Student speakers talk about deep connections and relationships made at campus

“[I was told once] that evidence is sometimes right before your eyes — you just have to look at it the right way,” said Dunn School Head of School Kalyan Balaven in his opening address at the Los Olivos school’s Commencement on Saturday, June 1. After a pause, he asked, “Is there a right way to look at an earwig?”

And Balaven used his reference to the school’s rather unusual mascot to give his 45 graduating students one last lesson.

To begin his address — which each year is an enjoyable poetry reading with verses reflecting events that happened overthe past school year — the administrator expounded on Dunn’s favorite insect.

Keynote Speaker Matthew Musson talks about his time at Dunn during the school’s commencement ceremony June 1 in Los Olivos. Screenshot from YouTube

Balaven went on to say that he’s gotten dozens of letters asking the school to change the mascot, has seen the earwig mentioned in the LA Times or ESPN’s lists of “horribly funny nicknames,” and the “apocryphal” story about how the name was hatched from a classroom joke. 

“That’s one way to look at an earwig,” Balaven said. But then he pointed if you delve deeper into its biology, the insect molts five times, and on the fifth actually does develop wings. “When they choose to, earwigs can fly.”

And in using that as a metaphor for the students who are getting ready to “fly away” to other destinations, the head of school launched into his verse reminded the students of what they experienced this year.

Compared to other high schools in the area, Dunn is considered a different animal — or insect if you will — and it was the student speakers who reminded the audience what made the school, and the people in it, so special.

Student Body President Alexander Grenier was the first speaker to stand at the podium, and he admitted it took him some time to acclimate to Dunn.

“I struggled to find my place at Dunn,” he said. “Many saw me as a troublemaker, and I seemed to look at any situation as an invitation to be a provocateur.”

However, Grenier said, the teachers at the school seemed to take a different tack with him.

“At any other school, they would tried to put me in a box and force me to conform,” he said. “At Dunn, they understood that I caused problems out of a need for attention, not malevolence. They believed in me and encouraged to find ways to contribute to the school.”

Grenier said after that he developed a passion for contributing to his community, which increased his sense of belonging. He advised his classmates to take advantage of chances to contribute to your community.

Student Body President Alexander Grenier talks about his time at Dunn during the school’s commencement ceremony June 1 in Los Olivos. Screenshot from YouTube

“The more you give, the more people respond,” he told his fellow graduates. “And don’t forget to recognize cries for attention and reach out.”

Keynote speaker Matthew Musson, who gave his speech immediately after contributing to a musical performance with classmates Ben Dellis and Daphne Urquidez, told a story similar to Grenier’s

“I was quite the handful as a kid,” Musson said. “As a kid I was kicked out my first day of kindergarten. I always bristled at authority.”

Eventually, he figured out “independence comes at the expense of connection. I couldn’t see the importance of being part of a community, until I came here.”

Musson came to Dunn after his parents made an impromptu trip to an open house and suggested he go there.

“Dunn wasn’t even part of the plan,” he said. “But when I got here, the people here recognized my drive, saw qualities I didn’t see in myself.”

To conclude, Musson advised his classmates to “go forward. See the value in people who make up your life, and the value of people you don’t yet know well.”

After the speakers, it was time to hand out the diplomas. In the continuation of an idea hatched last year, each graduate was able to choose a faculty to say a few words about them after they received their diplomas.

Like last year, it was an excellent to to convey to the audience the connection and rapport built up between the students and the teacher.

And this year, one graduating student went one better. Near the end of the process, Oliver Vachon approached the stage and got to hear some emotional words from Gene Vachon, Dunn School associated head of school and the commencement emcee — and Oliver’s father.

“When I found out you chose me to stand up for you at graduation, I wondered how I would possibly go through today without crying,” Gene Vachon said as his wife and Oliver’s mother Vicki stood by them. “I decided there was no way this day would happen without tears.”

Vachon went through a number of reasons he would be crying for and was proud of his son, culminating in “we are so proud that you are ready for the next chapter and the ones after that. We are proud that you are ready to let go, but that you’re willing to hold on just enough. I love you with all that I have.”

Soon after, all the diplomas were given out, and Balaven went up to the podium one last time to remind his new graduates “if you didn’t believe it before, you’ll believe it now — Earwigs can fly!”