Graduation 2013

June 13, 2013

(Speech delivered by Director Matt Allio at Graduation on June 13, 2013)

Welcome to the graduation of the Walden Class of 2013.

Almost every day, for the past eight years, I’ve been asked the same question. Sometimes, I get the question many times in the same day.  The question is:

“Can I have an animal?”


This question may be familiar to many of you or perhaps you’ve never heard the question before.  It usually comes when one of the younger Walden students stops by my office, and I’m sitting at my desk, and they see the animals in front of me.  The animal may be a giraffe or an anteater.  Or it could be an elephant.  Over the years, while the animals always remained on my desk, other figures have been added.  For example, there’s the Statue of Liberty and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Or going further, there’s a fire engine and even a baker.

I don’t always give away the animals, but sometimes I do.  It’s really interesting to me that for many students the animals become an important possession.  The students walk back to class, with the animal in their pocket, and they feel more connected to Walden School.  I’ve heard from many parents who have said the animal their child has received from Walden has a special shelf in the child’s bedroom.   Or the animal is on the nightstand each night as the child sleeps.  While some children may lose the animal and not miss it, many feel happy to have an animal and feel connected to the school.  It’s such a small act, to give an animal to a student, but it has such a positive impact.

But here’s something very few people know.  It wasn’t my idea to give away animals to the students.  It didn’t start with me.

Let me go back to September of 2005.  A student walks in my office.  My desk has hardly anything on it.  There’s not a single animal on the desk.   The student who walks in my office is Daniella Gersh, when she must have been in Pre-Kindergarten.  Daniella walks to my desk and hands me an animal.  It’s a tapir.  Daniella tells me she wants me to have the tapir, as a gift.  I thank her and ask her why.  Daniella tells me the tapir is endangered and she wants to take care of it.

Here’s a plaque, with Daniella’s name, with the tapir mounted and September 2005 inscribed.

Daniella’s single act of giving, one she likely didn’t give that much thought at the time, has impacted hundreds of students over the years.  Because she gave me the tapir it made me think I could do the same for others.  Daniella’s gift of the tapir to me translated into actually being gifts for hundreds of children who followed her into my office over the years.

I think the point I’m trying to make is for all of us to understand, whether you’re a graduate, a parent, a teacher, a relative, or a friend, is that we do things that we don’t realize can have a positive impact.  No act of generosity or giving of oneself is too small.  We really never know the impact.

An interesting thing happens over the years at Walden when it comes to the animals.  While every Kindergarten or 1st grade student has probably asked me for an animal this year, not a single 6th grader has asked for one.  I think I know why.  These 6th graders are on to bigger things, not small animals you put on a special shelf in your room.

Yet as they move into 7th grade at their middle schools, I hope they remember the small act of Daniella Gersh, Walden School Class of 2013, and how small acts can impact many.  What we want for these 6th graders is for them to graduate and to make a difference, to understand that social activism and change actually begins with them.  It can start small, like Daniella’s animal, but it can truly make a difference.


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