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At this year's fifth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade graduation ceremonies, student speakers shared funny, reflective, and inspiring stories.

Seniors Maddy Frech and Zach Benton (pictured above), as well as Senior Celebration speaker Chiara Kim, expressed their gratitude for the positive ways the Rowland Hall community shaped their lives. Eighth graders Tessa Bartlett, Jojo Park, and Ainsley Moore reflected on the importance of friendship through their middle-school years, and several fifth-grade students thanked their teachers, family, and friends for creating a supportive and engaging learning environment in the Lower School—especially during a pandemic.

We have posted their speeches here for you to enjoy.

Student Voices

Students Share Inspiration and Gratitude at 2021 Graduation Ceremonies

At this year's fifth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade graduation ceremonies, student speakers shared funny, reflective, and inspiring stories.

Seniors Maddy Frech and Zach Benton (pictured above), as well as Senior Celebration speaker Chiara Kim, expressed their gratitude for the positive ways the Rowland Hall community shaped their lives. Eighth graders Tessa Bartlett, Jojo Park, and Ainsley Moore reflected on the importance of friendship through their middle-school years, and several fifth-grade students thanked their teachers, family, and friends for creating a supportive and engaging learning environment in the Lower School—especially during a pandemic.

We have posted their speeches here for you to enjoy.

Student Voices

Explore More Stories By Students

Jodi Spiro's third graders are making an environmental difference at Salt Lake City private school Rowland Hall.

Change may be slow, but it’s worth the wait.

This life truth was recently made clear to Jodi Spiro’s third graders, a group of students passionate about doing their part to save the earth—particularly when it comes to limiting the amount of garbage that’s dumped into the environment, a topic they’ve discussed often this year.

“We knew there was a problem, then we watched this video of how much trash ends up in rivers and oceans, and we thought it was really sad,” said class member Helena A. “We saw this island made out of trash—it’s bigger than Texas.”

“It feels like people don’t really care about what they’re throwing out,” added classmate Declan M.

And it really bothered the third graders to imagine Rowland Hall contributing to the problem—especially in one specific way: even though the school had returned to a traditional serving line at lunch (during the pandemic, individually packaged meals were delivered to classrooms), the dining hall hadn’t shifted back to using metal cutlery. The students knew the use of plastic utensils had to be creating a lot of waste, so in October they visited the dining hall to get an idea of just how much. The third graders began by counting the number of plastic utensils that fit into the dining hall’s cutlery dispenser, then determined how many times that dispenser was filled. They were shocked to learn that the McCarthey Campus was tossing around 900 plastic forks, knives, and spoons each week.

We realized how much we were throwing away and we wanted to know why, and we wanted to change it.—Third grader Declan M.

“We realized how much we were throwing away and we wanted to know why, and we wanted to change it,” said Declan.

And though the students were anxious to make those changes right away, Jodi knew they would need the support of campus partners, including Sage Dining Services, Rowland Hall’s lunch provider, which she knew was probably using plastic cutlery for a reason. Jodi saw the moment as an opportunity for her class to not only understand the reasoning behind that decision, but to learn how to respectfully present their request to reverse it.

“The way you go about something is the way you’ll get lasting change,” she told the class. “You’re going to get better buy-in from everybody if you’re respectful.”

So the class began by writing persuasive letters to explain their concerns and to propose their solution, which they sent to Julia Simonsen, food service director for Sage, in November. They received a prompt response explaining that there was indeed a reason behind the use of plastic cutlery: students had been throwing away the dining hall’s metal cutlery, as well as reusable cups and even lunch trays. This was its own problem—the dining hall simply couldn’t afford to keep replacing these items. The third graders realized that, in order to address their cutlery concerns, they would first have to tackle another waste issue. So they made Julia an offer: they would teach lower schoolers how to properly use lunchroom materials if Sage agreed to bring them back. Julia agreed.

With their end goal in mind, the third graders jumped into making plans for educating fellow students both on the proper use of cafeteria materials and on limiting what they sent to the landfill. They knew they would have to talk to every Lower School class, so they divided into teams, with each team choosing the grades they wanted to present to and the approach they thought best for that age group, such as a slideshow, a game of Kahoot!, or a Book Creator story. They also teamed up with staff and faculty members Emily Clawson, Mary Anne Wetzel, and Collin Wolfe to create a TikTok video demonstrating these skills, which they played for every class.


