Alumni Keynote Speech: Ellie Schofield

by | Jun 27, 2023 | Alumni, Homepage News

At this year’s graduation ceremony, Willow Class of 2016 graduate Ellie Schofield gave a fantastic keynote alumni speech. We love hearing from our remarkable alumni during our graduation celebrations! Ellie’s reflections and advice were heartfelt and poignant. Read on to watch her speech, read a transcript, and learn a little more about Ellie.

Ellie’s Words of Wisdom:

“First, a hearty congratulations to the Class of 2023. You have been through much during your time at Willow. Being a student during the pandemic, at any stage (whether preschool or college), was terribly difficult. It disrupted our growth as young people during formative years of establishing relationships, and building the educational foundation that will take us through life. Not to mention, the world has faced many challenges during your time here, some resulting in positive change, such as working towards the creation of a more just home for all in our country, others more negative, such as the impending threats of climate change. I mention all of this only to say: do not take your accomplishment today lightly. You have already lived through much. Kudos to you for remaining steadfast, taking the world as it is, enduring difficult circumstances, and embracing the positive change.

Everyone in this room has an idea of the greatness of this place. Graduates, it is now a question of how to carry this exceptional experience with you. So, I’ve crafted a list of things. They are either aspects of Willow to emanate in all areas of life, or they highlight ways in which Willow has given you a head start to take life beyond Pottersville Road by the horns. Bear in mind I still have much to learn, but, having been in your place only a short while ago, this is what I can offer…

#1 Be an Earth Ambassador. We learn so much about sustainability and the natural environment, and cultivate a love and respect for it, merely by being Willow students. You spend every day in LEED certified buildings, or a Living Building! You know about the potential of recycling, composting, and other forms of waste management. Share this knowledge, humbly, with others. Bring it to the places you go. Be proud of your commitment to the environment. We need your dedication more than ever.

#2 Find (if you haven’t already), and keep that joy in learning that is integral here at Willow. Graduates, you are about to go out into a world where the motivation for learning is not always joy, but achievement and accolades, outdoing others, and even, eventually, profit. Do not be fooled by the allure of these things which I have mentioned, for they will not sustain you. Joy in your learning will. When you achieve great things, it will keep you reaching for more, since you can never stop, or master, learning. It will fuel your education, and guarantee your success and the respect of others no matter where you are. Preserve that joy. It is the most priceless gift you have received from your Willow education.

#3 Manifest the virtues, the cornerstone of a Willow education. When you’re in a situation and aren’t sure what to do, chances are you can mentally plop yourself back down at a Morning Gathering, and figure out what the right thing is to do. I have to mention three virtues specifically before moving on.

  • Gratitude – Give thanks wherever you can and however you can: through words, kind actions. Let your appreciation be known. Hand write thank you letters. Thank whoever sent you to Willow. And even if you don’t or can’t always vocalize it, think about those to whom you owe gratitude; it will allow you to live with thoughtfulness and grace.
  • Diligence or perseverance – Yes, they mean effort, persistence, steadfastness, but also care and concentration. When you fail, try harder; when you succeed, keep trying. My all-time favorite quote from Sir Winston Churchill is, “Success isn’t final. Failure isn’t fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.”
  • Humility – You are about to go on to achieve great things in all walks of life. Willow has prepared you for that. In all of these things, do not forget humility. Owe your successes to those who helped you get there and your hard work. You will be received far more graciously if you are humble than if you are proud.

#4 Take every opportunity you are given and, if it doesn’t exist, make it! Experiences are what will shape who you are and cause you to meet the people who will help you grow. Don’t shy away due to fear of the unknown. Lastly, if an opportunity does not exist and you wish it did, create it!

#5 Reconsider how you interact with technology…or at least any validation you get from it. Yes, continue to communicate with your friends, family, and use technology as a tool for gathering information, but do not waste time wishing you looked like someone else, were somewhere else, or had something that you do not. And be mindful of the facade that social media creates, and that it is not always the truth.

