At the end of a typical school year, we honor and celebrate our sixth-year graduates and their families on campus with a graduation ceremony and after party—lovely speeches, delicious food, laughter, tears and lots and lots of Fitz’s root beer. This year the pandemic forced us to change our plans and get creative. Graduating families came in their cars to watch a parade put on by our community and a screening of their prerecorded speeches, all the while maintaining a safe distance (and yes, there was root beer!).
While we did put on a pretty magnificent social-distanced ceremony (if we do say so ourselves), we think the graduates deserve to be celebrated just a little bit more. This summer we’ll highlight each of our sixth-year graduates on the blog. You’ll meet some of the best people we know, children we love and have watched grow and develop into thoughtful, funny, curious, exciting and vibrant young people. And you’ll get to watch their graduation speeches! Today, we’ll meet Elspeth.
Elspeth is kind and a great storyteller. She is a hard worker and very determined. She was very welcoming to all the fourt years, and I know the classroom won’t be the same without her. Upper Elementary fourth-year student
Villa di Maria: Introduce yourself! Tell us something you think everyone should know about you.
Elspeth: My name is Elspeth, and I have been learning at Villa for nine years, so it is pretty much my home away from home. I know it like the back of my hand, anyway. I have a twin, with whom I have always been in the same class (I guess that could only be avoided in primary because when we were in Lower El there was only one class), and even though we don’t get along, it is pretty silly to witness the time when people (mostly classmates) realize that we are related because we are fraternal, and look nothing alike.
VdM: What are your hobbies and interests? What do you like to do for fun?
Elspeth: My hobbies and interests are quite unique and are definitely not for everyone. I am an aerialist, as in aerial silks, which is a form of circus. Aerial silks would not really be considered a sport, so much as a physical activity. It takes a lot of practice and devotion. I’ve been doing silks for nearly two and a half years, I believe, and I prefer it to any sport. On the days that I am not at a silks studio (which are most days of the week), I am most likely curled up with a book. I love books of any kind, from Pride and Prejudice (which my mom has been telling me to read for years, and I have finally begun) to Great Expectations, which, I admit, is a pretty tough read but I love it just the same. For fun, I enjoy silks and reading, but in addition to that, I love solving Sudoku puzzles, going on yearly national park trips, and taking walks with my friends.
VdM: Do you have a favorite book or movie (or both)? What is it and why?
Elspeth: As for my favorite book or movie, I am not really a fan of movies when I compare them to books. Movies have their own attractions, but books have a much stronger pull over me because of the words. People ask me a lot about why I prefer books, and I say to them, “You probably like movies because you get to see the characters doing things, and you don’t have to try to imagine them. I am the opposite. I like books because as I read I form my own movie in my head, and I get to direct it.”
I don’t think that I could ever choose a favorite book, though my favorite book series would be, without a doubt, Harry Potter. I love books because they allow me to dive into worlds full of mystery, magic, adventures, and friendship, and my love for Harry Potter is because it holds all of those. I love also that Harry Potter is not misogynistic, and that the female characters are charismatic, powerful, chivalrous, strong, intellectual, and brave. I like female characters that stand on their own, and frankly, the entire franchise would’ve crashed and burned without Hermione. No one can deny that.
VdM: Tell us something about yourself that you are proud of.
Elspeth: I am proud of the fact that I am cheeky and logical. My nerve can get me into sticky situations, but it serves me well when I am negotiating with people and I can say something that would not normally be said by someone when they are trying to get on someone’s good side. The only reason I don’t get in trouble when I negotiate with cheekiness is that my logical side backs me up, and I can present a firm foundation that is built of reckless bravery and strategy. My nerve also helps me when I am afraid of doing something or confronting someone because it allows me to get up the courage to speak out. That is definitely a skill I struggle with, but I think speaking out is one of the most important things I can do, so I thank my nerve for that.
VdM: How old were you when you started at Villa di Maria?
Elspeth: When I started at Villa I had only just turned three two weeks before, so naturally, I was a bit unfamiliar with normal society and etiquette, and that led to several amusing incidents. Amusing for me, at least. I don’t think my teachers appreciated my laughter very much, though I wasn’t the only rebellious student, and, believe me, I say rebellious in want of a better word. For example, my primary class used to have a sort of tradition unbeknownst to the teachers of climbing up on the tables and dancing on the few rare moments that our guides were not in the room. I didn’t take part in this because firstly, I’m not much of a dancer, and secondly, I didn’t want to damage any materials. My classmates were a bit more carefree, and though I thought it a bad idea, I didn’t interfere with their free will, cause that’s kind of against the law.
