Graduation Speech: Margaret Hines '23

"I was losing my marbles over the kindness of it all. Yes, I cried a lot, and yes, it was often because I felt lost and the world felt so big that I didn’t know what to do with it all—but I also cried because of a painfully huge sense of relief."

In addition to their warm and wise reflections on their time at Commonwealth, this year's 2023 graduation speakers (not valedictorian and salutatorian—we do things differently here) reminded us of the power we all hold within ourselves: to overcome challenges, to be compassionate, to prioritize self-care, to appreciate the miracles and magic around us, as Margaret suggests in her speech below. 

I’ve been looking through the journals I’ve kept throughout high school. It’s been fun, if surprisingly exhausting. Having started Commonwealth in 2020, I can summarize tenth grade as “cry, do chemistry, cry, have an existential crisis, cry, talk to Kyla (my advisor that year), feel better, cry, repeat.” For as much as I love this school, it’s intense both academically and emotionally, and nothing was more intense than joining a community unlike any I’d ever experienced—in the tenth grade, and in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. I know there was a period of five months where I cried at least twice a week, because, I don’t know, it felt impossible to make friends because as far as I knew, everyone was a stranger in a mask.

I already felt so alone because, how could any of this be real? How could this ever be someone’s normal life? Several of my entries from that year were just about how much I loved the food—to be honest, it was often one of the things that got me through the day. And I remember that even just walking around the building was overwhelming—the ornate carpentry on the banisters and the framed art on the walls. You mean to tell me the windows are that big?! There’s stained glass in three different places?! We get snack?! WHAT THE HECK?! I'm good friends with one of the Medford librarians, and every time I tell her anything about this school, she says, “Are you sure you’re not talking about Hogwarts? What do you mean you have sailing and ballroom dance as sports?”

So if even just being in the building was overwhelming, imagine how I felt about the people. An entry I wrote on November 11, 2020, says, “Today was a good day…I really like Commonwealth. I feel like I’m in a place where the system cares about me–I don’t have to make it care about me, and I’m with a group of people who don’t make me feel weird for being smart. Wow.” 

Dear friends, I was losing my marbles over the kindness of it all. Yes, I cried a lot, and yes, it was often because I felt lost and the world felt so big that I didn’t know what to do with it all—but I also cried because of a painfully huge sense of relief. Do you know how much work Mr. Sherry must have put in to make me write, “I don’t feel stupid being in Intermediate Algebra, or asking questions. Math didn’t make sense to me for three years—THREE YEARS—until now. I feel okay admitting I don’t know things.”

It was a miracle! Commonwealth is full of miracles, and everyone just pretends it’s normal! I will be the first to tell you: it is not normal! 

But here’s the funny thing: in looking back through my journals, I’ve realized that only when I started to accept all of this as my new normal, something that wasn’t going to suddenly disappear (“like Narnia,” I wrote the summer before eleventh grade), that’s when I was finally able to feel okay. 

Acting in Macbeth, junior year, was the first time I felt like I was truly, entirely, a part of this community, like I could be comfortable and have fun. Dissecting monologues in silly voices, kidding around during warm ups, seeing my peers’ genuine passion for the story and art we were creating, and just spending an obscene amount of time in the building, all culminated in the magic of Tech Week—the first time I ever saw my classmates without masks! 

“It’s really strange,” I wrote, “but there’s an indescribable ecstasy in seeing people’s faces…Everyone smiles so much, it’s gorgeous. I’m not kidding.” 

Which is a pretty good summary of how I feel about this school. Yes, there are a few of you whom I want to grab by the shoulders and shake all the nonsense out of, but I believe (hope!) that’s just a side effect of high school. 
Reading through my journals and reflecting on what it all means has forced me to think about what I want to take away from my “high school experience.”

I’ve started a list: I want to remember the impossible number of people stacked on the Dartmouth Lobby couches throughout the day. I want to remember the endlessly creative announcements (looking at you, Evil Genius Club). I want to remember the cheerful “hellos!” and poor attempts at conversational Spanish I’ve shared with my friends these past few years. Most important, I want to remember that I put my all into it (which this school demands), and it wasn’t just me doing so. I want to remember that at no point was I alone in any of this. And I especially want to remember all the lovely people here who have been there for me the past three months, as I felt like I was certainly fraying at the edges. 

Whether it was Ms. Haber making time to for us to talk about my unexpectedly passionate views on the Bible, Ms. Brewster kindly asking if I was okay three separate times in two weeks and not being too upset when I missed certain assignment deadlines, Dr. Eagle listening to my tales of woe, or Ms. Poynter immediately understanding when I was having a “Bad Margaret Day,” I have felt cared for by this community. 

I am grateful to my advisor, Ms. McGrath, for all of the conversations we’ve had over the past two years, and especially in eleventh grade, when she was the first person I felt I could talk with about how intense the transition to this school felt. I am thankful for Susan Thompson and Shanelle Villegas, who have given me a greater love of theater and made sure there was space for me at rehearsal to feel okay when my grandfather died this January. Thank you to Mónica, who did the same when she made sure to check in about the story we were reading at the time, and, sincerely, to all my teachers this year and in the past who have been kind and understanding about how overwhelming life can get.

I have been through a lot here at Commonwealth, and I know my peers have too. No one is denying high school can be rough, not to mention high school in a pandemic, but I hope that as we leave, we can all find moments to say thank you. Because the reality is, I don’t know any place like Commonwealth, and I doubt I ever will again. It’s not every day you stumble across a Mermaid logo and your mom says, “Hey, they look cool,” and suddenly she’s sparring with the admissions director via email, and thank God, Ms. Healy lets you in, because, holy heck, what would you have done if you hadn’t come here?

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