• Academics
Dana Kooistra Addresses Class of 2022: “More Useful and More Beautiful”

Each year, members of Lawrenceville’s graduating class pick a special member of the faculty to speak at the Fifth Form Prize ceremony. The Class of 2022 selected Associate Dean of Academics and Director of Teaching, Learning, and External Partnerships Dana Kooistra, whose address was titled “More Useful and More Beautiful.”

Good afternoon - and welcome! - to all who have assembled here, in person and virtually, to witness and celebrate the joyful, generous, constructive, resilient class of 2022.

Welcome families… Grandparents and guardians. Cousins and siblings. Moms and dads in every glorious combination and configuration. Know we are humbled and so very grateful that you trusted us to help raise and educate your dearest ones. As a parent, I know well the paradox of simultaneously wanting your children to flourish beyond the circle of family and wanting to hold them close. The Lawrenceville experience is famously challenging…and not just for our students.

Finally - congratulations to the seniors and apres-seniors - everyone who is graduating this weekend. A piece of paper may seem like a flimsy award at the end of such a complex and significant endeavor. But the diploma Mr. Murray hands you tomorrow will be heavy with the symbolic weight of all you have grappled with and accomplished in your time here: friendships made, hearts broken, songs sung, tryouts blown, poems written, quizzes “failed,” goals scored, races lost, walls climbed, iPhones dropped, articles published, clubs abandoned… Even those weird pretzel bun sandwiches with the meat - that polarizing dining hall staple. It’s all contained within the memory box of that diploma and we salute the discipline, creativity, teamwork, and perseverance it took you to get to this moment.

Unlike my beloved husband, who decided in high school that he would never leave high school and for the most part never has, I backed into teaching. With my hard-earned Wellesley diploma, I believed I would follow my fellow alums Madeline and Hillary into public policy. My aim, then, was to help secure a future for girls and women where - and I am here quoting another Wellesley hero of mine, my Class Dean Pamela Daniels -  we could pursue “lifework that gives full play to who (we are) and to (our) convictions about what matters.”

I spent my first, post-college year paralegaling for a corporate law firm in New York City, and the experience was eye-opening and dismaying. Female partners, graduates of the nation’s most prestigious law schools and demonstrably successful litigators, were mocked and disparaged behind their backs for the very ambition and acuity that had earned them their positions. The rest of us - paralegals, secretaries, word processors - were less resented but too often objectified to be fully comfortable on the job. I remember being called, once, into a partner’s office only to have him ask, with a smirk, whether I chose my sweater to match my tights or if it was the other way around. It was gross. But I was lucky. The competence I’d developed in school insulated me from others’ efforts to make me small.

So, when my contract was up, I decided to teach rather than head to law school. Maybe, I - like my teachers - could help some young person develop the skills, wisdom, and authority to make, take, and hold space wherever they wanted to go. Maybe, I - in a more immediate way than either law or policy - could help mend and improve what I experienced as an injured world.

These four years - your Lawrenceville years - have been especially difficult ones. The early months of the pandemic atomized our community, broke us spatially into pieces. Even when we returned, cautiously, to campus, we had to stay an Iverson apart. Some of you day students were Stanleyites, Dickinsonians, or Clevies only in concept: it was months before you were able to cross the physical thresholds of your Houses and inhabit fully your Circle and Crescent homes.

COVID, of course, was only one of the sicknesses we had to confront in 2020. The May murder of George Floyd led to global protests against systemic racism and police brutality. Weeks later, students and faculty of color in our community turned to social media to compel the rest of us to see and deal with aspects of our culture that were - and in some cases continue to be - oppressive, exclusive, and demeaning. These twin pandemics dramatically intensified levels of anxiety and depression in adolescents, a reality we lived so intimately and painfully this spring.

Given everything, it would have been reasonable for you to see your high school experience as irreparably broken. But of course… that is not how this joyful, generous, constructive, and resilient class of 2022 deals with adversity. 

Japanese artisans, centuries ago, developed the practice of mending cracked pots with a mixture of tree resin and powdered gold. Kintsugi, as this method is known, illuminates rather than masks the pot's fractures and as often as not, the new object emerges both repaired and more beautiful than the unbroken original. You, my friends, have performed this alchemical miracle for Lawrenceville. First, you revived, through positive and deliberate modeling, aspects of school life younger students had never seen or experienced. You taught them to cheer lustily whenever one’s House - or a member of one’s House - was mentioned on this stage. You showed them how a large human can race a very small tricycle. You filled every seat at every blackbox production and hyped friends performing at Midday Music. You belayed nervous climbers and led spirited rounds of Kumcha. You organized captains’ practices. You gave in-person tours. You shaved your heads and braved frigid dunk tanks in service of others.

Of course, I would be remiss, as your Dean of Teaching and Learning, were I not to celebrate specifically the extraordinary work you have done in our classrooms. There – as on the Ropes Course, the fields, the courts, and the stages – you propelled one another to new summits of understanding. You scrutinized texts and data sets and arrived to class ready to share your thinking. You listened closely and carefully and framed your questions generously, to build out (not take down) your classmates’ ideas. In short, you did everything in your power to bring back the best of who we are and what we do here at Lawrenceville.

And more. You did more, dear seniors, than restore a broken vessel. You insisted upon improving it for yourselves and others. On a cold, February Sunday, the Student Council convened our community in the KAC, inviting Lawrentians of all ages to voice their concerns, highlight unmet needs, and offer solutions intended to help this school serve its students, faculty, and staff better. Since that day, I, you, we have been asking questions, envisioning possibilities, and making concrete changes to solve problems I suspect we’d still be grumbling about in editorials and common rooms had you not forced. us. to. stop. I further suspect we would not have responded so skillfully as a community to the tragedy of Jack’s passing had we not understood the depth of our collective distress. Thank you, ‘22s, for your partnership in evolving Lawrenceville. And for flooding this campus with joy, and beauty, and love enough to brighten the darker days. When I replay the mixtape of my spring, I hear the Lawrentians’ transcendent performances of Shenandoah and see Mr. Robertson’s luminous portraits of his family and friends. I envision the colorful pandemonium of our Holi celebrations and feel the relief of a perfectly executed relay handoff. I cradle a warming cup of chai in my hands and smile, knowing its real sweetness comes from having been prepared, at home, for our Bioethics class by one of you. I hope everyone is lucky enough to walk or drive or fly away from this beautiful place with memories just as sustaining.

Though my father, on his deathbed, said in his Bernie Brooklynese, “You know… I really wanted you to go to law school…,” I have no regrets. I still believe that the work we do here, together, can seed a more affirming, more just, more peaceful, and more humane world in which each of us, all of us, can thrive. You, of course, have already shown us what that looks like.

Again and again, the joyful, generous, constructive, and resilient Class of 2022 has inspired the best in each and sought the best for all. You haven't just gathered the broken parts of your Lawrenceville years to brood miserably on what you’ve lost. You haven't just accepted a leaky facsimile of “normalcy” by willfully ignoring the problems “normal” reproduced.

No. You gathered and examined the shards, kept the most serviceable of them, smoothed their edges and fused them with gold to make a strong and beautiful new vessel to sustain not only you but all those who will use it in the future. You have chosen re-creation over replication and I hope the classes of ‘23, ‘24, and ‘25 see and follow your generative example.

Congratulations, beloved seniors. We who have taught you, coached you, lived with you, and learned from you celebrate the steady partners you have been and the extraordinary people you are becoming. And we send you out into the world knowing it will become a better place because you are in it.

Thank you.

For additional information, contact Lisa M. Gillard H'17, director of public relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.