18 Years

Sunday, July 24, 2016 - By: Mr. Mark Wismer

Good evening Graduates and esteemed guests.

When I was thinking about what to say in this toast tonight, this timeframe seemed to keep popping up. So, I decided to use it for my prompt. Though I am sure this speech would not be a winner in the Melhuish Speech Contest, I will do my best.

What happened 18 years ago? Well Wikipedia reminded me of these great events from the calendar year of 1998.

·      President Bill Clinton - was almost impeached as President of the United States of America.

·      The second Harry Potter book was published. The internet tells me it was called The Chamber of Secrets. I’m not much of a Harry Potter guy.

·      For you gaming geeks, Nintendo released another installment of The Legend of Zelda. Eat your heart out Assassin’s Creed.

·      And in June of 1998, exactly 18 years ago this month, Microsoft released the incredible Windows 98. Two words. Game changer.

18 years. For most of you, 18 is quite a significant number. Most grads here will turn 18 this year. For the parents and grandparents of grads in the room, roughly 18 years ago, you had the great joy of welcoming a new life into this world.

 Even Kanye West spends time crooning about children turning 18 years old.  

 In his legendary song Gold Digger, Yeezy looks at a child turning 18 years old as a symbol of great change; a moment of transition. Freedom. I know Kanye was talking about the freedom parents will feel after 18 years, and believe me, your parents will feel freedom. But for you, the grads, freedom also comes.

At 18 years of age, you will throw off the shackles of Brentwood. You will no longer have the impeccably dressed Mr. Collis shriek in glee because he has taught you about some strange literary device. And yes, you will no longer have Mr. Patel creeping you out as he attempts to take yet another selfie with you and your friends. Unless your name is Mitali – best of luck to you Mitali.

These last 18 years have been a time of significant growth for you grads. Physically, you have gone from being small, cute little babies, to being bigger, cute and baby-faced, to being just plain big.

 18 years is very significant to my life as well. 18 years ago I was 18 years old. Your age.

18 years ago this month, I graduated from Grade 12 at Manitoulin Secondary School, the best high school on beautiful Manitoulin Island. Yes, it may have also been the only high school on Manitoulin Island, but that is neither here nor there.

18 years ago was also the last time I addressed a graduating class. That address was obviously not as a faculty member, but instead, like Charlie Crooks, Rogers ‘16, was yesterday, as the valedictorian of my graduating class. I initially thought in preparation for writing this toast, it would be a great idea to look at my speech from 1998. I wanted to feel empathy for this grad class. Reflect on what I deemed as sage advice from the mouth of an 18 year old me. 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an IBM-compatible 386 with a Windows 95 operating system to accept a floppy disk ... alas, I can remember nothing about what I said in that speech. So instead, you will get some sage advice from 2016 me. I am probably not that much wiser than I was at 18, but I do have more life experience. So here it goes.

Fast-forward 18 years from now. It’s funny what you will remember with clarity from high school. You won’t really remember the institutionalized moments or the ones that go on the school calendar or the ones you think it is your duty to remember. Unfortunately for Mr. Smith, I’m pretty sure most of you won’t remember how to use Soh Cah Toa or trigonometric functions – nor will you really care you have forgotten. You probably won’t remember walking across the stage yesterday to get your diploma with any great detail. And I can almost guarantee you that you will not remember anything about this speech.

What you will remember 18 years from now are the little moments that caught you by surprise. Your poker or crib games in the house on Saturday night. The time you almost slept through your first class and woke up in a panic. Your Alex House grad fashion show. Playing Huckle Buckle on Fun and Games Night. And more than anything, you will remember the people and what they meant to you.

Just a few weeks ago I saw my best friend from high school for the first time in 10 years. We have very different lives now, but our common history meant we reconnected immediately. We fell back into our friendship as easily as if we had seen each other a week before. The two of us shared so many of those common and seemingly meaningless memories that now they have meaning. Those are the things that you must hold on to.

My advice for your next 18 years.

·   Get a degree, but not too many degrees. And please, help your parents pay for them.

·   Find a job you love.

·   Travel.

·   Get married.

·   Have children.

·   Travel more.

·   Have more children.

·   Be someone who gives of yourself on a daily basis.

·   And please, stay connected to those who are important to you.

Life is not always going to be easy; you will need the support of people who you can trust to help you fix things up. Knowing struggle and facing it down with friends at your side is what makes the good times in life so glorious.

As the grad class knows, I spent 2015 as an exchange teacher in Australia. When I came back to Brentwood last January, I felt relief. I felt like I was coming home. Why? Not because of the beautiful buildings, not because of the ocean view, and definitely not because of the insane amounts of winter precipitation, but because of the community. I realized how much I loved the Brentwood staff and students. Though life at Brentwood can often be busy and challenging, the sense of love and respect for one another permeates this institution so deeply that at the end of the day it doesn’t feel like an institution at all, it feels like home. That’s why I felt relief; I was coming home.

You have had your last Sunday Brunch. You have seen your last sunrise over Mt. Baker. You have played your last home game. Rowed in your last Brentwood Regatta. Played or sang in your last evening of music. Had a terrible sounding bell summon you to a housemeeting one last time. It is now all over.

But despite it being done, I hope that you, the Grad Class of 2016, know that you have a home here too. And the door is always open for a visit. Maybe even a meal. But no, unlike your parents’ basement, you can’t stay forever. Unless you continue to pay full tuition, then Mr. Patel assures me it is acceptable.

Please raise your glasses to the Grad Class of 2016. To the 18 years they have lived, and to the many years still ahead of them.

Mr. Mark Wismer

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