Jodi Spiro's third-grade class is on a crusade to make our school more environmentally friendly, and their first stop is the dining hall. After seeing how many plastic utensils were being thrown away, the students knew they had to take action. They urged the school to bring back metal cutlery, reusable cups, and compost buckets. Even at such a young age, these students are authentically learning and making a difference not only for our school, but for the world. Great job, third graders!

♬ original sound - Rowland Hall

Rowland Hall third graders demonstrate where to discard leftover milk, how to separate trash from compostable materials (which are then used by the Lower School’s Garden Club), and where to return utensils, cups, and trays.

These class presentations were another chance for the third graders to tap into their respectful dialogue skills: they had to present their material in ways that didn’t place blame on anyone and inspired students to want to help. “We wanted to make sure everyone understood the problem,” explained Helena. “We showed them what’s been happening and what they can do.”

And the presentations made an impact. From first to fifth grade, students expressed a desire to help fix the dining hall’s dual waste problems through their daily actions. “I didn’t really know that I could actually convince people this well of what's been happening in the cafeteria,” said Declan. “It felt really good.” Fellow third graders in Matthew Collins’ and Katie Schwab’s classes even created posters to help remind students to pay attention when disposing of items on their lunch trays, which are helpful resources as students continue to build these habits.

From her perspective, Jodi was thrilled to see not only how other classes responded to her students’ hard work, but how the experience also built the students’ confidence. She said her class loved being seen as experts on a subject and answering their peers’ questions; after each presentation, they returned to the classroom beaming and asking to talk to more people. “I think it brought out parts of themselves that they probably didn’t even expect,” she said.

They learned change is slow, but change is possible, and to be persistent: just because you want something to change doesn’t mean it’s going to follow your timeline.—Jodi Spiro, third-grade teacher

It also showed them that hard work on a cause you believe in is worth it. When the reusable cutlery and cups returned to the dining hall after April break, the moment was more than just the culmination of a nearly school-year-long goal; it was a strong reminder of how young learners can help address problems that seem insurmountable—such as waste in the environment—and truly make a difference.

“It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with the bigness of it,” said Jodi, “but the students learned you can start with something small and in your control, like what’s happening in our school. They learned change is slow, but change is possible, and to be persistent: just because you want something to change doesn’t mean it’s going to follow your timeline.”

They also learned that making good choices add up and that, often, being the change you wish to see in the world starts by simply making a small decision to do something.

“Don’t be a problem starter,” summarized Jodi. “Be a problem solver.”

Ethical Education

Rowland Hall junior Anna Hull, whose essay received an honorable mention in the fifth Westminster Honors College contest.

Ask any American if they think political and cultural polarization is at an all-time high. Chances are, they’ll say yes.

Discussions around polarization are everywhere: at the water cooler, around the dinner table, on social media—and, this year, as the topic for the Westminster Honors College civility essay contest: Political and cultural polarization in the United States seems at an all-time high. Why is that and what can be done specifically to improve the fractured state of our democratic citizenry? Write an essay (600 words or less) that addresses this question.

Now in its fifth year, the Westminster Honors College civility essay contest provides Utah high school students with an annual opportunity to, in the words of the college, “engage in civil conversation about the crucial issues of our day, making arguments about hard topics in a reasonable, evidence-based fashion.” And students rise to that challenge: this year alone, 187 students from 57 high schools across Utah submitted essays.

As a student, you're constantly having to scrutinize your work in order to learn and grow, so I'm overjoyed (and relieved) to know that my writing holds up in a competitive atmosphere.—Anna Hull, class of 2023

"The judges agreed that the overall quality of work submitted in this year’s pool was the strongest in the history of the contest," wrote Dr. Richard Badenhausen, founding dean of the Westminster Honors College, in his email announcement of this year’s winners.

A bipartisan judging panel whittled the 187 essays down to 15 finalists, and from there chose one first-place winner (including a $2,000 cash award) and two honorable mentions (including a $500 cash award for each). The judges awarded Rowland Hall junior Anna Hull and West High School junior Anika Rao the honorable mentions and Copper Hills High School senior Ethan Hepworth the top prize.

“I felt really ecstatic,” said Anna of when she learned her essay had received an honorable mention. “I tried to not become overly hopeful, simply because so many people entered the contest. So when I learned that I was one of the award winners I was just really surprised and happy. I also felt really proud of myself. As a student, you're constantly having to scrutinize your work in order to learn and grow, so I'm overjoyed (and relieved) to know that my writing holds up in a competitive atmosphere.”

