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Class of 2018 Commencement Address by Wendy Hoke, President

Posted on June 4, 2018 in Articles

Thank you, Sister Susan. We are so very proud of our Ursuline tradition at Beaumont School and glad to have you with us to share in this special day.

Welcome Parents and Families of the Class of 2018. On behalf of Mr. Beyer and Mrs. Bernot, our entire Faculty, Board and the Ursuline Sisters, thank you for sharing your daughters with us these past four years.They have filled our hearts and souls with joy and navigated change with grace.

To the amazing young women of the Class of 2018. You are no doubt sick of advice, but indulge me while I share a few more lessons I hope you’ll take with you.

You have a voice and the confidence to use it well. We talked about this a lot this year, but it bears repeating.

Outside of the Beaumont bubble, others will try to take it away from you. They will say you don’t know what you’re talking about, they will take credit for your ideas and they will talk over you to make sure you are not heard.

Do. Not. Let. Them.

I am a student of history. I believe it holds many truths and lessons that reach out to us from across the centuries … IF we’re willing to hear them.

In Europe during World War I, there was a French woman named Louise de Bettignies who, according to author Kate Quinn, “turned her facility with languages and her organizational flair to the intelligence business.” Under the code name Alice Dubois, she set about recruiting other woman to The Alice Network, which became one of World War I’s most successful spy rings.

The Alice Network was responsible for uncovering the location of German artillery placements in Northern France, as well as the German preparations for the Battle of Verdun in 1916.

The information about the massive buildup for Verdun was shared by Louise and her band of women spies, but unfortunately it was not believed by a French commander. Her story, her voice was not heard. The result was more than 600,000 casualties on both sides.

Less than 30 years later, from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Clarence Hancock of New York said, “I believe that our cryptographers ... in the war with Japan did as much to bring that war to a successful and early conclusion as any other group of men.” But in her book Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, Liza Mundy writes, “That fact that more than half of these ‘cryptographers’ were women was nowhere mentioned.” 

So why am I sharing these particular stories?

Because for generations, these women were told not to speak of the work they did on behalf of the war effort. And guess what? Many of them took their work with them to their graves. While they were skilled in languages, math and physics, they instead became wives, mothers, and teachers. Because those jobs they had been doing? Those jobs that brought about the end of World War II? Those were reserved for men returning from battle.

They were told to keep quiet. And they did. Their stories, their truth, their impact on our world, their voices were nearly consigned to oblivion.

Fortunately for you, Class of 2018, over the past four years at Beaumont School, you have been given the opportunity and the confidence to use your voices in the classroom, on the field, on the stage, on the canvas, and in service to others.

When tragedy struck at the beginning of your senior year with the loss of a Beaumont sister, YOU led and YOU rallied and YOU made sure that her voice was not lost. You set aside your joy at the beginning of your final year to honor and remember a sister that many of you did not know. That speaks volumes about your character as young women and as leaders.

You marched for your lives in the wake of unspeakable national tragedy. You filled us with hope for the future by engaging civically and using your voices collectively and individually to call attention to a fundamental life issue: the ability to be safe in your schools.

Stay engaged civically. It’s a marathon.

That phone in your pockets is a powerful tool, but it can also be a hazard to your well-being. Do not rely on one source for information. You need a varied diet to stay healthy … that applies to food, people and information.

And vote. People died to give us that right. As the fictional Louisiana Governor Willie Stark tells his constituents in Robert Penn Warren’s book, All the King’s Men: “If you don’t vote, you don’t matter!” Willie was an unseemly character, but that statement is true. If you want change to happen, you have to speak with your voice and your vote.

Be kind and give back

Neurological research shows that when you are generous with others, it improves your own happiness. We know this already at Beaumont School. We don’t need a neurological study to tell us this truth.

Beaumont has instilled in you a moral compass. What do we mean by moral compass?

You have a strong foundation for knowing who you are, what you value and how you interact with others in the world. It’s your faith and it’s your north star.

Where’s the proof in this? It’s in the thousands of service hours you have collectively performed on behalf of others. It is found in the absolute and pure joy of our school liturgies. It is the many ways—big and small—that you care for one another. It’s your group chats late at night, encouraging one another through that physics exam or English paper.

It’s the way you sing the alma mater.

