest to this truth about our Sturgis West experience: we are not the people we thought  we would  be, here at the end of this journey. And so, with the knowledge that the outcome isn’t guaranteed, we can go forth into the world, ready to take advantage of opportunities, laugh, and be open to new experiences (something the Class of 2014 is already kind of fantastic at). Even as we close the book on this chapter of our lives, personally, I’ve realized that I’m not tired yet of thinking or doing (even though I’m concluding). I challenge our class to be empowered enough by what we have accomplished together to springboard into the future, full steam ahead. We’re ready. Let’s do it.

Thank you very, very, much.

Peter Steedman, Principal, Sturgis West

PeteMr. Hieser, Mr. Ryan and other board representatives, faculty, parents, relatives and graduates, I am deeply humbled and honored to be given the opportunity to speak to you this morning.  Thank you.

On this beautiful spring day, under this tent, in the picturesque setting of Hyannis harbor, it is hard to remember what life was like on that first day that the class of 2014 stepped into the hallways of the used furniture store on Main Street. I wonder how the school appeared through the eyes of our graduates. They certainly would have noticed the worn carpet beneath their feet, the fact that only two classrooms had any access to natural light and that the basement classrooms of Mr. Hillebrand, Mme. Anthony, Ms. Botsford, Mr. Andrade and Ms. Weimer were dark, musty and cramped.

There are a variety of reasons why these seniors chose to leave their high school after finishing their freshman year. Some sought the challenge of IB, some heard we had open-lunch privileges and some came because they (or their parents) knew the environment where they had just completed their 9th grade was not maximizing their potential. Some came with a slight chip on their shoulder, because their old school had been less than ideal academically or socially.

Kelly StuckOn that first day of school, as the current class looked around the make-shift building, there was no guarantee that this experience would be anything different than what they experienced before.  After curtains had to be put up in the windows, due to the presence of voyeurs from Main street, who pressed their faces up against the glass to observe an English or Spanish class – virtually eliminating any light that was fighting to get in – the group behind me had every right to think that it just might be worse than what they left behind. Does anyone remember the shirt the Noah Detmongkhonh wore on his first day of school? It read: ‘I don’t care if you don’t like me.” On the first day of school, as I walked down the corridor from my office, passing Wheeler and Tobias, perched up on the railing – a position they would occupy every afternoon from that day forth, I stepped out to the back parking lot to meet parents as they picked up their sons and daughters. To my right, I saw Kelly Stuck, sitting on the sidewalk, crouched with her head on her knees. It was clear that she had been crying.  When I asked what was wrong, her reply said it all, She said: “It’s just a lot to take in right now.”

As administrators, teachers, family and friends, I don’t think we can truly appreciate the risk taken on by this group. I can safely say, and I know I speak to the vast majority of the audience, that I would not had the courage to make the choice you made at 16.  I would have realized that there was too much to lose. I also want to recognize the risk taken by the parents. I am sure the parents in the audience were also feeling a tremendous amount of anxiety on that first day of school.  I am certain you had so many thoughts going on in your minds: “Did we make the right choice?  Will my child be happy?  Does Mr. Hieser really expect me to believe that a new school will be built in 10 months?”

Noah DetmongkhonhIt was a tremendous risk.  But then something happened.  As the three years passed, these students took on the IB, completing all of their coursework in what is considered the most rigorous and academically changing curriculum in the world. They developed a sports program that grew from a volleyball team that conducted practices without a net… to one that finished this season with a tournament invitation –only to be ended with one of the gutsiest performances I have ever witnessed in school sports when they were beaten by Bourne High School in a very competitive match. They built a reputation of excellence in the sciences that grew from a chemistry and science room with no lab space to getting the highest MCAS scores in science in the history of Sturgis. This class actually ranked # 38 in the state out of 285 districts. They thrived in the arts, putting on the phenomenal musical Fiddler on the Roof.  They bonded as a class, they persevered and they picked each other up when times got tough.  As I mentioned in my speech at convocation in August, this class represents grit personified. Now, does anyone remember the shirt Noah Detmongkhonh wore on the last day of spirit week? It read: “I am about to do something awesome.”  Yes Noah, in a few minutes, indeed you are.