I have to admit, it was difficult trying to do my work when someone was dancing on my table, and I would take my work to the rug whenever the teachers left the room. On one such occasion when we were unoccupied for about ten seconds, a dance party occurred, and somehow, one of the kids managed to get another’s shoe and started tossing it. That annoyed me, so I told the kid to be slightly more reasonable and at least to toss their own shoe, so I brought their shoe to them. Not one of my smarter moves. It was at that moment that my teachers walked in, and I believe that what they saw was me giving another kid a shoe to toss. As I say, not a very clever decision on my part.
VdM: Let’s talk about this school year… how do you feel about closing out your last year at Villa di Maria with distance learning?
Elspeth: When I imagined my last month at Villa for the past nine years, I pictured me at school, working on the school concert perhaps, or the sixth year song. I thought I would sit in the common area with my friends and laugh while working on our graduation speeches. I thought I would present my speech to my family and any of the friends that wanted to come. I thought I would have Field Day, and Circus Night, and the book fair. You can probably imagine how I felt when I found out that I would not be going back as a student to the school that is my home. I would not read to my friends on a bench or work on my class constitution with students that would be there to enjoy it. I felt pretty bad when I realized that the rest of my time at Villa wouldn’t be at Villa, but on a screen. I would never get to use the Montessori materials again as a student, but maybe as an alumna. It wouldn’t be the same. I am still crushed that my last two months of learning as a Villa student were transitioned to distance learning, but it was to keep us safe, and I am thankful for that.
VdM: What do you miss most about being on campus?
Elspeth: I think that what I miss most about the campus is the sense of energy that seems to radiate off of it. So many people keep it alive, and whenever I walked there I could almost feel the memories and the sort of essence of kids eager to learn and adults eager to teach. It’s a great environment for the people that use it, and I think the homeliness is very difficult to be apart from.
VdM: What’s next for you? Where will you be going to middle school?
Elspeth: I am pretty nervous about what comes next because it is all still unknown. My family is being uprooted and we are moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ll be going to Maryland Avenue Montessori School, and the last time I moved was when I was two, so it’ll be a pretty jarring experience. I’m not scared, but still nervous. I think it’s funny that people fear the unknown. All it holds is new adventures. I’m hoping that I’ll be accepted to a Montessori IB high school, though I worry about that because it is very selective. I suppose I won’t know if I’ll get in until I try!
VdM: What is something you’re most excited about going into your new school? Is there anything you’re not excited about?
Elspeth: Going into a new school, there are definitely things to be excited about, and there are probably things that I should be worried about. I’m excited about the opportunity to make new friends and acquaintances and getting to learn more, but I’m a bit worried about whether or not school will be distanced. It’ll probably be harder for me to get to know people if I can’t even talk to them in person, and it’ll be next to impossible for me to get familiar with my new school if I don’t even go there, so there will be ups and downs.
VdM: Last but not least, you graduated from Villa di Maria!! How are you going to celebrate this summer?
Elspeth: I haven’t really thought about how I will celebrate my graduation this summer. I was under the impression that we will be having our graduation party in July, which I’m not even sure I will be able to attend, seeing as we might’ve moved by then. I suppose I might get my reward for doing nine years at Villa by getting to decorate my new room however I want it. That would be nice. I might just take an entire day this summer where I watch movies and have fun and eat a lot of unhealthy stuff… that sounds pretty much like your average “you did it!” party, so I could settle for it, but what I really want is to go to Villa and see my classroom. That would be a nice treat, though I’m not even sure I would be allowed to. I haven’t been in my classroom since March 13, so I would love to just sit in there and read for a little while, or something. Maybe take a walk around the campus with my friends. That would be my celebration of choice.
Elspeth is a great friend, sparkly, a wordsmith and always willing to lend a helping hand. Upper Elementary fifth-year student
Thank you, Elspeth. We are so proud to be able to call you a Villa alum. You have brought poise, intelligence and fierce individuality to our community and we will miss you dearly. Good luck in Milwaukee and please come back to visit.
And now… Elspeth’s graduation speech:
Photos courtesy of Elspeth’s family and Melinda Smith.