The recently graduated class of 2022 featured 25 students who each attended Caldwell Academy for 13 years, from kindergarten through 12th grade. One of them, Rollins Ortmann '22, presented the valedictory speech at the school's commencement exercises on May 27. She reflected on the impact of Caldwell's Christ-centered, classical education and its caring community on her and her fellow graduates.
Thirteen years of school with almost one consistent group of individuals. Not many people can say they have laughed, cried, celebrated, and walked through some of life’s most-cherished seasons with mostly the same group for 13 years.
It is my privilege to reflect on what Caldwell’s Class of 2022 has achieved as individuals, students, athletes, performers, artists, people, but most importantly as friends. These are friends to call with exciting news, like when you get into a college or when you get your class schedule in August. These are friends who will dance with you in Caldwell’s gym after midnight and friends you can lean on during hard times. These friends stick by your side and laugh with you. They cheer with you when a teacher sprints up the side of a mountain on the senior trip. These friends care for you when you’re hurt, joke around with you, and brighten your day with their smiles in the halls. They point you to Christ and model His love, not only during school hours, but at all times. This is what Caldwell’s senior class has been for me.
Graduating from high school is surreal. It brings many “lasts,” but also the anticipation of new “firsts.” Our graduation marks a time we can take pride in how far we have come, be thankful for all we have learned and accomplished, and reflect on memories we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
In my first year of high school, my best friend and I devised a simple phrase to help us appreciate the little things in high school. Parents always like to say things like, “Back when I was in high school…,” and share a memory that stuck with them over the years. My friend and I considered how crazy it was that we were now in the glory days our parents often referenced as their prime of their lives.
When my friend and I experienced an event or something that reminded us of our parents’ and grandparents’ “glory days” stories, we said, “Well, this is high school!” We wanted to cherish the moment for what it would mean to us down the road. After tonight, the phrase becomes “that was high school.” You may think this is silly, but this phrase helped me appreciate the small things that comprised my amazing high school experience. As I reflect on those moments I realize their importance and how they molded me into who I am today and I am so thankful.
It seems like yesterday our parents walked us into the Founder’s Hall gym to meet our kindergarten teachers and classmates. We took pictures and our parents shed a few tears, but many of us were a mix of excited and scared to let go of our parents’ hands. Gradually we came out of our shells (well, some did) and went up to kids to ask if they wanted to be best friends forever. That’s where it started. Who knew some of those friendships would stand the test of time and make it all the way to this moment?
We traveled through the Grammar School halls and sang with Mrs. Moore, looked at Bible-story picture cards, and screamed until we turned purple to win the beloved spirit stick at the pep rallies. As we started to outgrow the plaid jumpers and Peter Pan-collared shirts, we got to go on a “big kid” field trip on a Holiday Tours bus to Pamplin Park in Virginia. Wow, we had really made it! And then, in the blink of an eye and with lots of sweet new friends, Grammar school was over.
We were off to the modulars, getting our cubbies, avoiding the cubby thief, and sitting in desks with the chairs connected. We got to school early to dance and sing Mandisa songs and El Shaddai around Mrs. Shoemaker's room. After a couple of rounds of tag through the Fort Caswell barracks, there were broken bones and a big prayer circle.
Seventh grade gave us the coveted tea discussions with Mrs. Shepherd and invitations to her wedding. We proudly wore our matching homeroom t-shirts to compete for Dialectic Odyssey title. What more could a middle-school student want than to win the Gladiator Challenge or have the longest track of dominoes? Our class experienced it all in middle school, including awkward relationships and repeated trips to Mrs. Plasman’s office before finally reaching eighth-grade promotion.
Climbing Smith Hall’s grand staircases, carrying backpacks to class, and wearing flip-flops were some of the many perks of Caldwell freshmen. We met our first high school teachers, learned about a syllabus, and that teachers often did not follow the school supplies lists. We enjoyed seeing one of our teachers bike to school as we passed him along Horse Pen Creek Road. Mrs. Roberts’ public-speaking class taught us how to approach a podium and not turn bright red and shake while speaking out of breath. (I needed that class more than anything!)
We hiked Hanging Rock State Park in 10th grade, survived chemistry, and Mr. Feeney made us became officially certified in factor-label. In March of 2020, COVID-19 changed a lot of things, but we carried on through Zoom and seeing friends in parking lots from three spaces away. Thankfully, we returned for the notorious junior year, where everyone stressed over college and the dates of the SAT or ACT exams.
Finally we reached our senior year, the one for which we had all been waiting. College applications, meeting our KPals, sitting atop a mountain watching the sunset, thesis, homecoming, Christmas decorating, senior assassins, Utah, prank day, and more. What a year that was filled with countless laughs and new bonds! This class flourished and we've grown more this year than the rest. We’ve been through hardships and celebrated so many joys the Lord provided. Let’s praise Him for His goodness, providence, and love through it all. Without each other’s support and the foundation of faith built over the years, we couldn't have come this far. And so, that was high school.
I am proud, thankful, and in awe of the work God completed through our class. We have come a long way from that first day of kindergarten and I know the Lord has much more in store for us. With the help of our gracious parents, committed teachers, and loving friends, we walk across this stage fully prepared for the next chapter of our lives. While some of you may not feel prepared, remember the training your parents have given you. Remember how they watched you do what you love, supported you when you were down, gave you wisdom and advice, and placed you in an environment that encourages hard work and spiritual development. God has used them to equip you in so many ways for what is to come.
In the same way, remember our teachers guided us to make good decisions and think wisely. They taught us how to defend our beliefs, how to write, and how to articulate our ideas. They encouraged us and reminded us of truth we needed at just the right time. Though we may never experience another environment like this one, leave feeling equipped to move into the next season. We can leave with confidence and excitement because of how we have been cared for, loved, and prepared.
It may be sad for some, overwhelming for others, and for some, extremely exciting, but take in this moment, and reflect on what the Lord has provided for each of us. Don’t ignore your emotions or try to disconnect, but lean into your classmates and friends. Without them, high school would have looked a lot different. (It surely would have for me!) Remember your identity lies in Christ alone, not in the work you have achieved, your failures, successes, or what you will be when you grow up. A life worth living is a life spent serving the Lord and loving others, not the type of business you run or the paycheck you get.
My favorite Bible verses come from Hebrews 12, which read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Class of 2022, let us go and run the race the Lord has for us and set our eyes on Christ our hope.