Graduation 2019: Keynote Speaker Sarah Turner

June 7, 2019


Alumni, President

On Friday, May 31, 2019, we celebrated the hard work of 90 graduating crafts- and tradespeople, joined by their families, friends, and our greater community. The 138th North Bennet Street School Commencement ceremony honored a diverse class of students launching into the world with newly-honed talents and abilities. Join us in congratulating our graduates and welcoming them to the broader alumni community.

This year’s ceremony was held at King’s Chapel in downtown Boston. We honored the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award winner, Consuela “Chela” Metzger BB ’93, and the Commencement Speaker was our new President, Sarah Turner. In her speech, Sarah encouraged the graduates to “keep your sights on the horizon, to play the long-game, remembering that your efforts will aggregate. This is how you build a life, a career, a livelihood – effort by effort, over time.”

View highlights from graduation in the video above, and check out dozens of exciting photos from graduation here. You can also read a full transcript of Sarah’s speech below and watch video of the full Graduation speeches.

Sarah Turner and the other graduation speakers

Sarah Turner, Graduation Speaker

I want to give a special welcome to the parents, partners, families, and friends of this group: the 2019 graduating class. We are so glad to have you here celebrating with us today. You show the many different paths that our graduates have taken before coming to North Bennet Street School. As I talked with many of you last night and this morning, I was reminded of how each class, each cohort represents a completely unique coming together of so many people – all different – who, for this moment, represent what this School can be.

To recognize all that it took to be here together, I thank the Board of Directors and Advisors for guiding North Bennet through recent and substantial changes – changes that have allowed me to be here, speaking with all of you today. Thank you to the staff – who work every day to provide some constant in that change, supporting the students and the faculty in all that they do. And to the faculty: thank you for all the ways you bring your vision, your expertise, and your work ethic to your students. Through you, we are able to give this new group of graduates the skills, abilities, and confidence to take their programs, their fields, their piece of this School forward and into all of our communities.

This is the team working to support you, but you, graduates, are the ones who took the leap, the ones who made the daily effort – and daily commutes – to slowly but surely learn new skills, to give yourselves new understandings and new opportunities. That takes courage and perseverance and pushing forward even when it’s not easy or clear. Congratulations on your hard work, your commitment to your projects and your teams – to yourselves and your futures.

As I learn about this School – and the crafts and trades that you are both preserving and advancing – I am struck by the character of this commitment. The fields that you are entering are not ones that take center stage; rather they play a supporting role to culture and our lives, behind the scenes. The piano technicians and violin makers will prepare the instruments for musicians to play, making someone else’s sound and performance possible. The bookbinders will present and preserve the words of authors, giving vehicles to other people’s ideas.

I’m drawn to this approach: working on behalf of others as a way to contribute our specialized knowledge to something bigger than only our own work. It’s a position that requires some modesty, some stepping back. The School was founded on efforts like these: oriented toward community service, working to help others. And while our methods today are different, much of this spirit still exists.

The ceremony inside King's Chapel

Let me use this space we’re in as an example, an opportunity to give context to where we are. King’s Chapel, this building, was finished in 1754, taking the place of the original from 1688. But the architect of this building never visited the site. He conceived of it and drew the plans, but it was the team of Carpenters – on site, with skills, materials, and know-how – who created the building, who made a space for a new community.

And it was the finish carpenters and Furniture Makers who made the interior: the open pews, the family boxes, the chairs, and the cabinets for storing their history of records and documents. It was the Locksmiths who brokered peace: installing locks on these family pews to navigate ownership disputes in an attempt to ease membership quarrels.

The Jewelers soothed the grieving. They made the rings that were given here – an early funerary tradition of this community to give rings when a family member had died; an example of how jewelry has always been a social signifier for our most precious ceremonies.

Much more recently, it was the Piano Technicians who restored the piano that now plays in the Parish House just up the road on Beacon Street. And much longer ago, it was Violin Makers who created the instruments that were played with a choir – here – in the first concert of the famous Handel and Haydn Society when the Society made its performance debut in 1815.