#6 You may face challenges. Once again, Willow has prepared you for this. Lean on those around you in a respectful way, and with gratitude for the help they are giving you. Act diligently in any situation you are handed, and remain true to who you are.

#7 Find joy wherever you can. You are a Willow kid and you know how to do that–in the woods, with your friends, in the classroom. You will find joy perhaps not in days or events or places, but in small moments which, taken together, will create happiness. Remember that joy can be found in helping someone else, or doing a good deed; it need not always be pure happiness. Be joyful in the great moments, and try to find the joy in those which are hard. It will benefit you, and, perhaps more importantly, those around you.

#8 Make your life about others. Treat everyone with kindness, sometimes even if you do not think they deserve it; you may be the person to change someone’s life. In today’s world, we talk a lot about self care. It is of the utmost importance, not only for ourselves, but so that we can be there for others. Certainly, remember that you must take care of yourself, but do not forget the others part, that part of it is so that you are best fit to make someone else feel good too.

#9 Be yourself. I wish I could say it 1,000 times. Do not change to become who others want, or who you think others want. You will be happier, have better friendships, and do more good for this world if you are who you were meant to be. Stay committed to all that you have learned here–it will bring you success and fulfillment. And not everyone has to like you, but odds are most will if you are virtuous, true to yourself, and humble. Many people will admire you.

To parents of kids of any age, let your kid be who they are. Absolutely, encourage them to work hard in what they do, try many things, and guide them, but allow them to find what they are passionate about on their own.

#10 The more your life moves on, the more it’ll come back to Willow. The further you get from your Willow experience, the more things you’ve learned here will make sense and acquire even more significance—embrace that. Talk about this place, share its beauty with others through your words; speak proudly, and humbly, of your Willow experience.

When I drive down Pottersville Road, I am reminded of how being here has been the highlight of my life thus far. And I have LOVED all the schools I’ve attended, and I love my college. But Willow stands apart for me, and for my family too. And one thing I haven’t mentioned is that the spirit of Willow lives on after you graduate through the connections you have formed here. Three of my most cherished friendships today are with Willow classmates. Grasp onto and keep hold of your Willow connections; they are some of the most reliable, authentic, and fulfilling that I, and my family, have ever encountered.

Go get ‘em Class of 2023!” 

About Ellie:

During Ellie’s years at Willow, she approached her learning with a level of dedication, drive, and maturity beyond her years. She was a prominent member of the Willow Gazette, played on the Willow soccer team, and loved her handcrafts and architecture classes. Most importantly, Ellie embodied Willow’s virtues, embracing our founders’ passion of living an ethical life, including having a sense of stewardship for the environment. 

Ellie attended high school at Princeton Day School. She was a member of the Cum Laude Society, received the Silver Award each year in the National Latin Exam, and was the recipient of the Women’s Gold P award, an athletic and academic award at PDS. She was a 4-year Varsity team member for Women’s Ice Hockey and Lacrosse. In Ice Hockey, she was voted captain by her peers and was awarded All Academic First Team. She also received the Princeton Day School Lacrosse Panther Award. Ellie was involved in multiple organizations, including the Energy and Climate Scholars, a program for high school students and Princeton University graduate students focused on interdisciplinary sustainability issues. Ellie was also a passionate member of the Environmental Action Club and was instrumental in planning and executing the Next Gen Climate Conference, in which high school students focus on issues in conservation. For a semester of her high school experience, Ellie attended the Mountain School of Milton Academy, where the focus is on academic rigor, outdoor literacy, community building, and organic farming. 

Ellie is now a rising senior at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. She is a Pre-med student, majoring in biology and minoring in music, and is in the top 20% of this prestigious university, holding a 3.95 GPA.  She has been on the Varsity Women’s lacrosse team since freshman year, earned All Academic for Lacrosse, and works for the school’s Office of Sustainability. 

Ellie has interned as a Veterinary lab intern at the Alaska SeaLife Center and is currently interning at BRODIE Partners, a sustainability consulting firm located in the UK.

Learn more about our amazing alumni: Read our alumni stories.

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