Congratulations, Anna!

With Anna’s permission, we have shared her response to this year’s essay question below.

The Cycle and Solution of Political Polarization

By Anna Hull

Political polarization has existed within the United States since its conception. Although divisions existed before the establishment of the two major parties, the animosity between them largely contributes to the polarization of today. George Washington recognized in his farewell address that political parties would divide the nation, but citizens ignored him.1 As a U.S. history student myself, I’ve learned that polarization is cyclical; there are periods of intense disagreement and periods of profound unity. In the election of 1800, for example, Federalists and Democratic Republicans (the two major parties at the time) spoke viciously of one another, labeling presidential candidates as unchristian or authoritarian.2 Nevertheless, the young country’s citizens reveled in their independence and shared a strong sense of national unity. Later, in the mid 1800s, The Civil War tested this national identity. Ironically, Reconstruction was supposed to unify the nation, but it actually witnessed the birth of de jure segregation which intensified existing racial divides. One hundred years later, citizens battled at lunch counters and participated in mass protests during the Civil Rights movement. Simultaneously, the country united around a shared fear and hatred of Communism during the Cold War. Thus, polarization is not new to America, but there are contemporary factors of today’s disconnection.

One social fact of the United States is that Americans affix a high value to membership of political parties, on par with race, gender, or even social status.3 One of our nation’s prominent ideologies is individualism which makes supporting political parties so appealing: citizens choose what organizations represent them.4 Consequently, citizens are incredibly politically impassioned, turning dinner tables hostile. However, partisanship has maintained a constant existence in the United States, meaning the primary cause behind today’s polarization is not the American support of political parties, but rather how newfound societal powers reinforce feelings of division. CNN and FOX news, for example, disgrace each other on air, even attacking individual anchors. Networks sponsor the Presidential debates and transform them into sports events, where journalists, political advisers, and citizens all take their seats awaiting the sparring, predicting the victor, and cheering on their gladiator. Today, partisanship is tied to aspects of identity, such as location or religion, that brands prey upon to increase citizen engagement. Most importantly, political cooperation is no longer a goal.

A monumental experience that best illustrates the extent to which America is divided is the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather than drawing the country together for the sake of safety, the disease became politicized; mask mandates, quarantines, school closures, and other measures were not uniformly followed. If division is so ingrained into our country, how do we make change? It’s important to recognize that the current state of polarization is part of an ongoing cycle, meaning there’s no need to catastrophize, and no absolute solution. Conflict is one part of this cycle, but another is unity. Thus, one way to decrease political polarization is to acknowledge the similarities between political enemies. Regardless of party, all citizens of the U.S. witness the same problems, such as homelessness, unaffordable healthcare, and poor education systems. The minimization of political polarization comes when citizens identify that their enemies are not the people opposite them politically, but the systems that created these widespread problems. In order to remove power from these systems, it falls upon Americans to question the information thrown at them, to push against elected officials, and to make themselves uncomfortable. Most importantly, we must engage with political opposites to understand each other’s positions, rather than to prove ourselves victorious.

  1. George Washington, “George Washington’s Farewell Address,” 1796.
  2. “The Election of 1800,” U.S. History, accessed February 10, 2022,
  3. Thomas B. Edsall, “America Has Split, and It’s Now in ‘Very Dangerous Territory’,” The New York Times, Jan. 26, 2022,
  4. Milenko Martinovich, “Americans’ partisan identities are stronger than race and ethnicity,” Aug. 31, 2017,

Student Voices

Rowland Hall senior Briggs Ballard '22 playing lacrosse for the prestigious IMG Academy.

Ever since Briggs Ballard learned he could play lacrosse while also studying finance and business development in college, he focused on turning that goal into a reality.

“From the day I realized I could play college lacrosse, it has been my biggest dream,” he said.

That dream came true on March 4, when Briggs committed to play for Texas Christian University (TCU), a Division 1 school with a lacrosse team that competes in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association. It’s an impressive step for the talented young athlete, who has been passionate about lacrosse since the age of three, when a Rowland Hall parent who moved to Utah from the East Coast created a mini lacrosse team for the community as a way to introduce students to the sport.

“I was a little too young to suit up,” Briggs said about the experience. “However, my brother [Boston Ballard ’20] played and I was always there watching and waiting for my turn. As I watched the older kids, I knew I wanted to play, and from that day on lacrosse was my sport. When I got my chance, I hit the ground running.”