It was the careful, invisible work of Preservation Carpenters that allowed the pulpit structure and sounding board to still be in use, which are some of the oldest pieces here, dating from 1717. And let us not forget past Bookbinders – who, in 1785, bound a small octavo of 422 pages which would mark the first step in reframing the ideas of this community as it turned from away from England toward a new country.

These examples of work like yours are all around us, in our communities everywhere, quiet until you pay attention. Here, they are of the past. Some of you will embrace the traditions your studies were built upon, enjoying the lineage that you’re a part of. Others will chafe at history, wanting to find your own way forward and to help old methods adapt.

Thank goodness for this. There is room for a range of approaches and we need them all.

We are in the here and now: in this time, this amalgam of the old, the new, and the not yet. History, approaches, ways to work and live are being re-framed and re-fitted all the time. Your fields, while tried and true, are adapting to today’s needs, ideas, and values. You will advance these fields, each in your own way – responsive to your own strengths and interests – and to the world and its changes.

And you have given yourself the ability to do this: to work with effort, day by day, project by project, with your minds and your hands. You have given yourself a chance to author a life that you want, one that is built on your skills and your passions. This is rare and you are fortunate: to have identified what it is that you want; to experience what you’re good at; and to have found a place that could nurture this.

This is a School known for work, for working-lives. It is a school known for practical application and usefulness, coupled with integrity and beauty. As you find your own combinations of these qualities, I encourage you to keep your sights on the horizon, to play the long-game, remembering that your efforts will aggregate. This is how you build a life, a career, a livelihood – effort by effort, over time.

Sarah Turner, NBSS President

You are at the beginning of a new chapter and as you know, building things takes time. Being trained in the crafts gave me a deeper understanding of this. So much of making is slow, and yet suddenly: there is the thing before you. Pass after pass with a scraper, stitch by stitch, cut after cut, preparing your materials to fit and come together. Making by hand asks us trust in slowness, to not rushing the finishing, to be patient with each pass of the plane, and to notice that our marks still show. It’s in this slow time, this over-and-over time, that new ideas can take hold – while our minds are both occupied and free.

I experience North Bennet Street School like a miner striking a deep vein – a vein of intellect, knowledge and skill; a rare and surprising deep well of expertise housed in two side-by-side buildings in Boston’s North End. I experience it as a concentrated source from which you, our graduates, will draw going forward. As you apply your version of North Bennet in the world, you will show us new forms, new methods, and new livelihoods.

This is a School known for work, for working-lives. It is a school known for practical application and usefulness, coupled with integrity and beauty. As you find your own combinations of these qualities, I encourage you to keep your sights on the horizon, to play the long-game, remembering that your efforts will aggregate. This is how you build a life, a career, a livelihood – effort by effort, over time.

And as you do this, from our vantage point back at School, we’ll benefit from what you shape and develop. Our roles will switch: we’ll be learning from you. As you make, fix, and build things, we’ll pay attention. You’ll reflect back to us what is changing and shifting, what must be preserved, and what should be reconsidered.

I started my remarks by recognizing a lot of other people: the people who make up and support this extended community, for you and for me. In a moment, you’ll be that extended community; joining an expanding network of alumni, friends, and fans who make this small specialized school – this deep well – possible for all of us.

A School is a bigger effort than what happens in two buildings. A School is a network, extending out and back through each of us. We will want to know about the work that you do, and how your learning, your knowledge – how North Bennet Street School – extends through you. Keep in touch: with us, with each other, and with the currents of culture that will shape your work. Let us know what you’re making, what you’re building, and help us to pay attention to new applications of skill in the world.

Congratulations, graduates, and welcome.

Watch the full Graduation speeches below, including Sarah, Chair of the Board of Directors Marc Margulies, Distinguished Alumni Award Winner Chela Metzger BB’93, and Provost Claire Fruitman CF ’96.

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