Bicentennial Commencement Speaker: Briana Cardwell ’13

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This speech is shared in commemoration of this year’s Bicentennial Commencement and our honored speaker Briana Cardwell ’13. 

It feels like yesterday I was watching a New Hampton men’s basketball game against Brewster and hanging out with my friends in the DP (aka the dog pound). We used to call it the DP. I hope it’s still called that.

I cannot express enough how truly honored I am to be here today. being here with you all feels so surreal. New Hampton School changed my life. It was here that I decided I wanted to be an immigration attorney. By the time I got to New Hampton, I already knew that I wanted to e a lawyer but was not sure what type of lawyer I wanted to be. I remember like it was yesterday; I had just gotten the news that my uncles were being deported, and I was devasted. I was close with both of my uncles, and being in New Hampshire meant I would not be able to see them before they left. I was sad and did not know who I could talk to about it. I was walking around campus, and then I saw Gina Graciano, a former teacher at New Hampton, and she immediately knew something was wrong and asked me to talk. I told her everything that had happened, and through that discussion, I decided I wanted to do immigration law.

So truly thank you for such a wonderful opportunity to come back and speak to you all.

I would love to start by saying CONGRATULATIONS to the class of 2021! You did it! You should be so proud of what you’ve accomplished to get here.

As you all sit here, I am sure you are thinking, wow, these four years went by fast. Maybe some of you thought it would never end, and you would get to spend your whole life at New Hampton with your friends. Some of you may be excited to leave, and others may be really sad. When I was in your shoes, I felt both sad and excited.

I was going to miss my friends and the sense of community I felt here. I also wondered what New Hampton would be like when I left and how it would keep going. I felt so connected to the school that I thought it would stop…… because I left. While it may have taken 8 years, I have finally realized that New Hampton, and every place you go, goes on without you.

I also realized that although they go on, they never forget you. These past 4 years, or however many years you’ve been at New Hampton, you’ve left your mark. Maybe you were the president of the school, maybe you were the captain of your team, maybe you were a full IB student, maybe you discovered your passion for acting, or maybe you were the best possible friend you could be. Because of who you are and were… during your time at New Hampton the people and community here will never forget you for it. And even more importantly, after you leave here you will continue to make a mark on the school no matter where you go. Because even though you leave new Hampton. New Hampton never leaves you. You will always be a husky. Hold on to that.

The world you all are entering is scary at times and pretty divisive but remember the community and relationships you’ve formed here. This certainly helped me. When I was in college during a very divisive time in our country, I had to remember. When I felt alone and isolated at my school because of the way the racial tension in our country played out on my college campus, I often looked at my desktop computer. I had a picture of me and a few of my closest friends from New Hampton, and I intentionally kept it there to regularly remind myself that there are people who do not look like me that care about me. This got me through many tough nights. Remember the people who you befriended who you otherwise would not have.

Allow your moments at New Hampton to keep you grounded and Hopeful and remind you that community, safety, and comfort are attainable. No matter where you go in the world, you will always have these moments.

I still treasure my moments at new Hampton. I am from Boston, Massachusetts. I was a city girl when I came to New Hampton. I remember getting here and looking around like, wow, I am really in the middle of nowhere. I am saying this to say that when I got here, I did not see many people that looked like me and was not sure who I would become friends with and how I would make them. one of my proudest accomplishments at new Hampton has nothing to do with academics but all to do with how I navigated an environment that was foreign to me. I allowed myself to be friends with a wide range of people, and the experiences I had with them are ones that I will never forget.

As you all venture off into the world going to college at Amherst, Bentley, Providence, SUNY, Suffolk, and Villanova or train to qualify for the Olympics (which is pretty cool, might I add), appreciate the moments you’ve been given because no matter how beautiful or magical a moment is, it always ends.

