A Speech from a CAWS Alumna Honoring Her Class Teacher, Tom Braden


Class Teacher Tom Braden teaching chemistry at Cape Ann Waldorf School

Salutatorian speech
Rockport High School Graduation
June 7, 2013

Good evening, and welcome to the Rockport High School Graduation of the class of 2013. This is a long awaited moment that my classmates and I are excited to share with our friends and families this evening.

To begin, I would like you all to think of a person in your life; a person who has changed or influenced you in some way. Whether that relationship was positive, negative, long-term or short-term, I am positive that you can think of someone, or more than one person, whom you will never forget because of how they impacted your life.

From what I have seen of life so far, human relationships are one of the most important parts of life. Imagine being without human relationships—people to love, to like, to dislike, to idolize, to care for, to be happy about, or sad about. I honestly don’t see how life could have purpose if we didn’t have people to share it with.

When you think of such an influential person, you may think of your parents. Whether they literally made you and raised you, or whether they have been there as parent figures throughout your life, we all should have an ingrained thankfulness to our parents for all that they have done for us, and for all that they have given to us, despite the situations that we have put them through.

The influential person that I thought of was a teacher. I had him as my primary teacher throughout my elementary and middle school years at the Cape Ann Waldorf School. I am sad to say that he is no longer with us and can’t be here to hear what I have to say. If I could ask for one more thing to have on this wonderful day, it would be to have him physically here in my life. His influence on me growing up stems from the fact that he treated me as a person; his students weren’t just kids that needed to be controlled—to him, they were miraculous beings that had all the potential in the world; they just needed to be guided toward those possibilities. I now want to be a teacher; his influence on me was powerful enough to shape who I am and hope to become. You also may have thought of a teacher who treated you as a fellow human and was actually invested in your personal growth. We become thankful for those teachers, whether they are school teachers, or other kinds of teachers, because they have taught us things that impact our lives.

The list of possible people goes on—coaches, employers, colleagues, family members, family friends, maybe even a neighbor, the mailman, or a complete stranger.

A friend of mine coined a term for those interactions with strangers that leave you wondering, did I know that person? How did they know what I was thinking? They are called “angel moments”. An angel moment was described to me as, “a single, one-time encounter with a stranger who thoroughly understands your truest self, precisely when your truest self needs to be understood”. People who have experienced these encounters feel that they have been deeply understood and helped in some way. No matter how insignificant some human interactions may seem, there is always the possibility that people like that could change you. Or that you could change them. Now I’m not saying that we should spend our every moment surrounded by people and talking to strangers everywhere we go, but being aware of the idea that anyone that you come across could be significant to you, I think, is very important.

In a book that I read recently, there was a typical, soul-searching young man finding his way through life who was talking to an older and wiser man. The old man asked, “Where are you?” The young man knew where he was, the state, country, continent, planet, etc., until he reached “the universe”, beyond that, he no longer knew where he was. What the old man said in response was this: “That is the point. You cannot answer it, and you never will. You are ignorant of where the Universe is, and thus, where you are. In fact, you have no knowledge of where anything is; nor do you know what anything is or how it came to be.” After recalling this passage, it struck me as the perfect way to sum up this speech. We are all living in essentially an unknown place where the course of our lives is also unknown. All we have is each other and the ability to learn from each other; and when I say “each other,” I mean every other person on earth. If you ask me, that is as good a reason as any for us to smile at someone we pass by, or hold the door open for someone, or take the time to talk to someone, because we never know how important that interaction could become to us, or to them.

So, to my fellow classmates, and the town of Rockport, let us reflect and be thankful for all the people in our lives we’ve met so far. I know that I would not be here today if it weren’t for the people in my life, and I know that I can speak for the rest of this class when I say thank you; thank you families, teachers, coaches, and friends, for being in our world thus far. You have provided us with human interactions and relationships that have been, and will be so important in our lives. We are now ready to graduate into the next chapter of life where we will be met with countless human relationships—positive ones, negative ones, long-term and short-term ones. Be open to all these possibilities because you never know when someone will become significant to you, or you to them.

Thank you.

Ali Steer
Cape Ann Waldorf School, Class of 2009
Rockport High School, Class of 2013
Bard College, Class of 2017



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