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Leaving Ceremony offers powerful messages

loganLogan Ye delivered the valedictory address at this year’s Leaving Ceremony. Here’s a complete transcript of his speech. (We’ll be posting a highlights video of the cermony presently.) As well, one of the highlights is our resident poet laureate Julian Bauld’s poetry, crafted annually for the boys. Following Ye’s speech is Bauld’s poem “Migration.” Enjoy: 

“Before speaking about the memories and future of our graduating class, I’d like to say a few words about our last two platform party members. Firstly, our retiring English teacher Mr. Webb, and secondly our outgoing principal and father of my classmate Aidan, Dr. Power.

“In the classroom, the venerable Mr. Webb has challenged generations of UCC students to engage with literature in all its forms and styles. Some fared well, others not so much. Outside of the classroom, Mr. Webb led expeditions with students to every corner of the globe. Today, he still mentors and guides students to live lives of moral vigour and literary awareness. His contribution to the school during the last 40 years has been immeasurable, and I’m sure he will have a word with me about my grammar after this speech.

“Although Dr. Power’s tenure at UCC was shorter, he had no less profound an impact. Along with handling all the countless tasks and obligations that come along with being the principal of such a large and active school, Dr. Power led the Think Ahead campaign — aren’t we all glad that’s over? —  and diversified the student body while keeping the historical boarding program strong. The impact of his leadership will far outlast his time here.

“Usually this is the part where I thank my family — and you guys, my classmates — for giving me the chance to speak here today. I am truly grateful for being chosen, but I would also not be standing here, giving this speech, if it weren’t for a couple individuals.

“About a year ago I seriously considered not returning to UCC. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the school and everything it had to offer. However, I missed my old friends greatly, the stress of the IB was getting to me, and for some reason I just didn’t feel this was where I belonged anymore.

“I wasn’t sure about leaving, so I talked to a couple of my friends about the issue. Their response speaks more to the school’s character than any fancy promotional material or Monday morning assembly ever could. I expected them to suggest that I stay at UCC. However, they set aside the fact that we would have to say goodbye, and set aside how positively they felt about UCC, and honestly considered just my well-being and happiness. They didn’t tell me to stay because of how great the school was or how much I would miss my friends here.

“They told me: ‘Hey, if this isn’t working out for you, we’ll be sad to see you go, but happy to know you’re somewhere that’s better for you.’

“They said that even if it meant leaving the very friends that I was confiding in. Paradoxically, it was in that moment that I knew I wanted to stay, and today I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

“Each and every one of us faced our own challenges and obstacles throughout our time here. But we’ve always been there to support one another. For some of us in the Prep, this brotherhood has been cultivated for almost a lifetime. For those of us who entered in the Upper School, only a few years. Regardless, we all sit here today at the end of each of our very similar yet also unique paths through UCC.

“Looking back, there were so many moments, small and big, that we have shared over the years. Some of them were just downright strange.

“There was that assembly speaker back in Foundation Year who advocated we commodify our friendships, and make the infamous ‘rolodex.’ To this day I still have no idea what that is. I’d also make a few more jokes about some of this year’s assembly speakers but, unfortunately, I doubt many of you were even there. There was also the mysterious laptop thief who stole Arnone’s computer and still cannot be found. If you have any information by the way, UCC security is still looking for him.

“We will remember the sports. In terms of athletics, we are unparalleled. Our varsity rowing heavyweight 8+ team is the fastest in school history. They’ve had an undefeated season. These guys get up at 4:25 a.m. and are out on the water by 5:15 every single morning. I could not be prouder to call these guys my classmates.

“We have won more titles than Mr. Borden gives DCI’s. Varsity soccer won CISAA and CAIS nationals. Varsity football won CISAA. Varsity swimming won CISAA, and I’m pretty sure varsity tennis has been winning CISAA for longer than Obama’s been president. I have to ask: Are the other schools still trying anymore?

“This also doesn’t encapsulate all the tireless effort put into athletics by members of our class beyond our school teams. We have national pentathletes, provincial skiers, Junior A hockey players and basketball players who rival Steph Curry’s three-pointer skills.

“Our class’ passion and thirst for excellence didn’t stop at athletics. Our Model UN team won every single conference they attended this year, including Harvard’s, even though it was our first time. We also hosted our own inaugural MUN conference right here at UCC. Cheri DiNovo was not invited. Our debating team is one of the best in the nation and is only getting stronger. Personally, I’d like to thank Nitish, my debate partner. You have been invaluable to our success as a team.

