Class of 2021 President’s Remarks at Senior Night

Riley Clinton ’21 served as the Class of 2021’s president and offered these remarks at Senior Night in May.

A few months ago, I was talking to my good friend Nikki G about Senior Night, and she requested that it be laid back, casual, and fun, because after the given events of the last year or so, what you all deserve is a jovial and informal celebration of your successes as a class. So, right now I’d like to apologize to her because I’m about to get sappy and emotional. As much as I wanted to follow through on her request, when I was writing this speech, I could not stop myself from getting sentimental while reminiscing on the rollercoaster of choices and emotions that have led me to this podium tonight.

I grew up about as big a John Burroughs fan a kid could be. I went to the summer camps and the ice hockey games. I watched a young boy named Zeke embarrass the greater Saint Louis area on the gridiron and the hardwood. I couldn’t have been more certain I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my older cousins and good friends, Mark and Nate, in becoming a Bomber. It was what I had always envisioned. To my chagrin, however, that path was not in the cards for me. Regardless of how dejected I was after being put on their waitlist, I showed up on this campus in August of 2015, not really knowing what to expect. I had known it was a great school, obviously. I was impressed on my visit and knew a lot of kids who had loved their experiences here; I just didn’t personally anticipate ending up a Ram.

My relationship with MICDS has been no cliché fairytale; like all students, I’ve had my battles with adversity. Oftentimes in the classroom, I bit off more than I could chew. In Middle School, I spent time on academic probation. Some of you may not be surprised to find that at 5’4, 90-something pounds, and with an inept jump shot, I was cut from the 7th grade basketball team. The tribulations did not end when I got to Upper School either. Ninth through twelfth grade have proved to be just as difficult as seventh and eighth, albeit for different reasons. To be fully transparent with you all, like so many others during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve had bouts of depression and grappled with my own mental health struggles in recent months. To put it candidly, high school has been strenuous on many levels.

The Good Lord knows I’ve made more than my fair share of missteps since becoming a Ram, but if I’m sure of anything, it is that I’ll leave this school infinitely more ready to face the world than I was years ago. As Johnny Cash put it, “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” This appropriately summarizes the most important lesson I’ve learned since arriving on this campus in 2015. Not only that, but I’ll go as far as to say I’m more equipped to face the world than I would’ve been if I had ended up at any other school. I’ve found out a thing or two about what fields of study interest me, discovered that maybe I make a better league commissioner than basketball player, and I’ve unearthed at least a little bit about what qualities make a peer a friend. From the bottom of my heart, I’m grateful for every lesson that both this campus and you all have taught me.

So, we are coming to the end of our collective journey. If you’ve made it this far, you are armed with the tools you’ll need to change the world. Before me I see lawyers, CEOs, engineers, artists, educators, and doctors; I’ll pray that some of those doctors turn out to be public health and infectious disease experts. I see a few people I’m secretly vetting to staff my 2030 congressional campaign; Jonah Zacks, if there is a chief of staff in this auditorium tonight, I’m fairly certain you’re my guy. More than anything else I see a class of young people eager to make others’ lives better and take advantage of the tremendous opportunities they’ve been so fortunate to have.

To conclude, I’d like to express my gratitude towards you all. You took a leap of faith and elected me, a kid with no student council experience, not to mention someone who has been forthright about the challenges I’ve faced in high school, regularly critiquing this institution, and it has been the honor of a lifetime to represent you for the past year, through all the ups and downs, amid the chaos and failure, perseverance and successes. You’ve taught me once-in-a-lifetime lessons and helped me discover myself. With you I have risen and fallen at athletic venues, both competing and in the grandstands; from the state football games against Ladue or Helias Catholic to the all too common Monday 10 p.m. hockey games in the cold of January. On this campus, you’ve demonstrated to me what it means to be passionate about a project or a course. I watched Greg Dreisewerd dedicate far too much time to a cardboard boat that he eventually paddled to victory on Polk Pond, and every day I was pushed by my classmates and best friends to succeed in all fields of study, driven by their sheer competitive nature and devotion towards a life of scholarship. In the hallways, in the lunchroom, and after school dismissed, you demonstrated to me the qualities that constitute friendship, and what elevates an acquaintance to serving as a lifelong friend and confidant.

Not only has this class accomplished more than I can put in words, you’ve all encouraged me to serve as the best teammate I can be, made me push myself in various departments, academic and otherwise, and enlightened me in the fields of love, loss, and living life, in ways I never would have imagined. Now, for this outstanding group of young men and women that I have been so blessed to serve, I am eager to see what’s next.

As you go forth, take with you the revered words of William Henry Danforth, engraved in the bench outside our natatorium: “Aspire nobly, adventure daringly, and serve humbly.” Thank you.