And he’s excelled: by third grade, Briggs was playing competitive club lacrosse, and by sixth grade, club box lacrosse, and he was a member of youth teams at both Brighton High School and Corner Canyon High School, where his eighth-grade team won the state championship. In ninth grade, after a family move, Briggs began playing for Highland High School, where, as the only freshman on the varsity team, he led in goals, assists, and total points, earning him Freshman of the Year and Most Valuable Player accolades. When COVID-19 canceled his sophomore season, Briggs decided to use the time to think about how to take the skills he’d been building to the next level. “During quarantine, I decided I needed to push myself and play at the highest level of high school lacrosse,” he said. After making the team at IMG Academy, a prestigious sports training facility and boarding school in Florida, Briggs chose to spend his junior year there, where he practiced seven days a week and traveled the country playing top teams.

“It was a difficult decision to move away from my family and to leave Rowland Hall, but I decided to go for it and spent my junior year at IMG,” said Briggs. “The experience was one I will never forget; I learned so much about lacrosse and myself.”

He also learned just how much he appreciates his family and the Rowland Hall community: Briggs returned to Utah for his senior year, where he’s been enjoying time with friends, wrapping up his studies in the Upper School, playing lacrosse (of course!), and preparing for the next chapter of his story.

To celebrate Briggs’ decision to play lacrosse for TCU, we asked him to share more about his athletic journey. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You're a Rowland Hall student who has pursued the sport you love (but one that's not offered by the school) alongside your studies. How have you juggled both responsibilities?

Juggling the rigor of Rowland Hall and the intensity of my lacrosse schedule has been challenging. I've had to learn to manage my time and plan ahead. I've done a lot of homework and studied on planes while flying home from tournaments. Even though Rowland Hall does not have a lacrosse program, the school and teachers have been very supportive and have always worked with me. Along with the challenges, playing for other schools has also been a blessing in many ways. It has enabled me to meet and socialize with kids outside of Rowland Hall and it's really expanded my social circle.

Can you briefly describe how you connected with the TCU team and how you made your decision to join them?

The lacrosse recruiting experience has been both awesome and stressful. I've had to really consider what level of lacrosse I want to play and balance that with the kind of college experience I want. My options were all over the board, from D1 schools to some smaller D3 schools, and several club options. Ultimately, I was heavily recruited by TCU, which happens to be where my brother goes to school. My brother has several friends currently on the TCU lacrosse team and because he knew I would love TCU, he had them reach out to me and from there the coach reached out. I fell in love with everything TCU has to offer, including their D1 lacrosse program. In addition to the lacrosse program, TCU checks all of the academic boxes for me and I can't wait to be a Horned Frog!

Rowland Hall student Briggs Ballard to study at and play lacrosse for Texas Christian University (TCU).

How did you feel when you officially committed to play for TCU?

I felt proud of myself and like all of my hard work paid off. I felt like I had finally done it and was relieved to have made a decision. The feeling of finally committing is a feeling I will never experience again and I am so grateful for how everything worked out.

What are your top memories from your lacrosse career (so far)?

My top memories of my lacrosse career so far are traveling all over the country with my parents and my best friends/teammates. I have played with several of the same kids since we were in the first grade and they have truly become some of my best friends. The summer tournaments are always memories; staying together as a team and playing the sport we love are memories I will never forget. Finally, last year, my IMG team traveled to Indiana, where we played Culver Academy, one of the best teams in the country. While we did not come away with the win, playing in front of so many people, and in a nationally televised game, is a very cool experience and a major memory for me. 

Tell us about the skills you built at Rowland Hall that you'll be taking with you to TCU.

I strongly believe Rowland Hall has set me up to succeed at TCU both academically and socially. Rowland Hall has taught me how to learn, how to be a critical thinker, and how to manage my time. Rowland Hall is a one-of-a-kind school and I cherish my time here and the education I’ve received. I know I will be a strong writer and contribute to the TCU community because of my Rowland Hall experience.

Is there anything else you want our community to know about your athletic and academic journey?

Just that I am beyond grateful for everyone who has supported me and helped me on my journey. My Rowland Hall friends have always been so supportive and encouraged me to keep on with lacrosse. From the teachers and staff to my friends, family, and coaches, I will forever be thankful for all of you. 

Lastly, GO FROGS!


Rowland Hall Student Body President Samantha Lehman speaking at Convocation.

