Branson School News, Sports, Life and Opinion

The Blazer

Branson’s student-run newspaper
Branson School News, Sports, Life and Opinion

The Blazer

Branson School News, Sports, Life and Opinion

The Blazer

Convocation 2023: Celebration, reflection, and community

This year’s convocation featured stunning musical performances and a speech to remember from Head of School Chris Mazzola.
Luke Vilhauer
Ali Evans (left) Sophia Duran (center), and Elsie Dedyo (right) sing during Convocation. Convocation is an annual Branson tradition to kick off each year with celebration.

Every year at Convocation, the entire Branson community comes together to celebrate the seniors and set the tone for the school year. It’s a joyous occasion, with performances from Jazz Band and Rock Band. 

But this year, the event took on a more serious tone, as head of school Chris Mazzola shared a deeply personal and tragic story. She recounted the 1986 Mt. Hood disaster which claimed the lives of seven of her classmates and two of the teachers at her high school, Oregon Episcopal School. The incident occurred as Mazzola was finishing her senior year of high school, and she described the profound impact it had on her life. 

“I share this story with you because those weeks in May of 1986 changed me and my life forever. In fact, it’s the reason I’m here before you today, it’s the reason I became an educator,” said Mazzola in her speech.

Mazzola shared the regret she felt after her classmates died, saying that she hadn’t taken enough time to get to know the students whose lives were taken because she had focused only on her immediate circle of friends. 

Chris Mazzola speaks during Convocation. Mazzola shared a personal story of a tragic event from her past. (Luke Vilhauer)

“I assumed those kids weren’t worth my time because they had nothing in common with me – or so I thought,” she said. “But we had our community and our school in common, our classes in common, our sports in common. I hadn’t realized that this simple connection was what made my school strong and self-sustaining, much like Branson.”

Mazzola reflected on the value of her school’s community, and how she wishes she had put more thought and effort into maintaining that community.

“I did not think that the larger school community was my concern or my obligation. I did not see that I had a responsibility to tend to the health of the community as if it were a precious garden.” Mazzola said.

Mazzola expressed the subtle attributes of being a real community– not only revolving around sports and singing but making sure to devote time to really get to know one another.

“A real community is not simply people coming together to study or play sports or sing; a real community happens when people take the time to truly invest in one another, learn each other’s stories, and contribute to creating something bigger than themselves,” said Mazzola.

Senior Kaia Hayes started off convocation with a reading of the poem “Small Kindnesses” by Danusha Laméris, suggesting that small milliseconds of joy such as a high five can impact people’s daily lives. These are the moments of kindness that the Branson community needs to thrive. 

“You never know how much someone might need just a small act of kindness to turn their day around,” said Hayes.

Next, Senior Lillie Lehman read the poem “Something You Can Do” by Everett Wentworth Hill, speaking to the importance of our school’s community and how we go through ups and downs together, as one.

“Being part of a community, the Branson community, means that we’re all in this together. We take on challenges together, we celebrate our triumphs together, and most importantly, we help each other grow,” Lehman said.

Mazzola’s final message was to urge students to be selfless and take advantage of the opportunities Branson has to offer and all of the talented people we have here.

“We must not allow ourselves to opt out in favor of oblivion and self-interest. We are so privileged to be here together in this school of unlimited opportunities, in the company of so many brilliant people, and we cannot, for even one second, take that for granted,” Mazzola said.

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About the Contributors
Sadie Winter, Writer
Sadie Saavedra, Writer