Learning How to Lose

_Editor’s Note: This is the text of Kai Kornegay’s Baccalaureat speech._

When Rev. Gardner asked me to give this speech, I said “yes” before really thinking about it. But as I left her office, my heart sank as I realized that in my 19 years on earth, never had I actually given a formal speech to such a large audience before. Sure, I had spoken on panels and introduced a few speakers, but I never had the responsibility of both crafting and delivering a lengthy speech. But what worried me more than failing to write a thoughtful or reflective piece was the likely possibility that no one would even be able to see me deliver it from behind this podium.

Once my mom reassured me that she would provide a stool if necessary, I felt relaxed enough to begin writing this speech. Somehow, none of my drafts felt right. Some were too harsh, others were too forgiving and some just felt insincere. I shelvedthe idea of writing another draft until I stumbled upon a trailer for a biopic about poet Elizabeth Bishop. It opened with the lines “the art of losing isn’t hard to master,” and I couldn’t shake the feeling that those words seemed frighteningly familiar. Like all curious Andover students, I turned to the most trusted source I know — Google — and learned that the line was from one of Bishop’s poems, titled “One Art.” It was then that I realized I had read it during my first year at Andover in my English 200 class. Because the poem captures the feelings that I, and perhaps many of my classmates, have regarding our time at Andover, I think it is worth reading in its entirety:

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop:

_The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster._

_Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master._

_Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster._

_I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master._

_I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster._

_—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster._

You see, despite my love for Andover, I lost a lot in coming here. During Upper year and Senior Fall, not only did it feel like I’d “lose something everyday,” but those losses felt very much like disaster. Lost door keys were manageable (though the cost of their replacement could be seen as a disaster), but the bigger losses — friendships back home that drifted apart, the holidays I had to spend away from my family, the loss of innocence as I shifted from childhood to something more like adulthood — were harder losses to bear. Perhaps they felt disastrous because these losses were not mine alone. It wasn’t just me that was losing friendships or missing out on family memories; those around me were missing out too. Though I missed my puppy’s first birthday, my parents had to miss their first-born’s 18th birthday. My grandparents missed out on being able to kiss their grandchildren on Easter. My friends back home had to make do without my full support when their lives got hard because I could not be there. Coming to Andover required the sacrifice of not just us, the students, but also the sacrifice of our parents and our friends and our broader communities. And Andover is hard. One of the most difficult losses was the loss of much of my self-esteem. Though our community tends to collaborate and support one another, being surrounded by smart, beautiful, athletic and seemingly well-adjusted people all of the time took a toll on my confidence. For the first time in my life, I began to feel, at best, mediocre and, at worst, inferior. It seemed that the person sitting beside me in class was always brighter or more attractive or more charming. Losing sight of my own self-worth was not the result of people telling me that I was less than. In fact, I’ve felt more support from my peers, teachers and mentors than anywhere else. Instead, it was merely the result of being surrounded by so many successful and accomplished people; in a community like Andover, it is hard not to compare yourself to others.

It wasn’t really until this spring that I started to regain some of the confidence that I had lost. I owe a lot of that to my fellow Seniors, as there seemed to be an unspoken agreement that we would all make an effort to be kinder, closer and more available to each other. A sense of togetherness within our class seemed to bloom this spring, and I found myself speaking honestly and candidly with Seniors I never really got to know during my time here, like the day student musicians or Varsity athletes or the kids in Math 650. We each revealed our hopes and our apprehensions about college, and we opened up about our bittersweet feelings about this ol’ Academy on the hill. These were students whom I had admired and at times even envied, yet they revealed that they too struggled with feelings of loss.