While we are on the topic of Noah, it also bears mentioning that he came up with a quote that symbolizes that risk that was taken by your class. Last fall, we were visited by a group of Chinese teachers who were hoping to study the charter School movement in the US. Noah was part of a student panel that met privately with the visitors.  They asked the students:  “Why did you come to Sturgis?”  Wasn’t it hard to leave your friends behind at your old school?” Noah responded, “We left our friends…. but we found our family.” Man, if those Chinese visitors could have only seen Noah’s t-shirt on his first day at West! So, what happened to Noah?  What happened to the class of 2014?

Peter SteedmanWas it Mr. Hieser?  Was it the new building?  Was it the ToK questions?  Was it the teachers?  Was it the support from parents?  Was it the fact that we didn’t have a cafeteria? We have many sound-bites that we use to attempt to describe the Sturgis experience.  Many of them come from Mr. Hieser, but they have also originated from Mr. Pontes and Mr. Marble, the East Principal. Some of them may sound familiar:

“We don’t teach content, we teach kids.”

“It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”

“Buildings don’t make schools, people make schools.”

Being a member of the faculty here is a Practical Masters’ program. When I went to Brazil to interview in December, I parroted these exact phrases that I had learned from my colleagues over my 8 years at Sturgis. I did not have ONE original idea in my head – my new school thought I was original, innovative and brilliant – I got the job…little do they know………………..

Family PhotoBut even these individual words and phrases, taken in isolation may not explain the transformation that occurred within this class. In a recent conversation with Al Pagenkopf, about this transformation, he likened it to the process of a rough, jagged stone being smoothed out over time due to the continual pounding of the ocean waves. I thought it was an appropriate metaphor.  It piqued my interest.  I decided to learn a bit more about how a rock becomes smooth over time.

Now, I live in Falmouth and many of my neighbors are oceanographers who work at WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute for visitors in the audience).  I asked them how the process occurs. They pointed me to scientific literature that explained the process of weathering. One quote stuck out in my mind: “Chemical weathering changes the composition of rocks, often transforming them when water interacts with minerals to create various chemical reactions. Chemical weathering is a gradual and ongoing process as the mineralogy of the rock adjusts to the near surface environment. New or secondary minerals develop from the original minerals of the rock.” I learned that it is not just one wave that makes a rock smooth, it happens gradually over time.  “A Gradual and ongoing process” – it doesn’t happen all at once –the mineralogy of the rock adjusts. There are many forces that make a rock smooth – the scientist can’t pinpoint the exact moment when it occurs…there are too many factors at play….It is similar to the Sturgis experience. Like water smoothing out a rock – this place grows on you, it wears down your resistance.

What were those factors?  Was it the rigors of the IB?  Or was it what you learned from the group dynamics exercises in Mr. Anand’s wellness class? Was it having to write an IA in Biology or was it a kind word of support when you needed it most from Ms. Walts or Ms. Kirk when it was crunch time for CAS? Was it the preparation given to you from Ms. Carman, Ms. Walts and Mr. McDowell for your IOP or was it the fact that you had numerous classmates who you could reach out to although you only met them a few months prior? Or was it a combination of all of those factors?

I ask you to also think about the phrase from the geology textbook: New or secondary minerals develop from the original minerals of the rock. The rock would not be smooth were it not for the original minerals that connected with the new environment that make it smooth. When one picks up a rock that it smooth and feels it in your hand, it gives one the impression that this is how the rock was meant to be in the first place. Maybe, just maybe, who you are now was who you were supposed to be all along? It reminds me of how Michelangelo described his sculpting process.  He believed that every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. Michelangelo said that, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”

The Sturgis environment may have transformed you – but it is worth noting that you brought something to that old furniture store – you had original minerals, that allowed you to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity. Well, you must know that the transformation did not occur in one direction, your presence has also changed us. Because of you, the Class of 2014, we are better teachers, better administrators and better people. You have taught us what is possible in the world of education.

Graduation TentThere is a reason why researchers from Harvard, the University of Chicago and Boston College visited us this year to study you – it is because you have shown us that a community, committed to a common vision, can change the world. By your willingness to risk it all, by your tenacity to overcome adversity and by your willingness to bring the idea of Sturgis West to fruition, you showed us what is possible. For that we thank you, we congratulate you and we can’t wait to watch as you do something awesome.



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