“It’s important to remember, however, it isn’t all about winning. I don’t mean this in the cliche way that you should not care about winning because, let’s be honest, it’s UCC. We all do. I mean it in a different way. You can always win if you want to. You can just stay in the easy league, never challenge yourself, play against SAC or St. Mike’s and never confront the real tough opponents out there. The one thing that defines our class is an unwillingness to be complacent. We always try to excel where it is difficult, not where it is easy. Or at least the IBO thought so when they were writing the physics exam.

“Our arts are also strong as ever with plays like Hamlet, 12 Angry Jurors and Waiting For Godot performed, staged and even one directed by members of our class. Our bands make assemblies come alive and perform with the legendary Mr. Peter Smith and his bunny costume.

“Finally, we won’t forget about all the little things that made UCC UCC. All the songs sung off-beat with the banging of the pews and random words being shouted emphatically. The greasy lower dining hall pizza and thousands of Nestea bottles we must have drank. The randomly posted headshots of our beloved former director of character development, Mr. Dubrick. JVN’s ability to name every single king and queen of England in order. And the occasional burst of Trump support. I’m still hoping that’s a joke.

“Right now we may be glad it’s all over and done with, but we all know we’ll miss it once we graduate and become Old Boys shortly. That brings us to the present. Immediately around us, we are not only surrounded by our peers, but others who have made invaluable contributions to our development here. Our families, our teachers and every other person who works at UCC.

“On behalf of our class, I’d like to thank our families for their support — emotional, temporal and financial. There is a saying about the key to success: choose good parents. I think all of us in this room have lucked out on that one.

“Thank you to our teachers, who show a passion and fervour for knowledge like no others. Thank you for all the times you still came to class to teach a couple of students because half were gone on a bio trip and the other half decided they could pretend they were on that trip too. Thank you for not giving up on us when we completely and honestly did not understand anything that is going on anymore. Mr. Chun, just because it’s called Upper Canada College doesn’t mean you have to actually teach college-level content. Thank you for answering our last minute emails in the dead of night for an IB exam we should have started studying for months ago. Thank you for educating us not only as students, but as young men.

“Thank you to security, the Aramark staff, housekeeping, the grounds crew and all office staff who make this school run well. Thank you also to the university counselling office for ensuring all of us have a future. That was pretty important. Ms. Ridout also wanted me to remind you all to update Naviance, by the way.

“Speaking of where we are all headed next, soon we will disperse around Toronto, Ontario, North America and even the world. It’s time to take everything we learned and experienced onwards: the character of the IB learner profile; the critical thinking of theory of knowledge; and intellectual vitality of the extended essay.

“Seriously speaking though, UCC has prepared us for the future like no other place could. I don’t want to say what our futures are going to be like, where we will be, what we will be doing, or who we will meet. That’s for every one of us to shape for ourselves, and I trust each and every one of us to make it amazing with all the preparation that UCC has afforded us.

“Class of 2016, it’s an honour to be your valedictorian. But the greater honour has been to be one of your friends and classmates. For the last time here, when we’re all together, all in the same room: Never walk alone. Thank you.”

Migration

All things forever on the move.

The red knot undoes the cold
And flies from deepest south.
This is not leaving for him,
But a steady coming home
to thin water and mudflats,
and he will roost
in lichen and tundra
until, by nature’s caveat,
he is loosed
to return to the world’s far end.

The caribou’s white hide
Streaks toward calving grounds,
Breaks deep snow,
crosses bloated rivers
in archipelagoes
of ragged ice;
her trail is dangerous and worn
but a silent memory
leads her to tall grasses
and then a calf is born.

Under the sail of a small boat
a sailor sees the stars
threaten to burn out,
and turns the wheel
from the rocking helm
and though he cannot see the prow
the flickering shows him where and how
to pilot past the furthest sea
to somewhere that he’s never seen
and see it as it’s always been.

And so it is the same with thought:
We forage and hunt,
Leaving the comfort of what is known
For what is next.
To migrate is to go and stay at once;
The tracks behind are never blown
Away and from some secret inner code,
Light as monarchs or low as toads
We follow what we see and hear
So unafraid that far is near.