Satvik Dasariraju ’ 23 Delivers Valedictorian Address

Satvik Dasariraju ’23 in News | May 28, 2023

It’s truly a great joy to be here together one more time. I want to start with gratitude. To teachers and coaches for encouraging us to be better than yesterday. To all those that have given us the meals, care, and safety to learn and live. Of course, to our family and friends for support and love in moments of hardship and joy. And to us: thank you for taking a chance and coming from far and from near to a historic, renowned school that was once new and unknown to us.
It is this chance we took that makes us, well, us and gives us the togetherness that I see today. I am so grateful to have gone to Lawrenceville because of you all.
As a kid, I was as hyper and energetic as it gets. As I say that, I see my mother smiling in the audience—I was so bad that she would usher me outside to throw around a ball and expend my energy so I could return home calmer. I’d invent games for myself, like seeing how high and far I could launch tennis balls with my thin little arms (I guess not much has changed). But before long I’d end up with a whole bunch of balls stuck in the tree outside our house.
I thought I’d grown out of this; coming into Lawrenceville in 9th grade I was just a little bit more mature than when I was 5. But before I entirely found my footing at this school, I found myself right back with the tennis balls. For us, the pandemic turned the world of 2020 upside down, reversing what we took for granted, like the countless and constant happenings that light up campus every day. Stuck around my home, I was outside often, throwing around my tennis balls, and soon I was again facing a central question of my childhood: how do you get balls out of trees? And naturally the answer is to throw more balls at the balls in the tree. You know, you just keep chucking away, hoping one hit will bring all the lost balls to the ground and solve all your problems. As I got more and more stuck in the tree, it evaded me that I was doing the same thing over and over again. Making the same mistake without really learning from it.
I had a hard time with that growing up. In truth, I struggled with self-reflection during my earlier years at Lawrenceville, failing to really learn from my mistakes and aha moments. I remember hating writing about myself. It’s easier to analyze the strengths and flaws of a character in a book than to critically examine our own lows and highs, and what they have taught us. It’s more convenient to talk about a time we won something than to detail a time we messed up. It’s simply hard to submit to judgment and be vulnerable, especially when it’s to ourselves.
Lawrenceville has taught me to look inwards critically and embrace cringing at myself. I can vouch that I don’t get balls stuck in trees anymore. At least not every day. It’s probably been a couple of years. Still, I’ve made many mistakes at Lawrenceville. I broke a piece of the chandelier in Dickinson because I was too clumsy in the way I swung my backpack onto my shoulders. This January, I suffered an uncountable number of falls as I tried ice skating. But more seriously, I’ve written the wrong words, said things I’ve regretted, and failed to be the best version of myself many times. Yet, I’m grateful for having friends and advisors around me to help me learn from both the good and the bad.
As we’ve begun our goodbyes this week, I keep feeling awe at the fact that we’ve really learned a lot. Here, people have become able to write entire plays, improvise on the Chapel organ, conduct experiments in physics, and piece together poignant poetry. We started by barely trudging through Harkness discussions, and since then we’ve listened and used our voices to advocate for the vital social change we need to see. We’ve well and truly run the whole gamut, and that is why we’re getting those pieces of paper. The diplomas.
But my belief is that we’ve learned more about ourselves and perhaps about life outside the classroom. It’s a funny word, resilience, but there’s a reason it keeps being used to describe us. Through our experiences these past 4 years, we’ve learned from the times we’ve been apart, the times we won, the times we lost, and above all the times we found the strength in ourselves to get back up. These moments will take the most to look back on. It will be easy to sit comfortably with our diplomas, but it will be difficult and thus so important to reflect and find meaning in the journey that got us here.
My wish for us all is that we continue to learn from our time here as we take our steps beyond 2500 Main Street. For us, looking back at Lawrenceville isn’t reminiscing about one place. Scattered away from the place we wanted to be by the pandemic, we all tried our best to do Lawrenceville from the vantage point of different locations and time zones. Despite the swirl of uncertainty and loneliness at those times, the heart of this school still beat on. Even more, Lawrenceville for us means something entirely different from a single, linear story. In some ways, our time here has been fragmented. There are moments that cut up our time here into befores and afters. Even though I’m meant to look forward, I want to acknowledge and honor this unprecedented, complex, and undoubtedly formative period in our lives.
As we walk out into a new world, I hope our experiences here grant us strength and wisdom to guide our perspectives. Graduation, to me, is less of an end, and more of a beginning, the commencement of a continuing effort to keep growing and learning from our time here.
Looking back at what this place has taught me, I think of how I’ve changed. Coming into Lawrenceville, I just wanted to be known. Both here and beyond here, our lives may be framed around what we achieve and the resulting titles and awards, those limited laurels of public attention. We want to make a difference, to leave a mark, and most of all to be remembered. For a long time, I pinned myself to this pursuit.
But when I remember my best moments at this school, they’ve been something different altogether. I think about St. Baldricks in early May of last year; I was just one of many that had a turn at cutting someone’s hair, and yet I’ll never forget the awe I felt amid the singing, the charitable acts of our community, and simply how the wondrous togetherness inspired the best in me despite the weight of sorrow we felt that week. I think about House Olympics and the Lower Cup on September 3rd this year, when Dickinson and Raymond just let me come along for the ride and watch an unforgettable series of relays and cheers. Even though I was just an observer to something far greater than I was, it is these moments, and the hope and unity I felt in them, that tell me we have it in us to face the challenges on the other side of the gates.
It’s so telling that my best moments here have had nothing to do with me, but everything to do with you all. So often we are trying to leave our mark, but what if we just noticed and listened and marveled at our capacity to feel awe in being together? What if instead of trying to obtain something nominal or material out of the groups we are a part of, we simply valued what we can learn by looking beyond ourselves? To me, this is the spirit of humble participation. Things don’t change when you have a title; things changed because you got involved and got your hands dirty. Experiences of humble participation at Lawrenceville have encouraged me to look inwards and observe outwards to know myself as a tiny piece of a far greater force. It’s this understanding that drove me to think differently about self-reflection and thus grow out of the younger version of myself, the Satvik that would throw another tennis ball at the tree.
Lawrenceville, years from now, I will look back at the chalkboards here, draw from your resilience, and I’ll never forget all that I’ve learned. What makes Lawrenceville this life-changing, magical place is that we create these moments and traditions with one another that become inextricable to who we are. Future graduates, find those moments for you, and hold on to them dearly. For me, it’s been jazz improvisation, Friday lunches, going out for long runs, and the color burgundy.
So, Class of 2023, I hope we all fare well. I know we can, and that our time at Lawrenceville will help us do so. Don’t forget us, keep looking back, and of course, keep learning. It’s truly been an honor, and I wish you safe travels and soft landings. It’s only fitting that my final words here will be: thank you.