It’s the way you carry yourselves in public. When I first came to Beaumont, I was told how Beaumont was conspicuous by its absence at community events. We set about changing that immediately. A year later, people know when Beaumont is in the house. You are, as Lily Wagner says, unapologetically confident.

Graduates, you are well-prepared for what comes next—academically and spiritually. That moral compass, that foundation will be there supporting you when the air gets a bit thin and you feel yourself woozy with uncertainty.

When you need added support, when your head is spinning with the craziness of research papers, labs, exams, relationships and anxiety about your future, remember that you have two women to guide you.

Stop a moment and pray: St. Angela, watch over our days; St. Ursula, protect our future.

Do not fixate on what you cannot control and don’t waste precious, valuable energy on future events that may or may not happen. In other words, be present.

I had to learn this hard way. I made it my job in life to control as much as possible. My job, my family, my health. Keep marching forward. No time for today. Too much to do. While it is hardly a blessing, cancer reorders your universe in a way that makes it perfectly clear that you are not in control. Anyone who has battled a life-threatening illness knows, you have no choice but to be in the present.

But something happens when you slow your mind down enough to be present. You start to notice things. That particularly bright color of green found only in spring. How the rolling of waves at the beach can calm your mind and your body. How the smiles and laughter of your family are your reason, your great gift in life.

You don’t need a cancer diagnosis to do this. But when the time comes, do get your mammograms. And know that a Beaumont alum named Ellen Proctor has her name on the patent for the compression system used in mammography.

Remove your earbuds. Listen to the world around you, not just the one being pumped into your head.

You're about to head to colleges and universities across the country. Talk to people. Connect with them. Engage with people from different backgrounds. Find out about their experiences. It’s how we heal our divided nation.

When you walk with your ears open, your mind opens to creativity. Embrace the quiet. It will clear your head.

Maybe that creativity leads to a cure for cancer, or the design of the thing that carries people to space, or the solution to our mess of a health care system. It leads you to become the producers of the stories we will tell in publishing, film, TV and digital. And it will lead you to become the decision makers in our communities, states, in Congress and the White House.

Stay in touch. You join more than 6,000 alumnae working in every imaginable field across the globe. That is a valuable network as you move into your careers. We can’t wait to hear what happens with our newest class of Beaumont Alumnae.

The world is wide enough for all of you to be successful.

For much of my professional life, I have encountered women and men who believe that for someone to get ahead, someone else must be left behind.

That is patently false.

I have had the good fortune in my life to work with some amazing women who served as extraordinary mentors. They helped me push myself harder and farther than I would have ever imagined possible at your age. They helped me fight for a seat at the table and pay commensurate with my experience. They reassured me when I felt I was failing as a working mom.

Quick tip: you won’t do it perfectly all the time. But you can strive for balance. It takes attention and a supportive network. But it is possible.

Which brings me to perfection.

Perfection, ladies, is unmeasurable. Do not strive for perfection. Strive for excellence. You will experience failures in school and in life.

But it will be OK.YOU,will be OK. Perfection’s ugly cousin is fear. Overcoming fear and self-doubt is a lifelong exercise. But when you face fear, it’s where the greatest growth occurs – personally and professionally.

Beaumont will always be your home

Mrs. Riley told me at graduation practice on Friday that I was glowing. She’s right. I’m glowing with pride not only at your many accomplishments, but at the kindness you show toward one another.

You have been accepted to more than 114 colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad. Together, you 81 graduates have earned more than $12.6 million in merit-based scholarships.

You are Academic All-Americans, Phi Beta Kappa, Blue Streaks forever, French raconteurs, world travelers, paleontologists in training, researchers and global scholars. You sang, danced and acted your way into our hearts forever. You moved our souls with your paintings and sketches. You inspired us with your dazzling—yet practical—fashion. Pockets in a prom dress is pure genius.

Your intellect, drive, creativity and fierceness had us cheering you at robotics competitions, mock trials, music performances and thespian contests. We cheered our athletes through every game, match and meet, and wiped a tear as each senior night meant we were one day closer to today.

So, yes. I am glowing. We all are so proud of you. Mr. Beyer, Mrs. Bernot, your guidance counselors, teachers, parents, siblings, grandparents, the Ursuline Sisters and our board.

Ladies, you have filled our hearts with joy and hope for the future. Go be the women who change our world.

Congratulations, Class of 2018. We will always remember you.