LENOX, Mass. — Nora Mathews and Alexandra "Ali" Hochfelder have been named valedictorian and salutatorian of the Lenox Memorial High School class of 2020, according to Principal Michael Knybel.
Mathews, daughter of Brandon Mathews and Margaret Keller of Lenox and of Scott Hochfelder and Jennifer Sacon of Pittsfiel, has performed the past four years with Shakespeare & Company's Fall Festival of Shakespeare and its Spring Young Company. She was a co-captain of the school's improv troop The Poorly Timed Sneezes, co-captain of the cross country team, treasurer of the National Honor Society, vice president of the National Art Honor Society and a member of the Nordic ski team.
She received the Enlightenment Award for outstanding writing in the field of history and the Brown University Book Award. She is an accomplished student in the arts and humanities, and her artwork has been exhibited at the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Berkshire Museum.
Mathews will attend brown university in the fall ton major in art history and English.
Hochfelder is an accomplished creative writer and co-founded the current high school creative writing club. Her contributions to the club also include acting as the student leader and as the head editor of its yearly publication. To hone her writing skills, she has attended the young writers' workshops at both Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington and Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. Additionally, Hochfelder has been an active participant in many of Shakespeare & Company's educational programs, the Anti-Defamation League's World of Difference program, and the district attorney's Youth Advisory Board.
She is planning to attend Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., this fall to study psychology and pursue a creative writing certificate.
Nora Mathews' valedictory
I want to start by thanking all the teachers who helped us get here, from kindergarten to senior year.
Thanks also to everyone who made this in-person graduation possible.
Without the usual celebrations and milestones for the end of senior year, we've had to find our own ways of marking time. Instead of taking the humanities field trip to MoMA, I binge-watched a ridiculous amount of "Mad Men." Without improv meetings, I went to Dunkin Donuts four days in a row.
The point is, we've all had to find ways to make this final stretch feel special. The disruption caused by COVID has prevented us from seeing friends and family, and celebrating the lead-up to graduation. We've all worked so hard since we started high school in 2016, with this day as our end goal. The things we took for granted as rites of passage never happened. Instead, we're trying to become adults and figure out our place in the world at a time when the whole country is overwhelmed by uncertainty.
But all this uncertainty has also given us an opportunity to rethink what the world could look like. This is a moment when we can examine how we respond to the crises around us — both coronavirus and the renewed outrage about police brutality across our state and country. Do we retreat into ourselves or try to break out of our comfort zones?
All I know is that as we respond, we should embody the kind of people we want to be moving forward. If we want to practice what we preach — the six pillars, equality, justice for black lives — if we actually care about those things beyond posting on Instagram and putting signs in the hallways, then we have to commit to showing up when it matters, educating ourselves, and having tough conversations with our families and friends.
I'm incredibly grateful for the education and the community that Lenox has given me.
But I also want to urge us to think about the stories that didn't get as much air time in our classes. That's not so much an isolated problem within Lenox as it is with the whole system we live in as Americans, but we should ask what Lenox can do to be anti-racist, to condemn homophobia, and to shine light on some of those blindspots in our
education. As we go forward, we need to think about the blindspots that we have, too.
I've been struggling with how to say something meaningful in three minutes when I feel so uncertain about what comes next — our plans for the fall, whether they include college or work, are all up in the air. I don't know how to fit all the complicated thoughts and feelings I'm sure many of us have been wrestling with over the last couple months into one speech. And I'm not sure how to tie this year up in a neat bow, and put each memory and lesson in its own little box.
But I do know that this is an important moment, and that all of us have a role to play in how we respond to the pandemic. And how we rise to the challenge of creating a racially just society. People our age are at the forefront of movements for social justice, and we have the opportunity to make lasting change by confronting our problems head on.
I feel so lucky to be surrounded by classmates who are so invested in making our community a better place to live, and who are already asking how they can make change in the Berkshires and beyond. I can't wait to see where we go from here.
Ali Hochfelder's salutatory
Good afternoon and congratulations everyone, but especially me, because I showered today.
I have always been ready for the next big thing. As a child after watching "High School Musical" on a continuous loop, high school felt to me like the most extraordinary thing in the world. There would be drama and romance and excitement. I envisioned myself as a teenager wearing high heels and feather boa and always prepared to break into song and dance. Josie Usow and I used to carry books around the house and pretend to be teenagers running late to class. I went through a phase where all I drew was side profiles of teenagers.
However, I found that being a high schooler wasn't exactly what Disney cracked it up to be. Unfortunately the times I've tried standing on the table and dancing during lunch have been poorly received. Many days blend together and things are often just status quo. So throughout high school I found myself looking towards the next step, which for me was college. Anticipating college gave purpose to the endless homework on nights I had work and rehearsal and a fight with my brother. College would make all of it worth it.
But here we are on the brink of the next step without the "High School Musical" ceremonial countdown to summer and without the guarantee of what the next big step will look like. I'm not going to stand up here and say there's some beautiful universal silver lining to this situation. This is a total disappointment. And as compelling as it was to watch Obama give a commencement speech on CNN, it's not the same.
Our generation is always ridiculed for our dependence on "instant gratification." Our phones and technology and the internet have apparently made us soft. And since I've always been on such a clear track in my life, the idea of having to pause has terrified me. But where people are wrong is in their belief that the delayed gratification will kill us. I can't tell you that I've somehow learned to live in the moment or I have obtained a magical appreciation for nature or even that I've learned to accept uncertainty. I'm properly freaked out. However, the "worst case scenario" has come and we're still here. That's gotta stand for something.
After all these years of being a slave to deadlines, checkpoints, and the college board, in these past few months I've found myself dedicating my time to things that are truly important to me: Family, friends, art, social justice, and learning for the sake of learning. I am much too type A to ever say "live in the moment" unironically, and too much of an angsty teenager to say "everything is going to be OK."
I don't live by that and I don't want to say that to you. We are all off our set courses. This is a time of majorly yucky uncertainty. Whether it be heading into the workforce, college or the military, none of us is exempt. We're in this state of limbo and, despite the discomfort, we're getting up every morning and taking on the day. And we've proved the boomers wrong. Our gratification has been delayed indefinitely, but we're all here trying to find pockets of joy in our lives. Even with all these unknowns, there are some facts that remain true: "High School Musical" slaps, Mrs. Kamienski will still love you, Julia Haddad will always be ranting, Dr. Starenko will still ask rhetorical questions, and I will always have something else to say.
So one last thing. Things might not be okay right now or next Wednesday or in September, but we should be proud of ourselves for everyday we wake up and show up and don't punch a hole in a wall.
I am genuinely so proud of us. Congratulations class of 2020.
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