At the Middle School Moving-Up ceremony on June 2, Director of Middle School Lauren Goldberg shared the following remarks with the members of the Class of 2026, who will join the Upper School next year.
It’s customary at ceremonies like this for a person like me to offer words of wisdom or an analogy to illustrate the inflection point that you have reached. One common theme is to think of yourself as the protagonist in your own story–a story that you are instrumental in writing. I love this metaphor, partly because it celebrates self-discovery and partly because it affirms that you are in control of how your story is told. We refer to that control as “agency.”
Here at Dana Hall, we celebrate both self-discovery and agency. We love watching you become the fullest version of yourselves, and we love following your narrative as you come nearer to adulthood. I want to explore that concept this morning, but in addition to thinking about yourself as a main character, I invite you to contrast your story with that of another young person whose choices you analyzed in your English classes. Juliet Capulet is about your same age, and she is about to enter the adult world, but her story and her world are vastly different from yours.
In a well-crafted narrative, we know what is important to the protagonist. The Tony-Award winning playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda says every central character needs an “I want” theme that the audience can recognize and follow. We don’t get a lot of information about Juliet’s hopes and dreams in Act I, but we start to see that she is thinking about what her life will be like as an adult and what choices might be available to her.
Your range of choices is vastly greater than Juliet’s. In one of my favorite lines of the play, Friar Lawrence tells Romeo,“be patient, for the world is wide and broad.” You’ve already begun to see how wide your own world can be. As you make your way through high school, you will continue to learn about options, to try new experiences, to think about what is most important to you. That process will help you fine-tune your “I Want” theme.
Beyond the protagonist, every story includes characters who serve a specific purpose. Some characters are added to the cast to either help or hinder the protagonist in pursuit of what they want. Other characters are witnesses or foils who observe and explain the plot. In a fictional story, the protagonist’s interactions with those other characters is part of what makes the story interesting. In real life, the way you engage with, and define the roles of, your own supporting cast says a lot about who you are. In your wonderful memories this morning, each of you mentioned a wide range of supporting characters–friends, teammates, older and younger students, and many adults who have populated your Middle School years.
As you continue to compose your personal story, think about the roles that your supporting cast plays.
In contrast to your full cast of characters, Juliet Capulet has no friends, or at least, none who is mentioned in the play. She apparently goes to her parents’ party alone. Shakespeare does not include any dialog between her and other girls her age in the entire play, which bothers me. I wonder if her fate would have been different if she had been able to talk to her friends about the decisions she was making.
This observation brings us to another group of people who are especially important at this stage in life between childhood and adulthood. If we think of Romeo and Juliet as a “coming of age” story, it would be appropriate to include some sort of wiser older person to guide Juliet. Indeed, many of you named parents, your coaches, advisors, and teachers in your memories. These trusted adults play an essential role in helping you take your first steps into independence and self-reliance. As you think back over your middle school years, you can probably remember many decisions or situations when you were grateful to have an adult help you to make a choice, resolve a problem, offer advice, or just listen in a supportive way.
Here is another distinction between you and Juliet. The only people Juliet confides in are her nurse and Friar Lawrence, neither of whom turns out to be a reliable or helpful mentor. They are not able or willing to tell Juliet that she is being impulsive, and that she should take some time to think about the consequences of her actions. In contrast, your trusted adults know that there are times when they need to call you out on a mistake or hold you accountable. Even though those conversations can be difficult in the moment, they’re always done with your best interest in mind.
And so, as you prepare to make your way to high school, don’t be like Juliet. Be sure to keep taking agency for yourself. Keep building a cast of characters that strengthens your story, and keep thinking about how you want to grow from your relationships with them. Which characters in the “story of you” are the ones who help you pursue your goals and feel your best? Which characters are more challenging, or present conflict? Who is a witness in your life–someone who understands and helps you process your experiences? Who do you trust? Who trusts you? Which relationships are so important to you that you would risk something to maintain them? All of those people are important, and each of them can help you become your best self. I know I speak on behalf of the entire faculty when I say that we are glad to play some part in the great story that you are creating for yourselves. Congratulations to all of you. We are so proud of you.