Class of 2018 Victory Party Address

The Class of 2018 chose Pierce Velderman to represent them and share the Victory Party address to his fellow classmates. This is the encouragement he shared.

Thank you Superintendent Hopson for your remarks. I think it’s safe to say that your Twitter following increased by approximately 54 people during January’s snow-pocalypse. Whenever you tweeted the news about school being officially cancelled, it was common for there to be an instant eruption from the apartments upstairs including shouts of joy, tears, and, at least once I believe, a rousing rendition of the Doxology. So, thank you!

To my fellow Residents, MTR staff, family, and friends… welcome. What a year this has been?! Today we’re here to celebrate a huge milestone in our lives. Not only did we complete a hard year of teaching in local schools, but we did it while simultaneously pursuing our Masters degrees. For some of us, this year has been the first real step after college, while more seasoned individuals worked on honing their craft.

We have lived a lot of life during this residency year. We’ve encountered joyful life events, like the birth of Eliana Musser, engagements of our fellow Residents, and even a wedding. However, this year has also come with some hardships: enormous amounts of stress, separation from our loved ones back home, and worst of all, the deaths of family, friends, and students. This year has been a roller coaster of emotions and I know that I would not have been able to get through it had it not been for my neighbors.

A neighbor can be many things: a person with whom you share proximity, someone who has experiences similar to your own, or just a friend. But my favorite definition is a person who shows kindness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans. And that is something that I’ve been privileged to witness this year.

Historically, our year was full of significant markers: first, the Tom Lee storm on Memorial Day Weekend caused huge power outages across the city including this building while moving in; the Crosstown flood was when a water main broke and rendered a good deal of 7th-floor Residents effectively homeless and/or wet; the great snow-pocalypse of 2018, which put us out of school for a week; the removal of the Confederate monuments honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis in two Memphis parks; the largest ticket sales in the nation for Marvel’s The Black Panther; and the 50th anniversary commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel.

Though the world outside may not have seen it, our year was also marked by things that happened on a much smaller scale. We had a monthly birthday celebrations after class organized by Kara, potlucks courtesy of Mary Grace, Racial Reconciliation Discussions organized by Alexis, pop-up karaoke nights at MTR, and the creation of the statistically-worst, but joyfully-best Scott’s Tots Intramural team.

The Class of 2018’s residency year started on June 2, 2017, at our Resident Picnic, which also happened to be my 25th birthday. I hadn’t planned on telling anyone this, but word got out and in the middle of dinner people started started singing “happy birthday” to the guy sitting with his parents and plate full of Central BBQ. The reason this was particularly memorable was that only a handful of people had learned my name by this point, so when they got to “happy birthday dear” there was a hush as everyone listened to the people who knew my name and then a mumble as everyone tried to join in as if to pretend that they already knew it in the first place. Much like singing “happy birthday” to an unknown recipient, when we joined the Memphis Teacher Residency we were more or less bound to stumble to the end, often with uncertainty, but ultimately with a smile on our faces.

As our year progressed and my neighbors got to know me a little more, I was given the nickname of Mr. Rogers. Now I don’t know whether it was from my affinity for sweaters, singing, or smiling, but I do know that this year has taught me how to love and be loved by my neighbors. When David told me that I had been elected to speak today, I was more or less dumbfounded. I accepted gladly, but then started to process the responsibility that I had accepted. I wracked my brain for speech ideas that weren’t cliche and for something that people might actually remember. After a while, I decided to turn to the real Mr. Rogers for some inspiration. I came across a video of the 1997 Daytime Emmys in which Fred Rogers was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. His remarks, so simply and eloquently put, have stayed with me and I’d like to share my spin on them now.

It’s a beautiful day in our neighborhood. So many people have helped me to come to this day. Some of you are here, some are far away, some are even in Heaven. All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are? Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. 10 seconds of silence. I’ll watch the time.

Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made. The connections we make in the course of a life–maybe that’s what Heaven is.

So as we celebrate this weekend in all of its glory, let’s remember what our beloved neighbors have done for us. Sometimes they were the ones who stayed up late lesson planning into the wee hours because it was easier to get through it together. Sometimes they were the sympathetic ear that listened to our woes. Sometimes they were the ones who told us that it would be okay, but that it was time to get over it. And sometimes they were the ones who just gave us a smile or kind word when we needed it most.

Special thanks to my family and friends and to my fellow Residents of the Class of 2018 for encouraging me and allowing me this past year to be your neighbor.

Thank you

Pierce Velderman, Class of 2018