At the start of each new school year, Rowland Hall holds a Convocation ceremony. The 2021 event, held on Friday, August 27, centered around the theme (and school value) Relationships Matter.

Every year, Rowland Hall’s student body president is invited to address the group of students, faculty and staff, trustees, alumni, and families gathered for Convocation. (Check out the 2020 speech here.) This year’s president, Samantha Lehman—who recently wrote a reflection for Fine Print about appearing on the Utah House of Representatives podcast to discuss the toll the pandemic is taking on students' mental well-being—used the event to inspire students to find ways to tap into their own superpowers, even amidst personal and global challenges, to achieve their goals. Her speech—lightly edited here for style and context—appears below.

By Samantha Lehman, student body president

Most people would describe me as a nerd.

You may think the term nerd has a negative connotation, but I take it as a compliment. And part of what makes me a nerd is that I am a very avid reader. If someone gave me a book for my birthday, I would actually read it. If I tell my parents I’m going for a hike, I’m probably just going to Barnes and Noble in my workout clothes. However, when I got to high school, work and extracurriculars just sort of piled up. I didn’t have time to read anymore, so I preferred watching a show to reading because it was easier.

But my New Year’s resolution last year was to read 20 minutes of a non-school book a day, and I’ve ended up getting back into reading as a result. Now, I don’t mean reading Shakespeare, War and Peace, or Grapes of Wrath. I mean traditional, fun, not-really-brain-intensive young adult fantasy. Think Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Shadow and Bone, etc. I read these types of books because they allowed me to escape from my daily life into an epic fantasy world filled with dragons, and knights, and magic, and demigods.

Rowland Hall Student Body President Samantha Lehman speaking at Convocation 2021.

And as I read more and more of these types of books, I realized that most of them follow a general formula for how they’re constructed. It goes as follows:

  1. Main character is facing some struggle at home.

  2. Main character finds out they have magical powers.

  3. Main character goes to a special place for people with magical powers.

  4. Main character is involved in a conflict, but ends up defeating the villain, usually with the help of teammates.

There I was, struggling to deal with real life, thinking about this formula and wishing that some big dude with an umbrella would bust down my door and tell me that I was actually a wizard and offer me an escape from reality … and I would feel sad and disappointed that that probably wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to change my mindset. I started to compare this formula to my everyday life, and—while I know this might sound a little crazy—I realized that they’re not so different.

I thought back to first grade, when I didn't really like school and was struggling to find my place. It wasn’t until my teacher, Susanna, told us about a story-writing project that I discovered my love for writing and storytelling. Writing was my magical power, and it was just my luck that I was in a special place that fostered that power: school. Writing helped me slay the first-grade dragon, and has helped me ever since, by serving as a stress reliever, a way to express my voice, and a way to connect with others.

I thought back to Middle School, when I was unsure whether or not I could be a scientist. It wasn’t until I earned my first exceeding on a science test that I realized, “Hey, I could actually do this stuff.” Realizing that I could do anything I set my mind to, including science, was a magical power.

Find your superpower, support your friends and teammates, beat the odds together, achieve your goals, and do it again. Use school as a place where you can strengthen your powers, and find ways outside of school to continue to grow.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022

I thought back to all the instances when I found new abilities through trying new things—and the times when I’d failed and fallen. And I’m still here. I defeated all of those challenges, I’ve grown, and I did it with the help of new friends, teammates, and abilities I didn’t even know I possessed.

These past two years have been tough. We’ve lost friends, family, and time. We’ve been alone, limited, and angry at the world. But you are all still here. You’ve made it through years of hardship and school. You’ve climbed barriers, faced the odds, suffered through ERBs—and yet you’re still standing.

So this year, I challenge each of you to live your life like you are in a young adult fantasy book. Find your superpower, support your friends and teammates, beat the odds together, achieve your goals, and do it again. Use school as a place where you can strengthen your powers, and find ways outside of school to continue to grow. You are warriors, and knights, and scientists, and writers, and historians, and mathematicians, and debaters, and artists, and athletes, and computer geniuses. You are strong, smart, and unique. So use those powers to live your own fantasy, because even though the real world is no magical school, summer camp, or palace, you are brave enough to face it.

Thank you.

Banner photo: Members of the class of 2022 wave to this year's first graders in a COVID-adjusted version of the high-fives usually given at Convocation.

Student Voices

You Belong at Rowland Hall