I took comfort in learning that I was not alone in my feelings, that even the most put-together of us Seniors had moments where we questioned our worth and our abilities. But even though I often heard my friends mention how they didn’t feel good enough, I continued to be amazed by their accomplishments on the field, in the classroom, in Graves, in CAMD and on the stage. In addition to being proud of my peers’ accomplishments, Senior Spring also provided me the space to recognize my own accomplishments and regain much of the confidence I had lost. This term, I had the pleasure of taking courses with some of the greatest teachers at this school — Dr. Shaw, Mr. Bardo, Dr. Gardner, Ms. Greenberg and Dr. Hoyt. The courses I took here, and especially the ones this spring, challenged me, in part because they required me to reflect on my own identity, but also because they helped me grow. My teachers challenged me and pushed me to think deeper and more critically, and at times I thought they were asking too much of me. But my teachers merely asked a lot because they had faith in me even when I did not. Their encouragement taught me to not only think critically, but also taught me how to dream abstractly. My teachers here, past and present, taught me to really consider how I could make a difference in this world, and gave me the space to dream up my own future. With their guidance, I was able to understand that nothing was off-limits. Realizing that I was in a community that encouraged, valued and loved me, despite the pressures I was putting on myself, triggered a shift in my own thinking. Instead of being burdened by the sense of loss that I carried through much of my time here, I began to feel uplifted by an overall sense of gain.

Now, I have made peace with those sacrifices, as those losses had to occur to make space for everything I gained here. Though the many friendships back home that drifted apart were difficult to come to terms with, I realized that the friendships I formed here were often deeper, more reliable and more fulfilling. I think the friendships I’ve formed here are richer simply because we’ve gone through tougher times together. My relationships here have weathered the storm; together, we’ve cried over History 310 papers, penultimate week and Paresky Commons running out of hummus. This community’s willingness to help one another, even when we are each dealing with our own crises, is what kept me here, even when everything else was telling me to leave.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a homebody, and the time away from my hearty holiday dinners with my huge extended family or even the quiet Sunday mornings when only my mom and I were awake was hard on me. I missed spending that time with my family, and at times I longed for the constant reassurance and affirmation of my identity that I got from my family. It took a while for me to realize that even though I was missing out on my family’s home-cooked meals, I was not missing out on their love. If anything, I’ve begun to feel as though the relationship with my family has grown stronger because we have had to put in more effort to stay connected. We treasure the time we do get to spend together, and for the first time, I began to think of my parents as people who conducted lives independently of my own. I began to see my folks as Ayanna Kornegay, professional caregiver and mentor extraordinaire, and John Kornegay, literal saver of lives, instead of seeing them just as mom and dad.

From the time I matriculated until now, I’ve grown tremendously (well, not literally). But figuratively, I have grown. I continue to be surprised by the wonderful people and interesting viewpoints and big dreams that I have stumbled upon here. “One Art,” the poem that inspired this speech, does a beautiful job at capturing the sense of disaster that I had in coming here. But now that we are teetering between being students and being alumni, I feel that her poem only speaks to one part of the Andover experience. Although the negative part of the Andover experience — the sense of loss and sense of mediocrity — sometimes felt like the bulk of the experience, to speak only to that part would be both untrue and unfair. I think it is also important to talk about the greatness of Andover, and I don’t just mean its reputation, I mean its people. We came to Andover for a variety of reasons, many of us for the education, some for the sake of tradition and others for a chance to spread their wings. But I think we’ve all stayed for the same reason — the people. Andover would be nothing more than a bunch of books and fancy buildings if it were not for its passionate faculty and staff and eager students. Without them, we would have been unable to find the greatness that have made our sacrifices worth it. Because discovery has been such a large part of the Andover experience, I have reworked Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” to instead speak to the “art of finding” that I have mastered, and perhaps you have too.

_The art of finding isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be found that their discovery is no disaster._

_Find something every day. Accept the joy
of refound door keys, the hour happily spent.
The art of finding isn’t hard to master._

_Then practice finding farther, finding faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster._

_I found my mentors. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of two loved PACE sections came.
The art of finding isn’t hard to master._

_I found new friends, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two classrooms, a community.
I’ll miss them, but it won’t be a disaster._

_—Even finding you (the all-nighters, the tears
I’d shed) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of finding’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Say it!) like disaster._

_Kai Kornegay is a three-year Senior from Goodyear, AZ._