Irena Balzekas ’10, who was the keynote speaker at the Crest Ceremony on Sunday (Jan. 25), told the newest members of CGA, their older counterparts, and other audience members that the ceremony is honoring “your own.”
“Dean (Lynn) Rasch doesn’t just hand you a crest, say ‘congrats’ and wave you off stage,” Balzekas explained. “It’s one of your own, someone from your dorm, a person with whom you have connected who has the honor of cresting you and welcoming you to CGA.”
Balzekas, a research associate at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago with intentions of becoming a doctor, said celebrating people is different from friendship.
“Not every person who supports you or impacts you today is your friend or will be your friend in 10 years,” she said. “Friends absolutely matter, but people matter more because it’s the collection of influences from people of your life who shape you and how you, in turn, shape others.”
She noted that not every interaction at Culver will be positive.
“This is high school after all,” she said. “But there is something about ‘the Culver experience’ that makes it different from ‘high school’ and it’s the fact that the Culver experience is a shared experience.”
Shared experiences result in mutual hardship, mutual success, and mutual understanding. Balzekas said she and her closest Culver friends “are very different at face value,” but they are close because of their shared experiences. Sharing that experience establishes a lifelong understanding, if not friendship.
Getting to know these Culver people sometimes happens automatically, like roommates or dorm-mates. Other times, it take more effort to get to know teachers and staff. “My most fulfilling memories of Culver came from times when I reached out to people, got to know them better and . . . in turn . . . myself.”
Balzekas highlighted two events as learning experiences. One was the night she and her friends did a ride-along with (now retired) security chief Sally Ricciardi. The other was when she and members of her senior English class conducted semi-successful, real-life Pacman prank in the Lay Dining Center. From those experiences she learned to reach out to people, talk to them, listen to them, and learn from them.
From Ricciardi, Balzekas learned to be “more direct. I try to talk about myself less. And I try to infuse some humor into matter of fact statements.” From her Pacman experience, “I learned the joy of being inclusive, in sharing my ideas with people beyond my social circle.”
She finished by telling the girls receiving their crests that academically and professionally “you are set.”
“But it is from the human perspective, from your interpersonal skills that you will gain the most. The Culver microcosm is created, maintained, and improved by people. It is the experiences you share with them that will shape you now and support you after you graduate.
“Of my friends, my Culver friends are the most comfortable chatting with esteemed professors, contradicting their bosses, and reaching out to make new friends. Because Culver is a shared experience, it gives us the confidence early on to look beyond the distinguishers like clothing, position, and background straight to the humanity of the people in our lives.
“I am thankful to Culver for influencing me this way and excited to welcome you new girls to what will be a wonderful time in your lives.”