The human brain’s neuro-plasticity allows it to grow in new and unexpected ways when exposed to new stimuli, Potomac School senior Owen Diesenhaus reminded classmates at the school’s June 10 commencement ceremony.
Interacting with other people is a fine way to enhance the brain’s capabilities, said Diesenhaus, whom classmates chose to deliver the student address.
“Dive deep into the relationships you already have,” he said. “Find yourself in the people around you.”
Diesenhaus quoted Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
“Embrace the person you are in the present,” Diesenhaus said. “Only when you locate the beauty of who you are will become the person you are going to be.”
He also recommended that classmates follow their instincts.
“Go with your gut always, not just when you’re hungry,” he said.
The graduation marked the first time in three years that the school could hold commencement exercises at their traditional location on the lawn.
The proceedings began when the 108 class members – the girls in white dresses and shoes and the boys wearing navy blazers, blue shirts, striped ties and khakis – formed parallel lines along the sidewalk and honored faculty members who walked between them.
Head of School John Kowalik reminded the graduates that even small gestures and kindnesses can make a big difference in people’s lives.
He related the fable of a girl who came upon a mass of starfish that had been thrown upon the shore by a storm. She began tossing them back into the water and, when told by an adult who was with her that doing so wouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, she replied, “It makes a difference for that one . . . and that one . . . ”
Kowalik was emotional at times as he related the story of his wife’s late grandfather, who came to the U.S. from Belfast, Ireland, in 1918 with little money to his name. After doing railroad work in New York City, the grandfather decided to head west and, while on a train through Upstate New York met a man who encouraged him to attend college.
The grandfather eventually made it to Rochester Institute of Technology, where he studied engineering and went on to have a prosperous career as a salesman, Kowalik said.
While events and situations sometimes will make the graduates feel overwhelmed and helpless, Kowalik urged them never to give up.
“You have the power to make a difference,” he told the class. “Know what you do really matters.”
Faculty speaker Laura Petro of Potomac School’s science department recommended that the graduates take risks, focus on building authentic relationships and ask themselves how tough times, such as the recent pandemic, have changed them.
“Go forward and ask hard questions,” Petro said. “Find people who share your beliefs. Go and make this world a better place.”
Following the presentation of diplomas, handlers released white doves, which made several swooping passes over the crowd before flying off.
Faculty members then formed lines through which the newly minted graduates passed. The young men and women hugged, cried and whooped it up indoors, then returned outside for photos with family members and friends.
The graduates and guests then capped the festivities by socializing, sampling hors d’oeuvres and sweets, and washing them down with lemonade, iced tea or a combination of both, an Arnold Palmer.