I remember my first day at Westwood vividly. The year was 1999 and I was entering the 5th grade. I walked into the classroom full of strangers; a shy and petrified nine-year-old girl dressed in a pair of purple Winnie the Pooh overalls. I sat down at a table by myself. It wasn’t long before I was approached by a loud and boisterous 4thgrader dressed in fingertip-length khaki shorts. Her name was Daniela Acosta and, despite my shy demeanor, she became an instant friend.
Although I barely said a word that day, I recall quietly observing my classmates, noting that they vaguely resembled a larger version of the Brady Bunch, or some other related group of individuals, famous for their ability to get along. I thought happily to myself that this was a family and a community I was glad to become a part of.
Fast forward a few years to May 2003 and my 8th grade graduation and you would find a talkative, inquisitive, and confident young woman in the place of the shy, purple overall-wearing 5th grader. As Ms. Butler wrote of me in the book I received for graduation, “You have blossomed into such a confident person. You have become a leader and are able to state your ideas and principles clearly. You cannot be swayed from your convictions and that will make you a rare gem in this world.” And that is what Westwood gave to me–the nurturing environment and freedom to explore who I am–that allowed me to become the person I am today.
Rather than focus on simply transmitting knowledge, my teachers gave me the liberty to experience and learn by doing tasks that engaged my whole personality. It instilled in me a natural joy of learning that helped me succeed in high school. Most significantly, it gave me courage to confront any fear I may encounter. I am proud of my years at Westwood, of the strangers who quickly accepted me as family, of the fond memories I created with peers; and, I am confident in knowing that wherever I go in the future I will always have the support of my family at Westwood. My years at Westwood shaped my character and provided me with the foundation I built on in high school. In a few days time I will be a high school graduate and, though my time as a Westwood student ended years ago, I will always be a part of the community here.
Approaching this milestone in my life, I often find myself looking back with nostalgia on the memories I created here. I mean, honestly, where else could you recite Shakespeare at a time when other kids your age are weaning themselves off of Dr. Seuss, have your entire middle school class fit at one picnic table for lunch, or have Spanish class in the back of a pick-up truck with your energetic guitar-playing Spanish teacher?
With these memories in tow, and the confidence to pursue my dreams and goals in life, I am ready to begin a new chapter in my life 1442.98 miles away from Westwood in Rochester, New York. But, watch out Sami, because I’m only 334.56 miles from you.
So thank you to Ms. Butler and to all the amazing teachers and the staff here for giving us students the tools to succeed in life. And congratulations to the Westwood class of 2007. I’m sure you’ve made just as amazing memories as I did as a student and I would advise you not to be sad that your time here is coming to an end, but happy that it happened. I could try to give you a lot of advice that many of you will forget so, instead, I find it appropriate to end with Shakespeare, “Above all else-to thine own self be true.