LIFE IS NOTHING BUT MOMENTS. YOU ARE ONLY IN HIGH SCHOOL FOR A MOMENT. You are only in college for a moment. This is why you must make the most of every experience you have and appreciate the little moments on the journey.

Now that I am a bit older, I would love to take some time to share some words of wisdom.

The first is when you get to college, have fun. Try things you never thought you would try, be open and willing to understand people, concepts, and things that are different than what you are used to. That could be taking a dance class, trying new food, joining a sports team for the first time in your life–anything that would push you out of your comfort zone. Much like high school, you only get to be a young adult with few responsibilities once in your life. Enjoy it. Study hard but again appreciate those moments because you will never have them again.

The second is to persevere and do not let anyone else define you. Nobody knows what the future holds for you and who you may influence along the way. Every last one of you is unique, and that means you will take on different paths, lifestyles, and obstacles to reach success. The youngest college graduate was 10 years old, and the oldest one was 96. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter how long it takes or what order you do it as long as you get it done for yourself. Yes, you are going to have failures along the way, but that is just pointing you in a new direction to accomplish your goals. You and you alone are the only person who can live the life that can write the story that you were meant to tell.

The third is to know that you are not alone. You cannot do things alone. Learn to ask for help. You are your own biggest advocate. Practice this in college because you will need to know how to do this in your professional career. People are more willing to offer a helping hand than you think.

The fourth is…. to try to the best of your ability to create the world you want to live in. This could be as simple as attending discussions that you otherwise would not or joining a club or organization that makes you uncomfortable. I sincerely mean this. If there’s nothing else that you all take away from my speech, please leave with this. Push yourselves to be great and to care when you do not have to. Do it because you want to and not because it is expected of you. I know that may sound hard and maybe even impossible. But this world needs you. The change comes from us. Operate and navigate the world in a way that can change it. Be radical in a real, active, practical, tangible way. I truly believe in this generation to make a real impact on the world. If you are not doing something that will make a difference… then ask yourselves, why are you doing it?

Lastly, do the little things right in life. That can be making your bed every morning. Remembering to call your parents, New Hampton friends, or siblings. Making time to eat lunch and dinner. Spending quality time with your loved ones. OR being kind. It is easy to forget the little things because we are always fixated on the bigger things. Don’t get me wrong, I mean, those things are important but so are the little things. Remember, life is full of moments. Every moment that you focus on a little thing reinforces that little things in life matter. If you cannot do little things right, you will never do the big things right.

In closing, I want to say new Hampton has had a huge impact on my life, and I am sure you all can say the same. I met some of my closest friends here that I still have to this day. A special shout out to Kay McMahon, one of my best friends, who is here today with her family celebrating TJ McMahon, a member of this amazing class. Not only did I make amazing friends here, but I also learned critical skills that I still carry with me, like how to ask for help, how to be and stay organized, how to be focused (gotta love study hall), and how to be a well-rounded student. As prep school kids, I know you all have inherited these skills as well. Take these skills with you as you leave New Hampton.

Again, be proud of what you accomplished today, stay connected, and go make a difference. Congratulations New Hampton School Class of 2021!

About Briana Cardwell

Upon graduating from New Hampton School in 2013, Briana matriculated at Bowdoin College where she majored in Africana Studies and minored in Sociology. Briana was on Residential Life for three years and was President of the African-American Society. Briana also participated in several committees at Bowdoin to address issues of diversity and inclusion at the school. Prior to attending law school, Briana interned at the Boston NAACP, Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), and Greater Boston Legal Services doing civil rights work and immigration. Briana graduated from Bowdoin College in 2017 and went to Boston University School of Law. During law school, Briana interned at Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Greater Boston Legal Services. During law school, Briana participated in the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Clinic. Briana joined Central West Justice Center’s Immigration Unit this year.

You can read more about her work in the article “Could Three BU Law Students Win Asylum for a Brazilian Mother Fleeing for Her Life?” published by Boston University in June of 2020.

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